Initial land donation addresses affordable housing

By Tyler Allen EBS Senior Editor

BIG SKY – On March 23, the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce and the Human Resource Development Council announced the formation of the Big Sky Community Housing Trust to address affordable housing needs in this growing resort community.

Local businessman Loren Bough has provided an initial land donation of 10 acres in the South Fork neighborhood with the intention to build housing for year-round workers that provide essential services to the community. This would include teachers, law enforcement officers and medical personnel, such as firefighters, according to Bough.

“Affordable home ownership for full-time families makes Big Sky vibrant and a better place to live for all of us,” Bough said in a March 23 press release.

“It’s just a matter of executing, and how we can get the process rolling in terms of eligibility,” he said in a phone interview.

Affordable housing has been a challenging issue in the community for a number of years, and a 2014 study found that 83 percent of Big Sky’s workforce commutes from elsewhere in the region.

The HRDC is working to obtain 501(c)(3) nonprofit status for the housing trust, which can take anywhere from six weeks to six months, according to HRDC Community Development Manager Brian Guyer. In January, HRDC hired Guyer to focus on affordable housing in Big Sky and West Yellowstone.

“[Since] Big Sky is unincorporated, the tools that other resort communities use to build and maintain affordable housing are not available, but it doesn’t mean it’s impossible,” Guyer said.

While a builder for the development is yet to be decided, Bough said the trust’s current thinking is between 28 and 32 units, each with two, three or four bedrooms.

The Big Sky Community Housing Trust will host a meeting April 8 at 2:45 p.m. to discuss affordable housing with potential homebuyers either currently living, or hoping to live, in the Big Sky School District. The intention is to get feedback from individuals to see if price points and home sizes are in line with their expectations.

Guyer said both he and Kitty Clemens, executive director of the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce, would also be available upon request for ad hoc meetings with community members in the coming weeks. Details on the size and price of the planned units will be made available as the project progresses.

The chamber has been working on affordable housing in Big Sky since 2011. Clemens said her first meeting with HRDC about the issue was in early 2013 when the chamber hosted a series of housing idea exchanges with the community.

The chamber was allocated $165,000 of Big Sky Resort Area Tax District money in June 2014 “to kick-start a demonstration housing project,” according to its application, in fiscal year 2014-2015. However, the chamber rolled the money over to fiscal year 2015-2016 during last year’s allocation process due to a Community Development Block Grant awarded shortly after obtaining the resort tax funds.

The chamber kicked in $12,000 of its own budget, and along with the $30,000 CDBG grant secured by the HRDC, a Preliminary Architectural Report was conducted last year. The leading option that emerged from the PAR was an 18-condo development behind the tennis courts in Meadow Village, but the land was not available for sale at a price that would result in affordable housing.

Clemens says the $165,000 allocated to the chamber will not be rolled over during this June’s allocation process.

“The entire resort tax rollover will be used … exactly as spelled out originally,” she said. This includes preliminary site engineering, reviewing developer proposals and finalizing site plans.

Lone Mountain Land Company will be the development partner of the Big Sky Community Housing Trust, but both Clemens and Guyer said the priority for homeowners would not be employees of LMLC.

“This is a project to find housing for the most eligible candidates for affordable housing in Big Sky,” Bough said. “The exact criteria for eligibility is being worked out in conjunction with HRDC.”

“The trust – at the behest of Loren Bough – will target essential employees,” Guyer said. “These donations are often times guided by the donor.”