Affordable housing, other major projects discussed

By Tyler Allen EBS Senior Editor

BIG SKY – More than 100 people packed the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center on a warm, sunny afternoon in Big Sky to participate in this resort community’s funding process with record collections on the line.

The Big Sky Resort Area District board hosted its annual appropriations Q-and-A on June 6, and it stretched more than five hours as the early summer day waned outside. The board fielded public comment to open and close the meeting, and in the interim sought to clarify the resort tax applications of 24 different organizations.

The BSRAD estimates it will collect nearly $4.6 million by the end of fiscal year 2015-2016 in June, and with its $1.3 million sinking fund has approximately $6 million available to appropriate. Total requests, including rollovers from the previous year, top $5.9 million and there’s no guarantee the board will vote to release all—or any—of its sinking fund.

With such a demand on available resort tax funds, Big Sky citizens came out en force to let their voices be heard and learn more about the process. During the first public comment period, seven people lined up for their chance at the podium on the WMPAC stage to voice their support for various organizations.

These ranged from Big Sky Community Organization’s effort to have a traffic light installed at the intersection of Ousel Falls Road and Lone Mountain Trail and the Big Sky Housing Trust’s $1.2 million ask, to the Big Sky Chapel’s $10,000 request and verbal support for Women In Action.

The board generally sought the most clarification from representatives of groups with the biggest asks. For fiscal year 2016-2017, the organizations applying for more than $500,000 are:

  • Community Housing Trust: $1.2 million
  • Community Organization (BSCO): $774,271 (including $236,217 in rollover funds)
  • Fire Department: $722,850
  • Visit Big Sky: $680,593
  • Transportation District: $525,000
  • Chamber of Commerce: $517,500

Big Sky Fire Department Chief William Farhat was questioned about funds requested to replace an ambulance and command vehicle—among other operational needs—and described how the department’s call volumes have “gone through the roof,” despite the new hospital opening last December.

The Transportation District is asking for funds to support its Skyline and Link bus systems.

“What’s going on with the county? It’s a really big request this year,” said BSRAD board member Heather Budd, referencing the historic opposition by Gallatin County commissioners to fund Big Sky transportation.

District Coordinator David Kack cited upcoming meetings with county commissioners to discuss funding, joking that he’ll point out to the Gallatin County commissioners that this is the district’s 10th year of service and it’d be a nice anniversary present if they finally allocated funds.

BSCO Executive Director Ciara Wolfe was questioned at length about a number of projects the organization hopes to fund, including $146,000 for a pedestrian tunnel under Lone Mountain Trail and a pedestrian bridge over the West Fork of the Gallatin River.

Despite it being her first appropriations process, Wolfe calmly described other funding sources BSCO would seek for the pedestrian project; a traffic light proposed for Ousel Falls Road and Lone Mountain Trail; and park and trail maintenance, among other needs.

The group with the largest ask in this appropriations cycle came to the WMPAC stage late in the afternoon when representatives of the HRDC discussed the Big Sky Housing Trust’s $1.2 million request.

“You mention if we’re not able to fund the full amount, it would be a phase project and … could stretch out another year. But you also mention the change in the land availability,” said BSRAD board member Ginna Hermann, adding that the board has some really hard decisions to make and would like to see more details in the application.

HRDC Community Development Manager Brian Guyer explained that there is a donor agreement signed and he would provide it to the board in the coming days.

Big Sky resident Loren Bough has donated 10 acres to the project, which would be the seed for an affordable housing development—housing that would be prioritized to people with significant community investment based on a point system; “game changers,” as Hermann described them.

Guyer then answered extensive questioning from the board, including inquiries about financing and other opportunities the community may have for addressing the housing crisis.

“We need a ladder,” said BSRAD board member Mike Scholz, noting that other resort towns such as Park City have focused on their lower income residents. But he added that targeting middle to upper income residents can be one rung in that ladder. “We will need rentals,” he added.

Guyer said the housing trust has identified this as the most viable project right now and will look to potential rental opportunities in the future. He then described to the board how these units would stay affordable using deed restrictions, ground leases and capital improvement caps, which would prevent a homeowner from flipping the property and driving it out of the “affordable” bracket.

Big Sky Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kitty Clemens addressed the board to describe costs associated with two gateway monuments—estimated at $125,000 apiece—near the intersection of Highway 191 and Lone Mountain Trail; funds to hire a consultant for a transportation improvement plan; and the chamber’s role in infrastructure programs in lieu of a municipal government.

Clemens remained on the stage as board members discussed the Visit Big Sky budget and debated the merits of the Biggest Skiing in America advertising campaign and marketing to Big Sky tourists.

Budd questioned whether tourism could keep increasing at its torrid pace with the infrastructure needs that had been discussed throughout the afternoon. Scholz countered that area tax collectors that benefit from the tourism revenue are the ones generating this annual funding for area groups.

The meeting ended with another public comment period, punctuated by an exchange between Packy Cronin and Loren Bough. Cronin told the board that Bough’s property is currently under litigation over a right of way that crosses South Fork Stage 5, a property the Cronin family hopes to develop.

Cronin said Bough’s proposed development would make three of the Cronin lots unbuildable, while Bough maintained Cronin is suing him—not the project—and the HRDC is assuming, and feels comfortable with, the risk on the land.

The Big Sky Resort Area District final appropriations meeting is June 20 at 6 p.m. in the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center.

As of EBS press time, the BSRAD board has received nearly 40 letters in support of, or opposition to, various funding projects. BSRAD residents are encouraged to email to make their voice heard before the appropriations meeting.

Visit for a full video transcript of the resort tax Q-and-A. Time stamps are included to find when some of the bigger applications were discussed.