Vail Resorts’ workforce-housing proposal hits roadblocks ahead of approval
March 15, 2017
For now, Vail Resorts's plan to build a 196-unit workforce-housing complex in Keystone through a development partner has stalled.
Along with developer Gorman & Co., representatives of Vail — owner of Keystone Resort and Breckenridge Ski Resort in Summit County — were on hand in Breckenridge Tuesday afternoon for a hearing with the Board of County Commissioners to request approval to begin work on the affordable housing site known as Wintergreen. The resort company announced a deal last June to have Gorman construct seasonal and year-round employee apartments on the Vail-owned land to help meet the area's demand for workforce units.
"We more than anyone — Keystone Resort — need the beds," Mike Goar, Keystone Resort's vice president and COO, told the board. "It's been a challenge to hire workers. As we know, there is no place for them to live, and this is critically important to our success. So we have an opportunity to address that."
The project envisions deed-restricted apartments, broken down into 120 year-round one- and two-bedroom units across five buildings, 36 seasonal three-bed, two-bath units spanning three buildings, and 40 primarily one-bedroom low-income, tax-credit units in one building. The proposed project asks to combine three existing land parcels to produce a single 28.4-acre plot so the density can all be pulled from the steeper hillsides and placed along U.S. Highway 6. The remaining portion of the property would be used to fashion connections to the current trail system as well as open-space and designated recreational zones.
According to the guiding document for the Keystone area, the creation of this development would also call for a childcare facility for up to 80 kids. The document, known as the Keystone PUD, or planned unit development, also states all housing would need to be available for only those who work in the Snake River Basin, which includes Keystone Resort. The three-member board of commissioners would need to include an amendment to that document to open the complex up to employees from elsewhere in the county. Vail contends it deserves credits for those occupancies, according to existing housing requirements, no matter where those people work.
The latter two are particular hang-ups between the county board and Vail Resorts.
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Development partner Gorman & Co., which also worked on the consulting team for the county's Lake Hill parcel master plan, has committed to prioritizing Keystone-area employees first. But the company believes it will be unable to obtain financing for the project if the complex does not contain a provision that anyone who lives in the county — from Vail's perspective, specifically Breckenridge Ski Resort workers — can live there once Keystone-area demands are met.
The long-term affordability of the various units, among a slew of other factors, led the board to kick the Tuesday request to its March 28 regular meeting so county staff and the applicant can continue working toward solutions for pending questions. The list of snags for the county ranged from what happens once the lease between Vail and Gorman ends after a decade on the 36 seasonal apartments, the format for calculating the employee housing credits, and what impacts the development may have on local traffic, pedestrian accessibility and an already onerous parking situation throughout Keystone.
"We understand how incredibly important this is, and how much we need it right now," said County Commissioner Thomas Davidson. "But the important thing is that we do it right, and we only get that chance once.
"That is not to suggest that I think that this project has got fatal flaws," he added. "I really want to see this work."
Commissioners Karn Stiegelmeier and Dan Gibbs echoed similar apprehensions over offering even conditional approval Tuesday. The demand for a completed traffic study — also a chief sticking point mentioned by a handful of homeowners in the area, both generally for and tepidly opposed to the project, during the meeting's public comment period — was of notable concern. The increase of visitation to Keystone has already caused considerable bottleneck problems for the area.
"That's great," said Stiegelmeier of the guest growth, "but it has created some true health, safety and welfare issues that I think we need to be responsible to look at up front and not just hope it goes away. I don't think that's in the best interest of the neighborhoods, Vail Resorts or our entire community to allow these traffic congestion and safety concerns to get worse than it is."
Gorman agreed to a continuance of the application in the hopes of finding agreeable footing for the project. While addressing the predicament of traffic would be on their radar, a representative did not believe it fair to pin all of it to the one project.
"We hear everybody loud and clearly," said Kimball Crangle, Gorman's Colorado market president. "We understand that that's the issue. But it feels a little disconnected — I know it all works together — about the responsibility on Wintergreen. Don't put on the back of an affordable workforce-housing project fixing the entirety of the traffic issues in Keystone. That's a quick way of saying we're never going to get workforce housing built in Keystone."
Added Goar: "The Wintergreen site is the last within the Keystone PUD that can accommodate major affordable housing. There are other parcels where some smaller projects can be built, but Wintergreen is the site that can accommodate the vast majority of the need for the future affordable housing. So it's critical, again, that we take advantage of this opportunity."