What may be a quick buck decision today can cause long-term negative consequences. Housing prices in Westminster already tend to be higher than adjacent areas and recent actions by Westminster’s mayor and City Council are pricing more people out of this local housing market.
What is the council’s intention and thinking in mandating additional costs for new residential construction? Roof tops (new housing units) equate to sustaining retail development and re-development. And what about work force housing opportunities for future workers at the Westminster Center and other new employment opportunities?
Two obvious examples of council’s action to jump single family detached housing (SFD) costs focus on increased water tap fees and a new mandate to require fire sprinkler systems. In both cases, there were other options to consider, but council chose to jump the costs to the developer, who in turn has to pass the increased costs onto the home buyer. If I told you that effective Jan. 1, sprinkler system requirements add an additional cost of $1.61 to $2.50 per square foot, would you, as a prospective home buyer, be concerned? On a 2,500-square-foot home, that would be an extra cost of $4,025 to $6,375.
Then effective Jan. 1, 2014, the cost of a water tap for that same detached home will jump a whopping 40 percent! That equates to a total fee of $27,890 or an increase of $6,661 per home. Together, these two actions add more than $10,000 to $12,000 in additional costs.
In the north area, only the councils of Westminster and Federal Heights had implemented the 2009 code provision mandating sprinkler systems for SFD homes.
That means home builders in cities like Thornton, Broomfield and Arvada, which compete with Westminster for new development, will have a clear advantage on construction costs and pricing.
All residents, regardless of whether they have a sprinkler system in their home, pay taxes to fund the $12,525,053 Westminster Fire Department budget. We all get the same fire prevention, fire suppression and EMS services for our tax dollars. Yet, all new SFD houses will have an additional fire protection cost that goes on their 30-year mortgage.
Seems like an unfair double cost. This should be decided by the home buyer; not the council. In these tough times, you would think Westminster City Council would be more sensitive like other councils about causing housing costs to jump higher, right?
Westminster is a city of approximately 34 square miles. Build out of the city is on city planners’ minds as they bring forward proposed changes to the City’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan (CLUP).
Remaining residential designated land is on the wane. It is important the council protect remaining residential land and makes sure it does not all get built at the high end of the price range. Rethinking the affordability of new housing is among the issues that need to be fully debated in the upcoming mayoral and council races. Let’s remember — we are not Cherry Hills Village!
Bill Christopher is former city manager of Westminster and used to represent District J on the RTD board of directors.