Fraser looks to reduce cost of housing study |

Fraser looks to reduce cost of housing study

Hank Shell

Facing a $50,000 price tag for an affordable housing study, the Fraser Board of Trustees elected to leverage staff time and pare down the study’s scope of work to lower the cost at its Feb. 3 meeting.

Town Manager Jeff Durbin presented the board with a proposal from a housing consultant to explore the town’s housing needs and current resources before presenting it with recommendations and strategies to address it’s affordable housing shortage.

But trustees had a tough time stomaching the $50,000 price tag from WSW Consulting.

Trustee Philip Vandernail said the money would be better spent on constructing affordable housing than conducting the study.

Town Planner Catherine Trotter said there seemed to be some overlap between WSW’s proposal and work that economic development consultant firm Ehler’s, Inc. is currently doing for the town.

The board was also considering an additional contract with Ehler’s to examine its water and wastewater tap fees.

Trotter proposed identifying overlaps between the two scopes of work and using staff time to cut the cost of the proposal.

Trustee Jane Mather said she felt that the town’s top priority was identifying the socioeconomic subsection of the workforce where the need for affordable housing is most acute.

“I want somebody to help us make sure that we’re serving the people that need it,” Mather said.

Durbin agreed, adding that WSW consultant Wendy Sullivan could help the town identify where housing gaps are and define what kind of housing it should build.

Paul Wisor with Ehler’s said that his firm could provide information about financing affordable housing and connect the town with consultant developers to examine the possibility of public-private partnerships.

But local builder and landlord Steve Sumrall said the town’s seasonal economy meant there’s a shortage of tenants in the summer, a factor that may spook investors and developers in any affordable housing project.

“Until you get a stable economy up here and year-round income up here, you’d be crazy to invest,” Sumrall said.

Local developer Clark Lipscomb echoed Sumrall’s observation, stating that any development would have to be justified by market demand.

“I don’t think we need any more studies,” Lipscomb said, adding that no studies had been able to address the seasonality of the economy.

Lipscomb repeated his previous call for re-examining the town’s fee structures for building and considering a graduated water and wastewater tap fee structure.

Mather said examining a graduated tap fee structure should be a priority in Ehler’s scope of work.

Lipscomb also suggested that the town consider allowing entities from outside the town connect to its water system to lower costs, a suggestion that Wisor said could be incorporated into Ehler’s research.

The board approved the additional consulting contract with Ehler’s to examine its water and wastewater fee structures, research a graduated fee structure and mixed use zoning. The contract cost is not to exceed $20,000.

Hank Shell can be reached at 970-557-6010.

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