Vail Resorts strikes deal with Colorado county on workforce housing
SUMMIT COUNTY, Colo. — After nearly a year of overtures and debate with Vail Resorts, Inc., Summit’s Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved a new workforce housing complex in Keystone Monday afternoon.
Working with Vail and residential construction firm Gorman & Company, the county board finally settled on terms for the 196-unit, multi-million-dollar Village at Wintergreen during the third public hearing this month as part of a seven-meeting marathon dating back to February. From the start, Monday’s face-to-face over the conceptual plan for the 28.4-acre property between Keystone and Dillon on the north side of U.S. Highway 6 had an air of redundancy.
“We have a familiar agenda in front of us,” Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier said to open the session. “Do I need to say this again?”
Stretching more than four hours, the gathering to find compromise with the ski resort company and its development partner quickly shifted into an exercise in group think meets musical chairs, with a who’s who of county officials and Vail representatives taking turns presenting the latest submission to the three-member board. The number of real-time tweaks to the potential agreement, as the sides together raced to beat a June 1 federal subsidy application deadline, often produced new lines of inquiry to hammer out all of the language.
“I’m going to be honest with you, this is a lot of new stuff,” said Commissioner Thomas Davidson. “I can’t tell you that I really understand how these different calculations are going to work. I’m still trying to understand.”
The discussion clarified a multitude of new components to the arrangement. They spanned how employee-housing credits the resort needs to offset future commercial development would be counted each year to verify compliance, to whether a transit connector for a bus system was actually achievable, and who will build and oversee community amenities like a community garden and children’s playground.
The entire project is rooted in a deal announced between Vail and Gorman this past June, where the developer would manage the housing complex once completed on the resort-owned land in exchange for an annual lease of about $35,000. Following months of negotiations, the pitch to the county’s powers that be seemed dead as recently as just two weeks ago, but 11th-hour bargaining saved the proposal.
As presented, Wintergreen will consist of 120 year-round rentals made up of one- and two-bedroom apartments, 36 three-bedroom, four-occupant seasonal units and 40 low-income, mostly one-bedroom rentals. Approval is still needed to confirm the federal low-income subsidy and lock in a rental rate at 60 percent of the area median income. Provisions are also included in case that designation for the single building is not ultimately secured.
After countless hours of bartering and rethinking how all parties could be satisfied concerning items such as affordability, traffic mitigation and who is eligible to live in the new housing, an accord was eventually reached. The rental cap on the year-round properties will be set at 120 percent AMI, though Gorman initially intends to charge closer to 100 percent AMI, or roughly $1,500 a month for a one-bedroom apartment and no more than $1,900 for a two bedroom.
A priority-leasing program was termed a backstop by Gorman and Vail to ensure employees within Keystone limits are given first crack on a unit among the mix of housing at Wintergreen. Workers within a newly drawn boundary that acts as the Snake River Basin, with Summit Cove and Arapahoe Basin Ski Area included, receives second preference, followed by anyone in the county if a rental stands vacant beyond 20 days. Once completed, a housing lottery would take place to establish preliminary tenants, and a three-tier, location-based wait list kept beyond that.
Commitments by the co-applicants to construct and maintain a pedestrian crossing and a multi-stop shuttle system, plus making space for a required 80-child care facility on the premises, are also in the deal. The concessions received endorsement from Keystone area neighbors.
“I know it hasn’t been easy, and the community has not necessarily been the easiest group to work with during the process,” Ken Riley, president of the Keystone Owners Association and board member for the Keystone Citizens League, said during a public comment period. “Overall we’re very pleased with what we’ve seen happen, as tough as it was for everyone to get there.”
Immediately following the afternoon vote, with Commissioner Dan Gibbs calling in from Denver to participate, the room broke into clapping, smiles, cheers and hugs.
“I’m really impressed with the progress and the stamina of staff and the applicant,” said Stiegelmeier. “There were many details that we thought we needed to get to and not just trust it’ll all work out. I’m feeling really good, really proud of everybody through this process. OK, where’s the champagne?”
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