Summit County commissioners and staff identify key players, next steps in housing strategies
Six primary strategies were identified in last week’s Summit County Housing Action Initiative
The goal of last week’s Summit County Housing Action Initiative was to bring various stakeholder groups together to brainstorm initiatives, programs and projects that would help curb Summit County’s affordable housing issue. At the Summit County Commissioners’ work session meeting Tuesday, July 27, county staff and elected officials discussed the six main strategies stakeholders valued the most and identified key players and next steps to move these solutions forward.
The six strategies that were most valued at the housing summit were:
- Launching an online clearing house for locals to find housing in and around the county
- Moving the Lake Hill workforce housing development project forward
- Mitigating the negative impacts of short-term rentals
- Learning more about modular homes
- Making accessory dwelling units more accessible
- Identifying funding streams for various projects
A clearing house for housing
Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence acknowledged that Breckenridge was already operating a similar program to a clearing house — a one-stop online resource for finding affordable housing in the county — but that program was so niche that the county needed to take a broader approach.
Currently, locals use word-of-mouth, Facebook groups One Man’s Junk and Summit County Housing Connection, and friends and family to find available units.
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During the housing retreat last week, the Summit Combined Housing Authority was identified as the organization that could take on this project. Rob Murphy, the authority’s executive director, was in support of the idea.
Lawrence suggested that human resource directors from local businesses get involved with the planning of this initiative, and she said another brainstorming session around this topic should be planned in the near future. Summit County Manager Scott Vargo said county staff had a meeting scheduled this week to discuss the project with Murphy and his team.
Lawrence even suggested that the housing authority could rebrand to make it more approachable to potential renters and locals.
“We know from a government side what the housing authority means and does, but if you’re public facing it doesn’t really sit well,” she said. “So instead, if it’s more like ‘Summit Housing,’ it’s more of a general, friendly place to go.”
Moving Lake Hill forward
Summit County Commissioner Tamara Pogue said she and Vargo were pushing hard to get a “yes” from Frisco officials about moving the Lake Hill workforce development project along.
Still in its conceptual planning phase, the project could have around 436 workforce housing units located near Frisco, but the property’s lack of infrastructure is one of many obstacles stalling the project. Both Pogue and Vargo said during a breakout group discussion on the project’s infrastructure needs they felt a pause from Frisco’s end of the table.
“We want to be able to move the rezoning process along, despite the fact that we may not have all the details worked out, because of the timing issue and because this has sat for as long as it has,” Vargo said. “We want to get things rolling again, and unfortunately, we couldn’t get that going.”
Pogue said during the discussion, some of Frisco’s leaders pointed out that because of the project’s infrastructure needs the development would have a significant price tag. Pogue said that the group responded, “If you don’t move forward with it, you will regret not having moved forward with it because it’s that big of an opportunity.”
She said that the group pointed out that there is federal funding available for projects like these, but they “needed a little bit of a thumbs up from Frisco” before moving forward.
Though Summit County officials are concerned about their partnership with the town, Frisco Mayor Hunter Mortensen said in an interview Tuesday that he and his team are open to conversations about the project, especially now that other towns seem to be interested in contributing to its success.
“We all realize that it’s time to really push Lake Hill forward and make that a reality, so I don’t think there’s any hesitancy,” Mortensen said. “I think it’s just time to revisit the conversation. … It hasn’t been had in a good couple of years and especially with this sitting council. The great part of that breakout group was the other towns in the county now see that they also should be a party to Lake Hill, and that’s never been part of the conversation.”
County leadership estimated that the project’s first phase won’t be completed for at least another three years, and rezoning the property takes up a good portion of that timeline. Pogue asked Summit County Community Development Director Jim Curnutte if his team had the ability to shorten that timeline. She also suggested hosting a town hall about the project to educate the public about why it’s been a couple decades in the making.
Officials from both Frisco and Summit County plan to reconvene next month to discuss next steps. In the meantime, all three commissioners plan to meet with Frisco council members one-on-one to discuss concerns.
Focusing on short-term rentals
The next steps for focusing on short-term rentals and their impact on the housing issue were less clear compared to other strategies, and that’s partly because the conversation around the issue has become so sensitive.
“The fervor around this issue is so high that folks can’t hear what is actually happening, and somehow we have to find a way to get everyone to take a deep breath so that we can actually make some progress that makes sense,” Pogue said.
Summit County Housing Director Jason Dietz noted that next steps were not determined at last week’s housing summit, especially around taxing.
During Tuesday’s meeting, county officials did discuss the possibility of capping the number of short-term units, but Pogue voiced concern that this strategy could backfire if not implemented properly.
“I agree that it has to be a combination of strategies, no question,” she said. “I still am concerned that if we don’t do this in the right order we’re going to lose units. If we were to say right now — without offering a complement of services — (we’re) just doing a cap, we lose a lot of opportunity to transition units back into workforce housing. … They’ll hold onto it or they’ll sell it, and they’ll sell it for $1 million. And there’s no way a local could possibly afford it in this environment.”
Another idea supported by the county was to examine the possibility of opportunity zones. Dietz said his team could work on identifying neighborhoods traditionally inhabited by locals and prohibit short-term rentals in those areas. Dietz said he and his team could begin pushing out messaging and start moving forward with this strategy one zone at a time, and this could happen in the next month or so.
Learning about modular homes
Lawrence noted that she was in support of using modular homes as a strategy. She offered to coordinate a field trip for community leaders to take them to visit Fading West Development’s manufacturing plant in Buena Vista. One of the company’s representatives attended the housing summit and voiced a desire to work within the county.
One issue associated with this strategy is identifying land for these homes. Dietz suggested that the county’s parcel of land near the Summit County Justice Center could be an ideal location, though it’d likely only hold 20 to 25 units.
Accessory dwelling unit possibilities
Another strategy discussed was how the county could make accessory dwelling units more accessible to residents.
Already, Dietz and his team have waived various fees for those wanting to add an accessory dwelling unit onto their property. Vargo brought up the high cost of adding hookups for water and sewer lines, and Dietz said that his team is working on some kind of program that would grant funds to cover these costs.
In addition, the team suggested building some kind of design library for these units, which would help save time and money for residents wanting to add these units to their property. The team also suggested offering modular-like accessory dwelling unit options, too.
While fees for these types of units have already been waived, Dietz and his team are still ironing out other details involving accessory dwelling units, which he hopes to present to the county commissioners in the fall.
Additional funding for housing projects
Pogue said that at the housing summit, officials from Breckenridge, Frisco and Silverthorne were in unanimous support for reauthorizing the 5A sales and use tax of 0.125%. Pogue noted that officials from Dillon and Blue River were not in this breakout group, but she suggested that if there was unanimous support from all of the towns the county commissioners would put this on their agenda for the future.
Another item suggested by stakeholders, specifically officials from local towns, was for the county to increase its fee for short-term rental permits. This is a measure that Breckenridge officials are examining, but Summit County Attorney Jeff Huntley said the county isn’t as flexible to do this under the state’s constitution.
Huntley said home rule authority provides town governments with the power to legislate and make regulations relevant to local areas, meaning towns like Breckenridge have more autonomy than the county.
Pogue also noted that attendees during the housing summit suggested using the lodging tax as a means for generating funds for workforce housing projects.
In all, most county staff members and elected officials thought last week’s housing summit was successful, especially the brainstorm session that resulted in roughly 30 ideas.
Vargo said he’d hoped that a developer or benefactor would have come forward ready to launch a new project, but this did not happen.
“I had hoped that as part of the discussion that we might have gotten maybe a few developers or someone came forward that said, ‘By the way I’ve got 50 acres, and I would really like to set up a (partnership) with somebody to do a project here.’ We didn’t get that unfortunately.”
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