Summit County’s next workforce housing project draws ideas at open house
Following the official ownership transfer of the Lake Hill land parcel northeast of Frisco from the U.S. Forest Service to Summit County in March, the next phase of the land build out is underway.
The county hosted a two-hour open house this past Thursday, April 21 in order to obtain public comment on how they believe the recently acquired, approximately 45-acre workforce-housing site should be developed. The goal is to take ideas and opinions from local stakeholders in order to ensure the property is fashioned to best suit the needs of the growing community.
“It’s very important that this project have excellent and abundant public input,” said county manager Gary Martinez. “We hope to be completely interactive and open on this process, and I am confident that we will end up with a very good product.”
Primarily, feedback on Thursday ranged from questions about how parking will function on the future housing site with million-dollar views of popular Greys and Torreys peaks, potential traffic issues that could broaden along Dillon Dam Road and the income limits associated with these future homes of various sizes and purposes. Many emphasized the need for storage space for outdoor gear, inquired about access to both existing trails, green spaces and area transit and requested rules that allow for dogs and other pets, including the idea of staying unincorporated to offer the potential for chickens and bees.
No word on the final number of participants on Thursday, but the main room of the Summit County Community and Senior Center in Frisco was full for the bulk of the comment period, with attendees even showing up a half hour early to offer their perspectives. Hors d’oeuvres for 100 were provided, and one of the on-site staff described it as “the social event of the day,” with likely as many as twice that number coming through by close.
Regardless of what decisions are eventually decided upon down the road, most involved in the process recognize the importance of smart development as the amount of space for such building throughout the county shrinks by the year, and the demand only continues to intensify. In essence, decision-makers understand that everyone will have to collaborate on this unique opportunity in order to produce the biggest bang for the buck.
“The needs are so large in the county,” said Martinez, in terms of housing. “We really need to challenge ourselves to make this the best we can possibly have, to maximize the value of going past that critical point (of density). Yet, we don’t want to pack so much on that it becomes an unpleasant environment. But, let’s get the public’s input, let’s get a good plan together.”
Dollars and a Dream
The acquisition of the Lake Hill parcel has been something of a longtime, but unattainable dream. Discussions on the land, located between the Dam Road and Interstate 70, are at least a decade old, and there had been previously unsuccessful attempts by the county and town of Frisco to procure the property from the White River National Forest.
Even though some of the surrounding area had already been developed with utilities and major roadways because the U.S. Forest Service owned it, purchasing Lake Hill from the feds was anything but straightforward. A new approach became possible, however, after the passage of the Forest Service Facility Realignment and Enhancement Act of 2005.
That law authorized the forest service to sell or exchange land in order to buy, build or improve national forest facilities — a special allowance provided with increasing budget cuts at the federal level. Then in June 2013, Colorado legislators got to work on introducing a bill that would enable the White River to specifically sell Lake Hill to Summit County but required passage in the U.S. Congress and the president’s signature to finally move forward.
The bill passed both the U.S. House and Senate with unanimous consent and the Lake Hill Administrative Site Affordable Housing Act arrived to Pres. Obama’s desk in the summer of 2014. He added his inscription on July 25, 2013, and the parameters for finally making this dream a reality were in place.
The property was expected to cost the county upwards of $2.5 million, but an internal forest service appraisal valued it at $1.75 million this past December. That made the county doubly the benefactor of once and for all consummating the agreement that provided this money to the White River National Forest to purchase the Dillon Ranger Station from Silverthorne where the district already makes its home.
All of which brings the county and its inquiring residents up to the present and now deciding how it they should together construct the next major housing for local workers.
County planners, many of who were on hand at the open house on Thursday, have already conducted a good deal of study on Lake Hill — from elevation assessments to topography — and will soon examine soil samples. This site inventory and analysis, combined with a few chances for the public to offer feedback, are viewed as the initial step of the master plan schedule. Combining all of those facets will lead to a conceptual master plan that will be available by the end of July, followed by the release of a final master plan with conceptual designs by the end of September.
The final master plan will offer all stakeholders and interested parties everything from the civil engineers plans, final cost estimates and a summary of the housing programs and financing options. Everyone is eager for those key data points to be available, but there’s still five months of work ahead before those details are settled.
“We don’t have those numbers yet,” said Martinez. “Those are all formulas and equations and concepts that we are going to be working really hard on over the next three, four, five months. We obviously know there is a huge amount of expenses associated with this project, not the least of which would be the infrastructure extensions to and within the site.”
From there, the county will have to figure out how to pay for the actual construction after necessary utilities such as electricity, water and sewer lines are all extended to the property. The county hired Corum Real Estate Group in March to lead all of these efforts, and the company will also be looking into working with builders, so the county won’t necessarily have to front all of the cash to erect this almost certainly phased housing development.
The numbers that the county is closing in on, though, are the number of homes that will go on the site. The county initially targeted the space for producing between 250 and 350 units, but it could actually be as many as 400. That may seem like a lot, but, on a property of 45 acres, it would make for fewer than 10 units per acre.
In comparison, according to county senior planner Don Reimer, nearby neighborhoods such as the Villas at Prospect Point (90 condos on 8.3 acres), the Lake Forest Estates (72 condos on 4.7 acres) and the Bay Club at Frisco (32 condos on 2.3 acres), that’s an even more generous amount of space per unit than any of these other prior housing development. The major difference is, of course, that the Lake Hill property is so much larger than any of these previous sites. And plausibly, it’s the last chance for the county to build on such a substantial expanse in the surrounding area.
“It could be a one-off,” said Martinez. “There might be some additional land adjacent to this site. That’s a possibility, but boy, I don’t know of any other parcels around the county at this point that are located the way this one is. This is so perfectly suited.”
Following the master-plan process, the county will look to further partner with the town of Frisco to begin rezoning and subdividing the property. The build out would then start on the infrastructure as early as 2017, following by potential for construction on the first set of units in 2018, all based on the financing and phasing recommendations.
Until then, there will be other comment periods for members of the public. But once more, the chance at building a community redefining housing project such as Lake Hill is so rare — even with the early talk that there may just be some more land nearby for similar designs — that the county wants to look back years from now and know it did it correctly.
“Remember,” said Martinez, “the county’s desire is not to build housing halfway down the Blue (River) or on top of Hoosier Pass. People want to live where there are communities. So we want to do this one right.”
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