Summit County, Dillon discuss concepts for proposed workforce housing development

Posted on April 14, 2021
By Sawyer D’Argonne — This article was written by the Summit Daily and was originally featured online

Dillon, Summit County and the U.S. Forest Service continue to make progress on a potential workforce housing partnership on Forest Service land near Dillon.

The Summit Board of County Commissioners tuned into the Dillon Town Council meeting April 6 for a joint work session on the proposed project. Representatives with the Forest Service also joined the meeting to share their thoughts on the effort along with Norris Design, which provided officials with a pair of new concepts for the site.

While planning and negotiations have begun in good faith between all parties involved, officials made it clear that the project is unique and that there is plenty of work to be done before it could come to fruition.

“This is really new and very nontraditional for the Forest Service,” said Anna Bengtson, realty specialist and land conveyance manager for the White River National Forest. “This project has been identified as the national pilot for this leasing authority.”

Bengtson said the site, a 9.18-acre plot between Forest Canyon Road and Summit County Road 51, had been proposed for a direct sale in the past, which fell through due to financing issues among other concerns. But the passage of the Farm Bill in 2018, which allowed for the leasing of certain sites for in-kind considerations, gave the idea new life.

The new authority requires the Forest Service to offer the municipality where the site exists right of first refusal in the event of any sale or lease agreement. While that certainly benefits local governments and communities, Bengtson said the ability to trade in-kind considerations is also a major boon for local Forest Service workers.

“Under previous authorities, the way our funding works, the money doesn’t necessarily come back to the local community when we lease or sell a property,” Bengtson said. “It goes up into the upper administration and doesn’t always trickle back. So being able to lease for in-kind consideration actually gives us some local interest in being able to solve some of the Forest Service’s local needs and make sure the local communities see the benefits of any transaction related to the administrative site.”

The site is currently being used for administrative purposes, along with providing seasonal and transitional housing for Forest Service employees, warehouse space and storage space. In return for any potential land deal, Bengtson said the Forest Service is seeking more robust workforce housing opportunities for its own employees and improved trail connectivity through the area among other items.

At the meeting, Norris Design representatives presented two early site plans for the proposed project. Broadly, each concept lays out between 12 and 15 buildings composed of studio, one-bedroom, two-bedroom and three-bedroom rental units. The first concept was based on a higher-density design and includes 350 total bedrooms, more than half of which are in two-bedroom units. The second concept included 270 total bedrooms.

For the concepts, Norris Design also considered how to improve the quality of life for any potential residents and their neighbors, laying out the buildings so that residents would be able to see the reservoir, aligning areas for snow removal and putting together a solar study to determine whether shadows from the proposed buildings — most of which are three stories — would impact residents in the neighboring subdivision. The group said it also is looking into how to improve trail connectivity through the area and provide better walkability to town.

While we were developing these concepts, as local mountain residents, we know the importance of thinking realistically about things that are going to really matter to the livability of the property, Norris Design Principal Elena Scott said.

County commissioners and Dillon Town Council members focused their conversation primarily around density and what percent of area median income the project should target if it’s ultimately built.

For their part, the commissioners lobbied to pursue a higher-density option.

“I’m just concerned that given how great the need is right now that we might need to go as dense as we possibly can on this property, just given the amazing opportunity that it provides us all to move the needle on this rental space,” Commissioner Tamara Pogue said.

Dillon officials said they were hesitant to push for more units because they were afraid the Forest Service would pull out of the deal if the proposal became too immense. Those worries were somewhat alleviated when Bengtson noted that she didn’t think the Forest Services would scoff at a higher-density proposal.

Still, density is likely to be one of the major talking points as the proposed development moves forward.

“The biggest issue in this discussion today, and in the coming weeks and months, will be the density issue,” Dillon council member Brad Bailey said. “We can talk about proposed architecture down the road. It looks for the most part like the major utilities and infrastructure … is not going to be an issue. … The gorilla in the room is the density issue.”

With regard to area median income, the commissioners and the Town Council members agreed there should be a broad range at the site. In her presentation, Scott noted that the designs largely targeted units at 80% of area median income. Dillon Mayor Carolyn Skowyra said she would be comfortable going as low as was “reasonable” for the project, down to 40%. Meanwhile, Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence said she’d like to see some higher-priced units sprinkled throughout the development as well.

“I’m always a proponent of mixed (area median income) if we can get it,” Lawrence said. “I know there’s a critical need for that 60% AMI as well as 80, but there are so many people in our community that certainly can afford 100% AMI, which is still less than a market-rate rental unit out there. … With this many units, I feel like it provides us a really good opportunity to have a mix versus just one set standard across the board.”

Nothing was ultimately decided, and the Town Council and Board of County Commissioners will continue to have conversations on the project in the future.