Summit County housing czar: ‘Get housing built, create housing opportunities’
September 11, 2016
From a Manhattan apartment to a mountain town condo to a tent in the White River National Forest, Nicole Bleriot, Summit County's new housing director, has experienced it all.
The county's decision-makers were in search of someone with intimate knowledge not only of the area but also its housing strains, and they seem to have found it in Bleriot. The longtime resident of the mountain region between stints in her native New York has first-hand experience with the struggles of locating an adequate abode.
"I had a large dog, a Newfoundland, and a cat at the time," explained Bleriot of a period in the late-1990s, "and the three of us were tent residents for several months. I did not want to renew my lease (in Vail), so somewhat out of protest, and somewhat out of just seeing what the market would bear, I … moved every 14 days according to regulation."
Eventually that temporary situation shifted to a condo in Frisco and commute to Eagle County. Now 17 years later she's thankful to again be a full-time Summit County resident. Now a homeowner in Breckenridge, Bleriot is hoping to help the person she once was in efforts to build a stronger community.
"Every interaction you have in your hometown can be rooted back to housing," she said, "whether it's someone waiting on you at a restaurant and … how far they had to travel to get in that night to make it pleasant experience, or whether it's your friends and extended family and how they're faring. I just see it as the whole fabric of that equation."
County government settled on creating the new housing department after initiating several projects to bring more workforce units online in the past few years. Those deals include future rentals at Huron Landing in Breckenridge, the continued development of the Lake Hill parcel northeast of Frisco, and others still in the ether. An annual issues survey of local citizens helped spur on decision-makers.
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"Housing is the No. 1 issue in Summit County," said Jim Curnutte, the county's community development director, "which is why the (county) board has directed us to create a housing department and hire a housing director. We're already under construction at Huron Landing in partnership with the town of Breckenridge. Then obviously the next major project for Nicole to be involved in is Lake Hill."
Summit's planning director Don Reimer has been overseeing Huron Landing on the county's end in the meantime. Those responsibilities will soon be transferred over to Bleriot. What her day-to-day duties will look like are still being settled just one week on the job, but it will certainly entail devising and financing new affordable workforce home sites, possibly even directly fielding inquiries from the occasional future tenant.
"I have it boiled down to some simple words: Get housing built and create housing opportunities," she said. "We have a distinct housing need as well as a distinct need for how to finance that housing need, so trying to bundle both of those together in creating the opportunity."
Bleriot's experience is diverse, including leading construction teams on several multi-family residences at Beaver Creek and Cordillera such as the build-out of Bachelor Gulch in the late-'90s and early-'00s. Specifically she's worked on entitlements, zoning, creating infrastructure and establishing utilities. While working in New York, she also headed an expansion project at the American Museum of Natural History and a five-year restoration of St. Patrick's Cathedral. Other work while based in Vail with general contractor RA Nelson included construction of Dillon's Red Mountain Grill.
At first blush, the idea of leaving the glitz and glamour of those prominent undertakings in Manhattan may seem surprising, but for Bleriot the chance to return to the Rocky Mountains made the decision a no-brainer.
"I missed my nature and I missed my mountains," she said, "so it was my quest to get back here. I love every outdoor sport that we have to offer here — all of the snow sports, kayaking, stand-up paddle-boarding, bicycling, trail running. There are not enough weekends in the year to enjoy them all, but you certainly try."
Now with the position filled, the real work for Bleriot and the county begins. That will involve reconciling the right balance between building both rental and owner properties, as well as finding creative ways of generating additional units in existing developments.
"We've made our accessory apartment regulations easier over the years to encourage homeowners to build small apartments in their dwelling units," said Curnutte. "We can't put all our eggs in one basket and that's building new housing, although I do think that is going to be a significant part of the answer. We do need many more hundreds of units here in Summit County."
The Lake Hill master plan is scheduled to wrap up in the next month and then the focus becomes getting the land zoned by the end of the year or early next. From there, locating the capital to extend utilities and then going vertical. It's well past her days of simple tent living, and Bleriot said she's up for the challenge of helping positively impact Summit County now and into the future.
"I've got a fairly significant background with starting at before the beginning phase," she said. "I enjoyed taking projects from the kernel of an idea all the way through, and then some. Everyone here at the county has been doing a significant amount of work, so I'm very much looking forward to helping to carry that ball forward."
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