Summit County pushes forward on Lake Hill development with new site impact study

A rendering of some home and neighborhood designs included in the Lake Hill Master Plan. The current Master Plan draft calls for 436 new units in unincorporated Summit County just northeast of Frisco. (Courtesy photo)

What kind of impact does a massive new housing development make on a county? It’s time to find out.

Summit County and the town of Frisco are pushing forward with a site impact study for the proposed Lake Hill Workforce Housing project, a prodigious effort to bring more than 430 new units of affordable workforce housing to the county. The project, located on 44.81 acres of unincorporated land between Interstate 70 and the Dillon Dam Road northeast of Frisco, has been in the works for over 16 years. The study will examine the cumulative demand for services and facilities that would result from the development.

“The big intent of doing this project is to get those impacts analyzed so that we have our eyes open going into the project in terms of what this means for the town and county to be adding that many residences, and potentially 1,000 new residents,” said Randy Ready, town manager for Frisco. “There’s urgency in affordable housing, but we want to do it right with a fiscally responsible project that meets the housing needs we have. That’s why we’re taking the time to do this.”

The property was identified as a potential workforce-housing location back in 2001 as part of the county’s Tenmile Master Plan. Given the land’s status as U.S. Forest Service property, Summit County couldn’t acquire the land until 2016, following an act of Congress in The Lake Hill Administrative Site Affordable Housing Act signed by President Barack Obama in 2014. The county formally purchased the land for $1.75 million in February 2016.

The county and Frisco, which was brought into the fold due to its proximity to the project, put out a request for proposals (RFP) for the site impact study in late July, marking the first, real forward progress with the project in more than a year.

The study, which is expected to be contracted out sometime after the RFP deadline closes on Aug. 24, will explore the project’s potential impacts to the county and Frisco related to increased road and infrastructure demands, emergency communications and services, campgrounds and trails, water and wastewater treatment, distribution services and more.

“In my mind the next important step is to answer some of these questions,” said Ready. “We all want more housing, but what does that mean for our existing infrastructure and services? It’s just necessary information before we start moving dirt. … This is our best effort at trying to identify what the major impacts will be.”

The study names 10 elements to be explored through the process beginning with emergency communication, which will break down an estimate of the increased number of emergency calls to the Emergency Communications Center, the need for more equipment to handle the increased volume and the approximate cost for improvements. The emergency communications element serves as a template for how officials are looking at potential impacts. It largely matches up with the requested analysis of emergency services, fire protection and police protection, all of which dive into increased demand, the need for more equipment, response times to the new neighborhood and the estimated costs for expanded equipment and services. Other community services like health and human services and the library system will also be studied in the scope of work.

In addition to emergency services, potential impacts to roads, traffic, trails and transit will also be studied in depth. Traffic is already an issue for some — Frisco recently began an Exit 203 study to analyze congestion problems and potential solutions — but adding hundreds of cars to the area could certainly exacerbate existing problems. The study will analyze expected rises in traffic volume, the need for upgraded road capacities and signage, and an estimate of costs related to improvements and associated infrastructure. The study will also identify recommendations for extending the Summit Stage transit service to Frisco and Dillon along Dillon Dam Road, and consider impacts to the Heaton Bay Campground and trail system on the property.

Water and wastewater treatment and distribution will also be a key piece to the study. The study will look into the estimated need for additional water services, including the possibility of new facilities to match the increased capacity. In contemplating recommendations, contractors will be asked to consider water source options from the Town of Frisco, Buffalo Mountain Metro District, the creation of a new Lake Hill Water District, Dillon and Silverthorne and more.

While the study is comprehensive, its unclear what it will uncover about the county’s services and facilities.

“Our infrastructure systems or operational systems are diverse,” said Nicole Bleriot, Summit’s housing director. “We consulted with a lot of internal groups and other agencies to make sure we’re being as thorough as possible with any potential concerns, so we’re casting a wide net. There will be growth impacts on agencies that haven’t accounted for it, and we can reach out and figure out what we need to adapt. We might also find that some systems are fine for increased capacity. But we want to raise any and all questions now, and answer those so that we’re as prepared as possible.”

The study will also consider other growing infrastructure needs such as water drainage systems, electricity distribution systems, natural gas lines and telecommunication systems. The impact to schools and child care will also be analyzed, and finally, a fiscal impact analysis will include the short- and long-term financial repercussions, both good and bad.

Once contracted, the study will take between six and eight months to complete, and will help to inform the construction timeline in terms of how many phases the development will be built in, what gets constructed first and how it’s implemented.

“We see it as something exciting and with a lot of potential to fill a need,” said Ready. “But we want to do it right, and use those scarce housing dollars in a really responsible way.”

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