Dillon, county officials push forward on USFS housing partnership
DILLON — Dillon and Summit County officials are moving forward with efforts to create new workforce housing options around the county, including a recent push to partner with the United States Forest Service for development projects on federal land.
The Summit Board of County Commissioners attended the Dillon Town Council work session on Tuesday evening, Feb. 18, to discuss the concept — further developing a 9-acre parcel of Forest Service land outside of Dillon Valley — along with representatives with the U.S. Forest Service and the Summit County Housing Authority, among other interested parties.
Conversations are ongoing, and have begun in good faith that an eventual agreement will be reached. Though, any progress will likely be plodding in the early stages as everyone involved works to figure out exactly how the partnership would function.
The possibility comes as part of the 2018 Farm Bill signed into law by President Trump in December 2018, which authorizes the Forest Service to lease out administrative sites — including land housing ranger stations, warehouses, crew quarters and more — that are under 40 acres for in-kind considerations.
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While officials have a specific plot in mind, between County Road 51 and Forest Canyon Road off of Highway 6 in the Dillon Valley, Summit County and other communities looking to pursue the new opportunity may be serving as guinea pigs for future local-federal agreements.
“What the Farm Bill did for us was give us the authority to lease lands,” said Anna Bengtson, land conveyance program manager for the U.S. Forest Service. “… One of the main drivers behind that was the need across the country for workforce housing. And often times Forest Service administrative sites are located in highly developable rural areas. So this has been on the back burner for a while on the Forest Service’s radar, and it’s definitely a very new thing.
“We’re really jumping in head first. Nobody has done this, and we’re writing the rules as we speak. When congress passed this, they told us the what, but not the how. What we as an agency are going through at this point in time is developing the implementation policy.”
Bengtson said the Forest Service is currently working through all of the nuances in hopes of unveiling a set process for public review sometime this spring, including draft lease agreements, in-kind considerations forms and everything else that would be used to negotiate leasing terms.
Though in the meantime, local officials are hard at work trying to put the rest of the pieces together so the proposal can move forward as soon as possible. During the meeting earlier this week, officials dove into conversations in regard to other important considerations like changes to existing roadways and intersections to support the proposed development, along with settling on a presumptive housing density for the area.
Representatives with JR Engineering gave officials a presentation on the expected impacts the development could have on transportation in the area, citing a recent preliminary traffic study that analyzed impacts to the Highway 6 and Evergreen Road/Lake Dillon Drive intersection based on different development densities at the site of 100, 200 and 300 units.
“We’re looking at those densities, and we ran models on all those different scenarios for traffic to see what kind of impacts there would be on that intersection, and what do we need to do to fix it,” said Daren Sterling, project coordinator with JR Engineering.
JR Engineering recommended moving forward with one of two solutions for the roadway, including a $1.4 million project that would add another southbound left-turn lane. Though the discussion largely revolved around the concept of a $2.7 million roundabout to replace the existing intersection altogether.
According to Kerstin Anderson, Dillon’s marketing and communications director, the group is also already considering at least three different initial housing concepts — including both rental and for-sale mixtures of everything from dorm-style units, townhomes, apartments and duplexes — in densities of 122, 190 and 357 units.
While officials have kicked around early concepts, the only thing that seems to be set in stone so far is the ambition to create a desirable place for members of the public to live.
“For us, the first thing we always think about, and the most important rule, is that whatever affordable housing project we do has to be something people love going home to,” said County Commissioner Thomas Davidson. “Whatever kind of density or design, it has to be a place where people are proud to live there. Whether it’s your side of the line or ours, we’re in this together.”
The timeline for the proposed project as a whole is still largely up in the air, but the first major step will likely include further roadway analysis and improvements. Though, officials emphasized that there would be opportunities for public input before plans begin to move forward.
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