With several vacant, second-floor office spaces downtown, Breckenridge Town Council discussed a proposal on Tuesday that would open these floors to workforce housing.
The key is working with parking, Breckenridge community development director Peter Grosshuesch explained.
”The intent was to incentivize existing apartments to be exempt from parking requirements in the parking service area so long as they provide the deed-restricted affordable housing covenants,” he said.
The plan would be to waive residential off-street parking requirements and, instead, allow tenants to enter the town’s Residential Parking Program to gain a space in certain lots downtown. Per a 2007 ordinance, any proposed downtown residential units would be limited to the second floor of buildings if located on Main Street, Ridge Street, Washington Avenue or Lincoln Avenue. As it stands, the ordinance is currently directed at existing buildings.
“I am very interested in this,” Breckenridge Mayor Pro-Tem Wendy Wolfe said. “A lot of office spaces on Ridge Street, even Main Street, are vacant. They can’t be converted to residential because of our parking requirements.”
She estimated the ordinance would make about 20 of these types of units available throughout downtown, about half the number of units in the newly constructed Pinewood Village II. The cost would certainly be significantly less than a new apartment building, with the cost of tap fees and renovations varying between buildings.
Within the council, there was some level of dissention over the best way to carry out the deed restriction.
Wolfe suggested rather than dictating an area median income (AMI) restriction, they should restrict it to individuals who work full-time in Summit County. However others maintained AMI restrictions would be key to keeping prices down.
“I just want to make sure if we do this, we’re going to get the people (whom) we want,” Mayor Eric Mamula said, noting he wanted to be sure they would rent the apartment to individuals who worked within Breckenridge. “We also don’t want to solve the problem, and then the rent in these apartments is three grand per month. ... Stuff is expensive in town.”
Councilwoman Erin Gigliello agreed, noting an AMI-restricted apartment would bring in more of the local workforce than telecommuters.
“If we tie it to AMI, it’s gonna be cheap housing,” she said. “If we don’t, it won’t.”
Local realtor Jack Wolfe noted he had spotted a few empty office spaces downtown that might be converted into residential. The ideal space is one with a separate entrance and attached bathroom — already beginning to resemble an apartment.
While Breckenridge boasts a vacancy rate of less than two percent, there are a handful of vacant spaces around town.
“The restaurant and retails businesses are doing pretty well,” he said. “We just have a little extra office space these days. It varies quite a bit on a month-to-month basis.”
For example, he is aware of two vacant units on Main Street, at 640 and 1,100 square feet, which could be candidates for a studio and one-bedroom apartment.
As for who would be responsible for managing the units, Wolfe noted most had not been subdivided, but a master lease could be an option.
“It’s on a case-by-case basis,” he added.
Looking at AMI levels compared with current commercial rents, he reasoned some properties would be better suited to an AMI-restriction than others.
For example, a couple at 60 percent AMI in Summit County — below the low-income threshold — would earn a combined salary of $39,540. This figures to a monthly rent of $988 if set at 30 percent of their combined earnings. It also is the hourly equivalent of just under $10 per hour.
Wolfe said the 640 square-foot space currently rents at $1,000 per month, just above budget for a couple at 60 percent AMI.
The larger, 1,111 square-foot property would be more of a stretch, leased at $1,944 per month including utilities.
“Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t,” he said. “60 percent (AMI) being put on it could be the difference on whether this program works or not.”
Breckenridge Councilman Mike Dudick noted the ordinance ultimately opened a larger conversation about unexplored housing solutions.
“This is just the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “It’s crafting a solution that’s about building homes and creating exceptions to the way we do things.”
Even if the proposed units needed a remodel, he noted, “It’s still the cheapest subsidy we’re ever gonna have for workforce housing.”