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March 3, 2016

Summit County hosts Lake Hill purchase ceremony with US Forest Service

Summit Daily News
March 3, 2016
By: Kevin Fixler

Gusty winds and brisk morning temperatures couldn’t cool the celebratory mood for those gathered at the scenic overlook on Interstate 70 between the towns of Frisco and Silverthorne Tuesday, March 1.

The small group, made up of staff from Summit County and town governments, representatives of state legislators, Copper Mountain Ski Resort and the U.S. Forest Service, braved chilly conditions to take in the picturesque view of the nearly 45-acre Lake Hill property. The function served as a formal ownership transfer of the piece of real estate from the Forest Service to the county.

“We’re here today to celebrate a significant milestone in Summit County’s efforts to address the workforce housing shortage,” Gary Martinez, county manager, told those in attendance. “There is much, much more work to do, but you can’t do a good housing project without land to build on, so this is a key acquisition.”

The complex process on which the county embarked in obtaining Lake Hill has been a unique one given the space was federal land. It took both an act of Congress and President Obama’s signature to make it happen.

“It’s just unbelievable,” said Commissioner Dan Gibbs. “We were able to pass legislation in a year without a single no vote and for the benefit of one specific community. That just doesn’t happen.”

The undertaking goes back much further, however. First, a federal law passed in 2005 to assist the Forest Service with swelling budget cuts that allowed the agency to sell or exchange land around the country set the stage.

Gibbs, who was elected to his current position in 2010, picked up from there and helped lead efforts to have Rep. Jared Polis (D-Boulder) introduce a bill to Congress in 2013, which was carried over to the U.S. Senate by Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colorado) and then-Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colorado) a month later. Unanimous consent had the bill on Pres. Obama’s desk in the summer of 2014, and it was signed into law on July 25. The county officially bought the property Dec. 8 of last year for $1.75 million.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Commissioner Karn Stiegelmeier. “But it’s exciting to celebrate once these things happen. There’s not a bad view anywhere.”

The property was initially expected to fetch around $2.5 million, but an internal Forest Service appraisal took into consideration the notable expense to extend utilities such as water, electricity and sewer lines to the land parcel and reduced the final price, giving the county even more reason to celebrate.

The Lake Hill legislation signed by the president required that the White River National Forest specifically sell Lake Hill to the county. It also stipulated that proceeds from the deal stay within the region and upgrade Forest Service facilities. Those funds are now being designated for purchase of the Dillon Ranger District’s current station in Silverthorne.

“This is a testament that governments, if they work together, can find a common goal to solve problems, and I am just really proud of what we were able to accomplish working together,” said Scott Fitzwilliams, White River National Forest supervisor. “Finding ways to do this has been extremely rewarding, and these are the things that I think benefit communities for obviously decades to come.”

As for Tuesday morning, the theme and attention remained on affordable workforce housing. As Gibbs explained to the tiny congregation, “Local Summit County residents should be able to work where they live, and live where they work, and this is a real positive step forward in achieving our greater community goals.”

The Lake Hill site was picked as an ideal location for housing because of its existing proximity to public transit, I-70 and Highway 9 and various services. The county has initially targeted the space for providing between 250 and 350 housing units to address the ongoing lodging shortage throughout the county.

“It’s never been easy to get a place to live here that’s affordable,” Commissioner Thomas Davidson noted in his remarks, “but that challenge is getting greater and greater, and so the acquisition of this parcel and our ability to move forward with regard to workforce housing is really important for the future of Summit County.”

Davidson talked of a housing-needs assessment the county commissioned in 2013 with partner municipalities that showed the region would require more than 1,000 units in the next five years.

“This site doesn’t completely take care of that,” he said, “but boy, it’s a big step forward. It really is amazing we were able to get our hands on this.”

As part of the ceremony, the county announced the selection of Corum Real Estate Group to lead master plan efforts with a consortium of organizations with experience in workforce housing projects, landscape architecture, civil engineering and infrastructural planning. This team will begin by taking community input in April when it hosts an open house, and is then hoping to complete a master plan by September of this year.

“This was a milestone, it’s now behind us,” said Martinez, retaking the mic to close the crisp morning event. “We own the property and now it’s time to do something with this. Look forward to a lot more on Lake Hill in the next several weeks and months.”