Summit County commissioners, staff highlight housing strategies during town hall on Friday

Officials answer questions regarding short-term rental restrictions

Alpine Inn in Frisco is pictured on Thursday, July 1. The inn and Summit County government are partnering to master lease the property's 37 units to turn them into long-term housing for the local workforce.
Photo by Jason Connolly / Jason Connolly Photography

In the last few months, Summit County has taken steps to brainstorm possible solutions and projects that will mitigate the community’s affordable housing issue, and some of those strategies were discussed during a town hall on Friday, July 30.

The virtual event, hosted via Zoom and Facebook Live, kicked off with an introduction from Summit County Commissioner Tamara Pogue regarding some of the steps county government officials have already taken, one of which included declaring a housing crisis on June 22.

Projects already launched

Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence gave a brief update regarding some of the county’s outstanding or recently finished projects, such as Dillon Valley Vistas, a 48-bedroom development that broke ground in May 2020 and just wrapped up its last closing a couple months ago.

Lawrence ran through the Housing Helps program and said the county has received about 33 applications in combination with the town of Breckenridge this year. There has been three purchases completed for a total of eight bedrooms so far, and three more purchases are in the process of being finalized.

She also acknowledged the county’s master lease with Alpine Inn in Frisco, which will offer 38 rooms to the local workforce including police officers, Summit Stage drivers and teachers.

Other successful projects in the works include a recent property the county is purchasing through the buy down program that will add eight more bedrooms to the market; completing a study about the U.S. Forest Service compound in Dillon that could potentially support 203 units; and completing an analysis on the infrastructure needed for the Lake Hill workforce development. Lawrence said this study will be used during a joint meeting with both the county and town of Frisco at the end of August.

Short-term rental strategies

The topic that saw the most engagement was short-term rentals and how these units play a part in the overall housing discussion. Summit County Commissioner Josh Blanchard noted that the county was trying to be thoughtful in its approach regarding these units, especially because they provide accommodations for visitors who support the local economy.

“Summit County government is not anti-(short-term rentals),” Blanchard said. “We recognize the importance that short-term rentals play in our economy. We know that infrastructure is absolutely required in order for us to maintain the workforce that we have as well as to host the visitors coming to Summit County. What we are is pro-balance and pro-common sense.”

Blanchard noted that there are 4,334 short-term rental units within unincorporated Summit County, and that roughly two-thirds of these are located in Keystone and Copper Mountain. Blanchard said the county intends to leave these units be, mostly because they’re not as suitable for long-term housing.

Instead, Blanchard said the county plans to focus on the remaining roughly 1,005 units, and especially those that land in “opportunity zones,” or areas and neighborhoods traditionally occupied by locals. These include Dillon Valley, French Creek, Woodmoor, Wildernest, Summit Cove, Quandary Village and Lake View Meadows.

The county plans to develop a package of incentives that will appeal to these owners and make it easier financially to switch their short-term units into long-term units, which could include conversion grants, among other things.

Blanchard noted that the county is also continuing to look at a cap or moratorium in addition to these strategies, but he said it would rather offer a host of strategies and doesn’t plan to lean on this suggestion as a single solution. Blanchard reminded the audience that this conversation only relates to the county’s discussion, and that the towns might have a different approach to short-term rental caps.

Many community members had questions regarding some of the specifics around short-term rentals, including why the county doesn’t tax short-term units as a commercial entity. Pogue said that while the county wishes to do so, it doesn’t currently have the authority to do so under state law.

Moving forward, the county plans to send a survey to owners of short-term units that are located within these opportunity zones to collect their feedback.

Other potential solutions

In addition to these strategies, both Lawrence and Pogue covered additional ideas the county is exploring, which include using U.S. Forest Service campgrounds during the off season for those living in their van or camper, auditing development codes and waiving or reducing all county fees on workforce housing projects for the next 12 months.

The county is also exploring options to make accessory dwelling units more attainable through grants and by offering a lending library of approved designs for homeowners to choose from.

As for the costly measure of building new units, the county isn’t ignoring its options. Lawrence said staff members are currently working with Gorman & Co. to build an additional 47 units for the second phase of its Village at Wintergreen development in Keystone.

Not only that, but the county identified parcels of its own land that could be developed for housing. This includes a 1.5-acre parcel near the Summit County Justice Center, a 0.2-acre parcel near Soda Creek and over 2 acres near the Snake River Wastewater Treatment Plant.

Where’s the money coming from?

At the start of the event, Pogue noted that the county needs additional funding in order to meet its attainable housing needs. According to the presentation shown at the event, Summit County accrues $3.8 million annually, and leaders point out that this isn’t nearly enough revenue to support these many projects proposed.

County officials and staff are planning to advocate and apply for various grants and funding to ensure Summit County has a seat at the table.

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