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Zone changes for housing pose city challenge

Nov 20, 2012 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff Writer

Options to build more housing and transform neighborhoods in Riverton were debated last week during a work session at City Hall.

Riverton City Council members sat before a projector that displayed chapter five of their master plan while city administrator Steven Weaver presented ideas for potential growth when it comes to the city�s housing situation. He talked about several ideas and ways to make changes in the city, but for some council members he laid out a list of issues that would have to be addressed before anything could be done.

Ward 3 Councilman Richard Gard said the improvements and construction Weaver presented would be difficult to accommodate because there are many zoning restrictions in place that people have to abide by. He said policy changes and money would be needed in order to improve Riverton.

�This to me is almost offensive ... to go through this line by line as if we�re going to assist for something to happen,� Gard said. �It requires other people to pay for the change to happen to Riverton, and we don�t have the money to do that.�

Ward 3 Councilman Lars Baker agreed that the city would have to revisit its zoning regulations.

�Our current system seems like a mechanism to prevent change and to limit activity,� Baker said. �I think there�s opportunities for Riverton to grow.�

He added that economics play a factor in growth, but Baker said the city has to make it easy for people to build in town.

Housing demand

During his presentation, Weaver said that there is a demand for affordable housing in Riverton. He said students and employees at the future Wind River Job Corps, which is expected to be built near Riverton Regional Airport by 2015, will require housing, as will senior groups.

�How are we going to deal with that sudden population?� Weaver asked.

He suggested that the city should make it easier for developers to come to Riverton and find vacant properties that already have the proper infrastructure installed. Weaver said it would be great to convert vacant lots into mixed types of housing, with funding allocated in different ways for different projects.

The city�s master plan calls for officials to pursue grants and funding from the state so progress is more affordable. The plan also encourages officials to join �local partnerships and participate in a regional Community Housing Development Organization.�

The final part of the plan Weaver presented included steps that could be taken to implement the changes he recommended.

�Some would be easier to start; others would cost the city some money,� Weaver said.

He agreed that the city would be required to change certain codes, modify policies and do some work with other local programs.

�Anytime you talk zoning, people are pretty passionate about it,� Weaver said. �If we want to tackle those we can start that, that�s the point of the discussion, to see if there�s things on there that we want to try to change and improve on.�

He said some of these zoning issues shouldn�t be too difficult to change. He also suggested money can be set aside on the next budget cycle if the city would be willing to set incentives for neighborhood rehabilitation.

Council response

Although he said it�s easy to make plans about what to do, Gard said the city has no assistance, encouragement or guidance.

�We just have too many restrictions to do that,� Gard said.

He said that unless someone has a large amount of money, not much can be built in the city.

�The system isn�t set up to enhance building, to drive people to come to develop,� Gard said. �This is something that maybe we can work on and make grow, but it takes a positive attitude, not a restrictive attitude.�

Representing Ward 1, Councilwoman Diana Mahoney said that the actual team who put the master plan together counted all of the vacant lots in the city, and there were many.

�Probably what we didn�t have in the room were the experts,� Mahoney said of the team who put the master plan together. �We had the dreamers.�

She said there were no contractors present who likely could have represented the zoning part of the master planning process.

More flexibility and fewer rules to follow were the key points Baker said could make the plan work. Gard responded to Baker saying that the zoning is put in place as a protection for people such as those investing money to build.

�Some people hold the bill, and that�s their responsibility,� Gard said.

He continued to stress the financial burden these projects could pack on the city.

Community development director Sandy Luers said that although the zoning issue is a major problem the council members are fully able to change them.

�As a council, you have the ability to change any of the codes you want to,� Luers said. �You can tell us, as a city, to adopt whatever codes you want to. You can change the codes you want to, and you can make it as restrictive as you want to.�

Luers emphasized that the council can choose what codes they want to go with, and they can change policies, lot sizes and reform ordinances.

�Let�s change them and try to move forward,� she said.

Baker and Gard agreed that it would benefit Riverton if developers could simply approach them with a request to change a code or policy in order to move forward with their construction or development plans.

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Riverton City Council