Frisco Sanitation District and Summit County come to a head on Lake Hill affordable housing development |

Frisco Sanitation District and Summit County come to a head on Lake Hill affordable housing development

The two entities are struggling to work together as the proposed 436-unit development comes to a standstill

The proposed Lake Hill development near Frisco has been in the making for over two decades, and now it has hit the latest in a series of roadblocks: sewer service.

During a Summit Board of County Commissioners work session meeting Tuesday, Oct. 19, county officials were presented the findings from a study that reveals what kind of impact the proposed 436-unit affordable housing project would have on the surrounding community. Required by the county’s code for all major developments, the impact study outlines recommendations and considerations for the county as it continues to move forward with the project’s rezoning process.

Presenting the findings was Brian Duffany, executive vice president of Denver-based Economic & Planning Systems. Duffany’s firm conducted the project’s impact study in 2018 and 2019, and he noted that the most costly improvement needed for the project relates to wastewater upgrades.

During Duffany’s presentation, he said his firm identified the Frisco Sanitation District as the most cost-effective sewer service provider. This comes with a catch, though: The Frisco Sanitation District is obligated to its existing service area, and Lake Hill sits just outside its boundary. Right now, the district has capacity to service Lake Hill, but because of unknown future developments within its service area, Summit County Manager Scott Vargo said the district is uncomfortable committing to the project.

Not only that, but the addition of Lake Hill will require some hefty improvements. According to Duffany’s presentation, about $5.7 million is needed for the housing development immediately, but if other housing developments in the service area crop up, then the district would need an additional $8 million for an expansion, which it originally indicated the county should pay. Vargo said the county responded by saying it would commit to paying for $2.9 million of the expansion and that the county would backfill the remaining $5.1 million if the district could not source other funding through future developments. Vargo said the district rejected this proposal.

“We’ve tried to offer up a system where we would backfill any lack of capital that they have if or when that expansion actually becomes a reality because, right now, their service level would allow for us to add Lake Hill without doing those expansions to the treatment plant,” Vargo said at the meeting. “We still have to do some of the on-site improvements … and we said we’ll absolutely be responsible for covering those, but we have not gotten any support at this point from the Frisco (Sanitation) District for that plan or even if we were to come in and say we’d pick up the (whole) cost. That’s been frustrating to say the least.”

A letter drafted to Vargo from Ron Drake, board president for the sanitation district, read that “the sanitation district is not in a position to accept any of the costs of expansion at this time.”

The letter goes on to say that the district “is open to considering any proposal the county may wish to put forth that does not require an outlay of capital by the sanitation district.” After receiving the letter, Vargo followed up via email with Matt Smith, the district’s manager, to point out that the county did offer to backfill expenses for the expansion. Smith responded via email saying that “the district is unwilling to commit any district resources to development projects that are outside the district.”

According to Smith, the county was not willing to pay for the full amount of the expansion, though it was included in Vargo’s presentation to the board. In addition, Smith said there was nothing formal presented so that the district’s board could make a decision.

“There was no real proposal, like an actual proposal, proposed to us,” Smith said. “It was just kind of an open forum of how do we want to approach this, and I think in the end, once a proposal is more thought through, then that might be something we can consider.”

From Vargo’s perspective, a proposal was indeed laid out. His team presented to the Frisco Sanitation District’s board, and after receiving the letter from the broad’s president, Vargo said it was clear there was no indication that the district was interested in exploring the project further, even when he tried clarifying the proposal with Smith via email.

Smith wrote in a text that the district is not denying “a potential inclusion of the Lake Hill property into the district” but rather that his team needs “more details regarding funding of the upgrades.”

In the meantime, Vargo said the county is exploring what it would look like if it developed its own sewer facility with the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment. Vargo said this option isn’t likely because it would be costly and because of the close proximity to the existing Frisco Sanitation District.

In addition to wastewater improvements, Duffany noted that the town of Frisco will be the most cost-effective water service provider. He added that no additional water treatment capacity is needed to accommodate the project, but pipe, well and storage tank infrastructure are likely needed. According to his presentation, Duffany estimated that these improvements would likely cost $4.6 million, not including tap fees.

In addition to these costs, Duffany’s firm recommended the county also pay $750,000 for a half-mile extension of the Summit County recpath as well as servicing and adding two new transit stops, costing $75,000 each. In total, according to the presentation, the county is estimated to have about $17.3 million in one-time improvement costs for the project or $22.35 million if it pays for all of the Frisco Sanitation District’s expansion.

As for the development’s impact on service providers, Duffany said there’s no cause for concern. According to his presentation, Lake Hill is estimated to increase calls to emergency service providers only slightly, meaning none of these departments need extra equipment, stations or staffing to accommodate the development.

To conclude his presentation, Duffany laid out a proposed timeline that suggested that building would begin in four years if the project took off today. Items like rezoning, design and securing on- and off-site infrastructure have to happen first, all of which take a while to complete. Summit County Housing Director Jason Dietz explained one such item that was “bottlenecking” the project is securing the sewer provider.

Nonetheless, all three commissioners voiced support for finding a way to condense the timeline so construction could start earlier.

“This is our last big opportunity. And knowing that, as a county, we’re well over 3,000 units short, I can’t imagine telling people it’s going to be more than a decade until we even scratch the service with 436 units,” Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence said. “Really, really condense this and look at it holistically, not so much as pieces.”

In the meantime, the county is still moving forward with the rezoning process, which will rely on a commitment from a sewer provider before it can be completed.

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