Pine-beetle clear cut gets second life as Summit County workforce housing

Million-dollar views of Grays and Torreys Peaks are a main draw to the Lake Hill property, which carries on in the county's initial design phase for future affordable workforce housing.
Kevin Fixler / |

The cracks of dried branches underfoot and light chatter from the accompanying group drowned out the faint cries of big rigs and other commuter traffic along Interstate 70 on a recent sun-splashed morning northeast of Frisco.

The site, Lake Hill, between I-70 and Dillon Dam Road, is the future location of Summit County’s principle affordable workforce-housing project after it acquired the 45-acre property from the U.S. Forest Service late last year. And now well into the master planning process, the local government took Thursday, July 14 to show off the swath of land and the preliminary conceptual designs to members of the public during three field trips with county staff.

Attendees were asked to use their imaginations for how raw and undeveloped swathes could be transformed: That westerly entrance point, one of two planned roundabouts along the Dam Road and between the development and Dillon Reservoir; those overhead power lines, all scheduled to come down and be put underground as part of early infrastructural work; that spot you’re standing right there, the home of the proposed community center and a portion of the parcel-long greenbelt.

During the morning session, Summit planning director Don Reimer led a group of about 20 area residents through the graded land from one charted stake to the next, pointing out how Frisco-based architectural firm Norris Design has carved up and plotted the territory for between 400 and 500 new housing units. Much of that layout is based on the requests of county government, as well as public feedback received at two open houses. A third will be held in the fall to present near-final blueprints.

“We want to leave as much of the vegetation as possible,” Reimer said responding to a question from a member of the troop. “It’s part of the natural landscape, acts as a buffer to some of the noise and I just like trees.”

A repeated victim of the destructive pine beetle, the area has already been logged for fire mitigation purposes three times since the mid-1980s, according to the White River National Forest’s Paul Semmer, with the last coming five or six years ago. Thus the frequent snap of downed trees as individuals navigate the varied terrain.

Many of the particulars of the site are still to be determined, including a potential emergency-only route directly to the highway, the creation of the main utility quarter for gas, sewer and cable lines and traffic flows as well as a possible pedestrian overpass over the Dam Road. Another is what, if anything, will happen to a scenic overlook directly northwest and 70 feet up from ground level that is popular with those seeking respite and the million-dollar views of Grays and Torreys peaks.

“As you can see,” Reimer told the group, “these might be some of the best views in Summit County. So we’ve already got people volunteering for these lots.”

Current sketches call for light and sound barriers between the highway and nearest four-story multi-family units at about 45 feet tall. For now, the planning department sees those future conversations with the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) as having nothing off the table. And if walls end up being necessary to offset additional highway noise, then that’s an option, too.

Still, another point of discussion in its infancy is whether the town of Frisco will eventually annex the tract of land, as the county already plans to tie into the municipality’s water line and the nearby district’s sanitation system. The question remains as to whether any additional land to the northeast might be available through the Forest Service — what the Dillon District refers to as the “Greater Lake Hill Area” — for purchase. But with the county’s initial procurement of the Lake Hill parcel taking upwards of 15 years, a final master plan in September and hopes of breaking ground in 2018, those are negotiations to be saved for another sun-filled day.

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