Dillon looks to partner with Forest Service on workforce housing project

The proposed site for a new workforce housing development on U.S. Forest Service land just outside of Dillon.
Courtesy town of Dillon

DILLON — It’s no secret that finding affordable workforce housing in Summit County can be challenging, and the town of Dillon is looking to the U.S. Forest Service for help.

Dillon, Summit County and the Forest Service are in early talks to determine whether a 9-acre parcel of Forest Service land just outside of town would serve as a suitable location for a new workforce housing project.

Kerstin Anderson, Dillon’s marketing and communications director, said the town and county have been looking at the site — just north of Dillon between Summit County Road 51 and Forest Canyon Road — for years hoping to purchase the property for development. But a federal bill passed last year has opened the door for new opportunities.

The 2018 Farm Bill, signed into law by President Donald Trump in December, allows the Forest Service to lease up to 40 acres of administrative land in return for cash or the construction of new facilities or improvements — in this case, housing.

“We think we have an opportunity with the Farm Bill to submit a win-win proposal for the U.S. Forest Service,” Anderson said. “We as a community clearly still have a need for affordable housing, and it’s a beautiful location up there.”

The main idea of the proposed plan is that the Forest Service would lease the land to Dillon, which would develop a new affordable workforce-housing neighborhood on the site and rent a number of units back to Forest Service employees. The rest of the units — and the bulk of the development — could be rented or purchased by members of the county’s workforce.

Of note, there are already Forest Service structures on the site, including three single-family homes, bunkhouses and movable trailers. The site also includes a warehouse and a half-acre boneyard, which would have to be integrated into the plans or moved off-site.

Dillon, Summit County and Norris Design, among others, recently put together an early charette for the project to create some broad concepts for the parcel. The concepts were introduced to the Dillon Town Council during a workshop last week, showing a broad range of possibilities.

Concepts ranged from 122 new units of mixed housing — apartments, townhomes duplexes and dormitories — to more than 350 as stakeholders consider what kind of density would work best at the location.

“This exercise was really looking at the spectrum of density,” Anderson said. “We want it to be a community that feels good. I wouldn’t expect we’ll develop all the way up to the high end of that density, but we wanted to pursue what opportunity was there and understand our bookends. At what level is it not enough to make it financially feasible to develop? And on the high end, at what level do you come back from to make sure you have a really nice community feel?”

Anderson said that if the plans are eventually approved, the development likely would be a mixture of rental and for-sale properties and would represent a variety of price points in the 80% to 100% area median income range to assure affordability.

While the planning process is still in its infancy, efforts are already in the works to test the feasibility of the proposal. Anderson said the town is hoping to sign onto a memorandum of understanding with the county next week, and the two governments plan to split the costs of surveying work on the property — about $50,000 each from their respective 5A funds.

A request for proposals is set to go out next week for contractors to complete a property survey, environmental study and — perhaps most importantly, given the site’s somewhat awkward placement between roads — a traffic study. Anderson said she expects the survey work to be completed by late fall or early winter this year. Once completed, stakeholders will gather again to determine next steps and possible financing for the project.

“We’re growing,” Anderson said. “We already see that many businesses have help wanted signs up, and we know anecdotally that people can’t find housing up here. So for us, the challenge is offering workforce housing that is affordable and making sure it aligns with the quality of life that people are looking for when they move here.”

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