No simple answer

Saratoga housing discussion continues for town council

The discussion of affordable housing returned to the chambers of the Saratoga Town Council on October 5 as Reverend Steven Niccolls addressed the governing body on behalf of the Platte Valley Ministerial Association.

During the September 21 town council meeting (see “Determining the need” on page 1 of the September 29 Saratoga Sun), Councilmember Ron Hutchins raised the subject under council comments and asked if anyone in town had any information. Primary among the questions Hutchins had was if there was a need for affordable housing in town.

“I am here to tell you that, as a member of the church community, there is a housing issue here,” said Niccolls.

Niccolls informed the governing body he receives a variety of aid requests as a pastor and chief among them is for housing. According to him, several people informed him they weren’t in need of any financial aid but of a place for themselves and their family to live.

“Unfortunately, my response was ‘If you find that place, let me know’ because I had a daughter who came in August of 2019 and, until Labor Day weekend, was living with mom and dad and she’s almost 30 years old because it took her that long to find housing for herself,” Niccolls said. “Also, I think this town is pretty well aware that there is a housing issue.”

While Niccolls cited the service industry in Saratoga and the lack of help, asking if the lack of housing was a contributing factor, he also pointed to the construction of the North Platte Valley Medical Center at the intersection of 13th Street and Bridge Avenue. The critical access hospital is currently under construction and had estimated approximately 66 full-time jobs by 2022 in its feasibility study.

“I’m afraid that this problem is not going away any time soon. If anything, we’re going to have more problems because we have a hospital being built within sight of my living room right now. That hospital is going to need a staff if it’s going to be open 24/7/365. The doctors might be able to afford the developments that are coming in right now but what about the other staff members; the custodians, the nurses, the record keepers,” said Niccolls. “You’re going to have to be able to provide a lot of housing for the hospital workers. I fear to see what sort of joke Saratoga will become if we have a brand new hospital and can’t staff it.”

Referencing a comment made by Hutchins at the September 22 meeting about not paying for a study to examine the issue, Niccolls said the governing body should look to the 2016 Master Plan. The 256 page document, which can be found on the Town of Saratoga website under the “Local Information” tab, provides a series of goals for the Saratoga Town Council in addressing what was predicted to be a housing issue. In fact, it was predicted in the 2016 Master Plan the need for both rental and homeowner properties would grow between 4.2 percent and 14.6 percent from 2015 to 2040.

Goals provided in the 2016 Master Plan include accommodating the development of higher density housing options, encouraging the use of manufactured housing over site-built housing and evaluating and mitigating the regulatory barriers for low-income apartment housing development. Niccolls had additional suggestions for the governing body.

“Another suggestion is to not approve any single-family houses in RD 9000 and RD 9002 zoned areas. Make it necessary that they provide multifamily units there.

“A lot of the problem is, if you’re a single person you don’t need a three-bedroom, one-bath house. You need an apartment and we don’t have too many of those here in Saratoga,” Niccolls said. “The other suggestion is to make approval of housing developments conditional on having a certain percentage of houses at prices that are acceptable to working class people. Those who are making the $15-$20 an hour jobs.” 

Residential District (RD) 9000 and 9002 are listed under Title 18 of the Saratoga Municipal Code as Medium Density Residential Districts. While single-family dwellings are included as permitted uses within the district, other permitted uses include duplexes, multi-family residences and mobile home parks. Within Saratoga, however, very few areas are zoned RD 9000 or RD 9002.

In responding to Niccolls, Hutchins stated “there’s no simple answer.”

“Actually, it’s multiple problems, right? It’s taking care of the needy and the people that need help and then a lot of what you discussed was entry level homes for people,” said Hutchins. “It’s not a problem that’s going to be solved overnight because if you’ve got to build a house, how long does that take? Especially if you’ve got to get a building permit.”

He added, with the current cost of construction material, he could not see any contractor building an entry-level dwelling. After Hutchins addressed Niccolls, Mayor Creed James expressed his thoughts on the matter.

“Saratoga’s going through growth right now and that’s going to cause housing to be more expensive. It’d be great to have a bunch of places here where entry-level people could find a house,” said James. “There are other opportunities within the area but if you want to live in Saratoga it’s just a function of the market.”

As of October 11, according to the Wyoming multi listing website, Saratoga had three houses on the market below $150,000, Encampment had no houses below $150,000 and Hanna had six houses below $150,000.

“With the hospital coming in, there’s going to be a lot of employees moving to town and I think that’s why some of the developers here are putting in new developments and building those houses but they also have to make it profitable for them to do that,” James said. “I think for the council or the planning and zoning commission to deny a new subdivision because they’re not going to put so many houses on the market that are going to fall within an acceptable price range, who’s to say what that price range is?”

James added “It would be great if we had enough housing here for everyone and we could get all the help here we wanted but when the town is booming like it is. It’s an issue, we all acknowledge that, but there’s no quick fix for it.”

Niccolls responded he wasn’t looking for a quick fix to the issue, but was requesting the council work towards a solution before it got worse.

“If I had the answer, I would have been a little more forceful as to what the council should do rather than just saying ‘These are some ideas or suggestions’,” said Niccolls.

The next meeting of the Saratoga Town Council will be at 6 p.m. on October 19 at Saratoga Town Hall.


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