Good news for RiverView housing project and a pair of environmental grants
By Jack Reaney ASSOCIATE EDITOR
It was a short and sweet convention of the Big Sky Resort Area District board on the morning of Wednesday, Aug. 9.
In about 30 minutes, the board approved opportunity fund requests from Big Sky SNO and a Big Sky landscaping partnership—just the second and third opportunity fund awarded in the short history of that program—and heard an update from Dave O’Connor, executive director of the Big Sky Community Housing Trust.
O’Connor told the board that RiverView construction remains on schedule, and commended contractors for having nearly finished foundation work. Visible from Montana Highway 64 (Lone Mountain Trail), the new apartment complex broke ground in early May and O’Connor said that structures should appear in the next two weeks.
“Most of you drive by it often, progress report kind of matches what you’re seeing: foundations are nearing completion… By Labor Day, there are going to be a lot of buildings visible there,” O’Connor said.
The RiverView apartments are being constructed in collaboration between Lone Mountain Land Company and the housing trust. O’Connor explained that LMLC’s portion of RiverView—about three quarters of the project—will be constructed as modular units, but the housing trust is using panelized construction.
“It’s going to be an interesting case study of comparing two methods, side by side,” O’Connor said.
Board treasurer Steve Johnson commended the project for working around the TIGER Grant road work, but also expressed concern about the traffic impacts when LMLC’s modular units—currently stored between the Big Sky Events Arena and Big Sky Medical Center—are delivered by road.
O’Connor also announced that the Big Sky County Water and Sewer District approved the use of community housing water connection rights for a third building at the Powder Light workforce housing complex. The third building, to be constructed between the existing two, would feature entirely single-occupancy bedrooms—72 beds in total—and would be accessible to the entire Big Sky workforce through master leases from LMLC.
About three quarters of the existing Powder Light buildings, in a similar partnership with the housing trust, are controlled by LMLC and reserved for employees under the company’s umbrella. O’Connor said that the third building will be open to all businesses, with rooms allocated by a housing trust lottery.
He told EBS that’s a big step forward for community workforce housing at large, and that he applauds LMLC for recognizing the housing needs of independent businesses and “moving toward total community access.” He also said it’s worth noting that 1% of the gross rents received on Powder Light III will be remitted back to the Housing Trust to help defray its costs.
Opportunity fund enables two environmental initiatives
In July, the board approved BSRAD’s first-ever opportunity fund request. The fund was created recently using resort tax reserves and was intended to fund time-sensitive projects requiring less than $25,000, until the fund is depleted.
Amy Fonte, Big Sky SNO board member, requested $7,750 for zero-waste efforts including recycling and composting education and outreach at summer events in Big Sky.
Fonte said Big Sky SNO received matching funds and in-kind donations from Montana State University, the Big Sky Biggie and the Rut. Big Sky SNO brought volunteers and waste stations, partnering with YES Compost and 406 Recycling, to the Big Sky PBR and Wildlands Festival, as well as weekly events such as Music in the Mountains and will be helping facilitate zero-waste efforts at additional events throughout the remainder of the summer.
“So far, we have over 60 volunteers [for] over 220 hours, and we’ve reached over 40,000 people with another 30,000 through the remainder of events this summer,” Fonte said.
The board voted unanimously to approve that request.
Emily O’Connor and Jess Olsen represented the Gallatin River Task Force, requesting $25,000 for a Big Sky landscaping partnership. Funds would support a partnership between GRTF, Grow Wild, Big Sky SNO and the Big Sky Fire Department.
The project will help create cohesive and clear messaging on water-wise, fire-wise and native (non-invasive) landscape design, to be implemented by homeowners and HOAs. The partnership received $45,000 in matching funds from various local organizations and aims to have a website launched by the end of the year.
“The reason this partnership formed was we [all realized] we were messaging to the community around landscaping practices and best management practices, and it was getting confusing for community members to have to go to every different single organization and try to put the recommendations together in a streamlined way,” Emily O’Connor explained.
“I am amazed at the proudly displayed landscaping including invasive species around here,” Johnson commented. “It just gags me. You want to just stop the car and rip them out.”
That request was also approved unanimously.
Although board member Kevin Germain expressed clear support for both opportunity fund requests, he suggested the board take a close look at the rules of the opportunity fund to clarify language around each project’s required urgency.
“I am really concerned with this opportunity fund, every month it’s just going to be 25 thousand, 25 thousand, 25 thousand,” Germain said. “They’re great projects, but are we just gonna—is this what the opportunity fund was meant for?”
Board Chair Sarah Blechta pointed out that aside from time-sensitive opportunities, the opportunity fund was created so that small asks could avoid the “onerous” BSRAD funding application process.
BSRAD Executive Director Daniel Bierschwale said the board needs “to articulate up-front expectations for applicants, and stick to those.”
“We defined the up-front expectations pretty loosely a few months ago,” he said. “I think we should discuss it next week. We gotta begin to put a framework in place with clear expectations and then stick to it.”
Early in the meeting, Johnson pointed out that with annual collections “in the neighborhood of $20 million,” the Big Sky resort tax economy is approximately half a billion dollars.
“So just let that sink in. There’s a lot going on right now,” Johnson told the board.