Years later, US Forest Service compound makes progress as Summit County crafts affordable housing proposal

The proposed site for a new workforce housing development on U.S. Forest Service land just outside of Dillon.
Courtesy town of Dillon

The U.S. Forest Service’s affordable housing project is close to tackling many hurdles that have stalled its construction. 

Due to the nature of the project, many entities are involved. The parcel is on U.S. Forest Service-owned land but is within Dillon’s town boundaries, and Summit County government officials are committed to building affordable housing at the site. 

“I mean, nothing’s normal about this because we are the first county to lease land from the Forest Service in the nation for affordable housing,” Summit County Commissioner Tamara Pogue said. 

After five years of back-and-forth discussions about who will provide sewer services, who will own the land and what the density of the housing project will be, the involved groups are taking steps to build the project. Right now, the parcel of land will remain under the ownership of the U.S. Forest Service. As soon as a series of procedures are completed, construction can begin. 

“I would say this project has been a long time coming,” Dillon Town Manager Nathan Johnson said. “We’ve been exploring it with our partners at the county and the U.S. Forest Service for quite some time. I will say the main tone here is perseverance — and determination.”

The county is leading the charge on affordable housing. Therefore, it has to lease the land from the Forest Service. However, before the lease is official, a few steps have to be taken. 

First, a proposal from the county must be approved, which has already been written and brainstormed by the Summit County Planning Department. Housing Director Jason Dietz said the current proposal from the county includes 177 housing units and separate chunks of land designated to the county and the Forest Service. 

Next, the proposal will be presented to the public so that the Forest Service can collect feedback. The U.S. Forest Service will hold a public hearing to receive feedback from the community about the project. Folks can contribute thoughts on Summit County’s proposal and ask questions. 

Anna Bengston, the Land Conveyance Program manager for the White River National Forest, said the public comment period will help steer the project forward. Bengston said she anticipates comments that outline what locals would like to see happen. 

But there is one more requirement before a lease agreement can be made. 

An organization has to conduct an environmental study on the property. Bengston said the National Environmental Policy Act requires certain legal steps to be completed before construction begins. 

“That guiding legislation says that we — the Forest Service, an agency — have to go through an interdisciplinary and public process to review the project for environmental impact, economic impact, social impact, and just look at the project and what it means for National Forest System lands from various, different perspectives,” Bengston said. 

Though multiple entities had to jump through hoops to make this project happen, Johnson said they are excited about the progress.

“There’s actually a project that’s taking shape, and as we work through these particulars, it’s looking more and more like it could potentially become a reality,” Johnson said. 

Bengston said she is excited that the Forest Service gets a chance to provide for the community. 

“It’s a really exciting milestone for us because it is great opportunity to help us solve some of our housing and facilities needs,” Bengston said, “but also because it has such great potential for providing the community housing that the county and residents … really need.”

The open house for local folks to share their thoughts on the proposal will be held on Thursday, Dec. 8 from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Dillon Town Hall, 275 Lake Dillon Drive. The Forest Service will be collecting comments until Jan. 6.

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