Summit County Wants Act of Congress

Aug 7, 2013

Summit County is angling for an Act of Congress. Not just any act-- one that allows the County to buy a chunk of Forest Service land. The idea is to use it for affordable housing... an unusual plan in Colorado.

The next time you drive through Summit County on Interstate 70, look southeast, towards Dillon Dam Road and Dillon Reservoir. Forty acres there could become home for local residents. County Commissioner Dan Gibbs, a big supporter of the plan, says the land has “lost its forest character.”

Lake Hill Parcel, Dillon Ranger District, White River National Forest.
Lake Hill Parcel, Dillon Ranger District, White River National Forest.
Credit Office of Senator Mark Udall

“Heavily impacted by dead trees and by two major roadways, with power lines heading through it as well. It’s kind of barren land right now, but we really think we can rehab it to make it a great spot for locals to live and work in Summit County.”

Those dead trees are casualties of the widespread lodge pole  pine bark beetle epidemic sweeping through much of Colorado. Gibbs is a former state lawmaker... and in office, one of his favorite topics was finding ways to deal with that epidemic. Now, as Commissioner, he sees affordable housing as a big issue in the county.  Officials have been looking for good places to build affordable housing. This spot seems right... though some wonder if locals would want to live so close to the interstate.

“Yes, I would say it’s a desirable location, public transportation is close by, it’s situated in unincorporated Summit County, but the town of Frisco is right down the street and there’s currently other housing complexes, it’d be literally right next door.”

Everything, of course, depends.... literally... on an Act of Congress. The idea is that Summit County will buy the land from the Forest Service.  Without the go ahead from Washington that can’t happen.

Right now bills in both the US House and the Senate would allow the sale. The US Department of Housing and Urban Development or “HUD” says it’s not aware of this happening in Colorado before. Aspen tried a similar deal with Forest Service land in town, it fell through because of the Congressional approval requirement. It’s not clear whether Pitkin County is watching the Summit County proposal... further down the Roaring Fork Valley it is getting attention.

“Well I was excited to see how that would work and see if anybody in Garfield County that’s a developer would make a proposal to do the same thing.”

Geneva Powell is Executive Director of the Garfield County Housing Authority. Affordable housing is run differently from Summit County.  Still, both counties have vast tracts of public land smack against towns. And if the Forest Service or Bureau of Land Management wants to sell land nearby, she certainly wants to know about it. In the meantime, Powell is keeping an eye further East on I-70.

“It will be a good test of the system, I guess, to see how Summit County fairs.”

The Eagle County Housing Department is also watching... for a different reason.

“We did purchase some land from the Forest Service back in 2009, I think, might have been 2010, that’s located right in the town of Eagle.”

Jill Klosterman is Eagle County’s Housing Director. While the county hasn’t done anything with the land yet... affordable housing is a possible use. As for the Summit County proposal, planners are just getting started.  They don’t know how many units to consider or what kind...or even how much they would pay for the land.  Again, County Commissioner Dan Gibbs.

“We’re not down that road yet, but the county would pay for all the costs associated for examining what the value of that land is, but Summit County, similar to the Roaring Fork Valley, and other resort communities, where housing is very expensive, you know we have areas in Breckenridge where the average home sells for 1.2 million dollars, and county wide at about $800,000.”

In Aspen, the average single family home value is three and a half million dollars... and across Pitkin County is nearly three million dollars. Paying for the Summit County Forest Service land could come from a mill levy specifically earmarked for affordable housing.  That is, if Congress gives the green light.