Summit County eyes fall deadline to secure lease from US Forest Service for joint affordable housing venture |

Summit County eyes fall deadline to secure lease from US Forest Service for joint affordable housing venture

County staff say a land agreement must happen before the 2018 Agriculture Improvement Act, or Farm Bill, expires on Sept. 30

A White River National Forest sign is pictured March 27, 2022. The United States Forest Service is currently working with the Summit County government to leave White River land in Dillon for a workforce housing project.
Liz Copan/Summit Daily News archive

A joint venture to build affordable housing on an 11-acre parcel of land just outside the town of Dillon is gaining steam as officials eye a fall deadline to secure a lease. 

The plan, which has been in the works for at least six years as stakeholders negotiated the terms of the deal — from who would provide sewer services to ownership of the land — has been hailed as an unprecedented venture by county officials. The town of Dillon, Summit County government and the U.S. Forest Service are seeking to build up to 162 income-based housing units for members of the county’s workforce as well as federal employees on the site that currently houses the Forest Service’s Dillon Work Center.

“This is an incredibly exciting project,” said Summit Commissioner Tamara Pogue. “It is the first of its kind in the nation in terms of the relationship between the county, town of Dillon and the Forest Service.”

During a March 21 Summit Board of County Commissioners meeting, officials discussed the most recent efforts to move toward construction. Those efforts include finalizing an appraisal — which determines the value of the property — and securing a lease to use land currently owned by the White River National Forest. 

Summit County housing director Jason Dietz said staff members are considering taking over the appraisal process from the Forest Service in a bid to expedite a lease. 

“The U.S. Forest Service is driving that through their regional and also national office,” Dietz said. “They felt that it would be quicker if we could actually handle the (request for approval) process.”

Dietz said the county faces a “fairly tight deadline” to finalize the land agreement before the federal government’s 2018 Agriculture Improvement Act, or Farm Bill, expires on Sept. 30. 

The legislation, which sunsets every five years, provided the Forest Service “the authority to enter long-term lease arrangements at qualifying administrative sites in exchange for cash or non-cash consideration,” according to a Forest Service statement. 

Overseeing the appraisal process, however, does come with “one caveat,” Dietz added. Forest Service officials have indicated the county may need to pay up to 20% of the appraisal, Dietz said, though he’s still hoping the county will not have to pay for that process. 

Funding for the project could partially come from Colorado House Bill 1304, which, in 2022, created two state grant programs for affordable housing. Dietz cautioned that the grant money is “really competitive” and that the county “may or may not get all or part of it.”

An alternative, though, is a plan being spearheaded by the Forest Service to build a fund for the project supported by wealthy investors, according to Dietz. 

“What they’re doing … is putting together a list of impact investors, millionaires, billionaires, across the White River National Forest to fund various projects like this,” Dietz said, adding that a better financial picture should come within the next couple weeks. 

“It’ll be a big help across the White River and definitely a big help on other projects as well,” Dietz said. 

Speaking to the Summit Daily News after the meeting, Pogue said she’s optimistic that after years of discussion, the project will be able to break ground next year. 

She added the unique partnership with the Forest Service is “going to create a pathway for other communities who want to craft similar strategies.”

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