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Big Sky’s largest employers hint at workforce housing solutions

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By Amanda Eggert EBS Senior Editor

BIG SKY –You would be hard-pressed to find a resident here who says there isn’t a need for affordable housing. But as soon as you start talking about how an affordable housing program should be implemented—and who should foot the bill—the conversation quickly becomes heated.

On the heels of three weeks of impassioned debate about a 1 percent increase on the resort tax to fund affordable housing (see EBS’s Feb. 3 story, “A House Divided”), senior management at the Yellowstone Club, Lone Mountain Land Company and Big Sky Resort spoke in varying degrees of detail about their businesses’ attempts to address the long-standing issue.

At a town hall meeting hosted by the Big Sky Chamber of Commerce on Jan. 24 at the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center, affordable housing was the primary focus of the ensuing Q-and-A.

In response to a question about whether or not Yellowstone Club is considering building workforce housing on its property, Yellowstone Club General Manager Hans Williamson said, “Not at this time. Our preferred area of housing would be in this community.”

He added that the club, which employs a rapidly growing workforce, can house 12-21 employees on site. It provides off-site housing in ranch, hotel and condominium contracts for up to 202 employees.

“We are actively looking at affordable housing projects in Moonlight Basin [and] in Town Center,” said Lone Mountain Land Company Executive Vice President Alex Iskendarian in response to the same question. He added that LMLC is looking into seasonal rentals, long-term rentals for management-level employees, and ownership programs.

Williamson was also asked if the Yellowstone Club will start collecting a resort tax on its membership dues. He said the Yellowstone Club collects resort tax on all the items that other Big Sky businesses do, like restaurants, and skis and apparel, but has historically only collected taxes on guest skiing and golf—not member skiing and golf.

“We’ve been audited a number of times [and] that subject never came up,” Williamson said. “However, that said, we approached the resort tax board two meetings ago and volunteered to pay taxes on the fair market value of our [member] skiing and on our golf.”

Williamson said the Yellowstone Club collected about $710,000 in resort taxes and about $700,000 in lodging tax in 2016.

Big Sky Resort’s Director of Real Estate and Development Brian Wheeler said that worker housing is as integral to the resort’s expansion as “the foundation or the roof of the project we’re creating.

“If we don’t sacrifice and we don’t provide one-third of our workers with seasonal workforce housing, we’re placing the burden on you as a community,” he added.

Wheeler said the resort has two projects that are “shovel ready” for building this summer. Once built, those projects will add about 100 pillows to existing Golden Eagle accommodations in the Meadow and 100 pillows to Mountain Lodge housing.

Brian Guyer, the acting director of the Big Sky Community Housing Trust, gave an update on the trust’s flagship 32-unit project. He said the committee will prioritize applicants who have year-round, full-time employment in Big Sky; a minimum credit score of 650; and demonstrated commitment to the community in the form of one year of involvement with a local nonprofit or the enrollment of a child in the Big Sky School District.

In a post-meeting interview, Guyer said although a lawsuit between parcel donor Loren Bough and local developer Packy Cronin is ongoing, he doesn’t believe it will impact the housing trust or the Bough Big Sky Community Subdivision.

Guyer said the subdivision proposal will go before county commissioners at the Gallatin County Courthouse on Feb. 28 for preliminary plat approval and he urged anybody who supports affordable housing to attend the 9 a.m. hearing.

The Big Sky Chamber of Commerce’s next town hall meeting will address incorporation and taxes. A date has not yet been set.

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