Vail Resorts, Summit County push Wintergreen decision back one more week

Kevin Fixler

A decision on the proposed Village at Wintergreen project in Keystone has once again been delayed by a week so county staff and Vail Resorts can agree on the terms of an elaborate deal that’s been a year in the making.

Vail, with development partner Gorman & Co., is trying to obtain an approval from the county on a 196-unit employee-housing complex on the north side of U.S. Highway 6 between Keystone and Dillon, but must first meet requirements of the guiding government document for the area. Gorman and Vail first announced their venture last June before formally pitching the multi-million-dollar project to the county this past November.

The parties last met with the county on May 9, for what appeared would be a final decision from Summit’s three-member Board of County Commissioners on whether or not to green light the plans. They could not come to terms by the hearing’s end, however, and — even with a looming June 1 deadline for a federal subsidy — instead settled on trying to negotiate further over the ensuing week.

On Tuesday afternoon, county staff was tasked with presenting the product of those last-ditch talks. A mix of newfangled formulas, conceptual flowcharts and computations to confirm compliance was complicated enough, however, that the commissioners issued a continuance to another special meeting now set for Monday morning, May 22, so they can mull over the decision more and allow representatives additional time to reach an agreement.

“Trust me, we banged some heads,” said assistant county manager Thad Noll. “We think it’s straightforward on its face, but our time crunch made it a little more difficult to make sure that we had vetted everything completely because we wanted to present the general concept today.”

The project envisions creating a blend of housing for those working within the Snake River Basin, which includes Vail-owned Keystone Resort as well as that unincorporated portion of the county. Based on the submitted documents, Vail would lease 28.4 acres of its land to Gorman for approximately $35,000 a year, and the residential builder would develop and manage the workforce units.

The proposal consists of 120 year-round rentals comprised of one- and two-bedroom units, 36 three-bedroom, seasonal units and 40 low-income, primarily one-bedroom apartments. It’s also part of the overarching vision Vail publicized in December 2015 to offer up $30 million across resort communities where it operates in Colorado, California and Utah, on top of its own land, to construct these new workforce structures to help resolve the regional housing crises.

Snags in the plan have ranged from deciding how many employee-housing credits Vail will receive — a necessary component used to offset further commercial development of the resort — given opportunities exist for anyone within the county to live at Wintergreen, to just how affordable the properties would be. Gorman has stated repeatedly it cannot obtain the essential financing if heightened rent thresholds are not maintained.

Vail, meanwhile, has yet to commit any of that $30 million pledge to a project, and would not be doing so with Wintergreen either.

“Since making the announcement of our $30 million commitment to affordable housing, we have actively engaged in several discussions to bring more affordable housing to our resort communities, including in Colorado, Park City and Lake Tahoe,” Kristin K. Williams, Vail Resorts’ vice president of mountain community affairs, said in a statement to the Daily. “As you can tell from the process here in Summit County, there are many challenges to such projects but we remain hopeful that Wintergreen can be our first.”

The county has once more directed staff to see what can be worked out in the next handful of business days while the county board considers the fresh approach to resolving the stalemate. The commissioners ended the meeting on a positive note, but still with no definitive answer whether Wintergreen will receive their approval.

“I’ve said this before, but I think it’s getting better and better,” said Commissioner Dan Gibbs. “This looks, to me, like it’s really moving in the right direction. I feel really good about what I heard today and I’m looking forward to our next meeting.”

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