By Gabrielle Gasser EBS STAFF
BIG SKY – In an effort to solve Big Sky’s workforce housing shortage, the Big Sky Community Housing Trust and Lone Mountain Land Company have partnered on the latest housing development project.
The collaboration between the two entities was announced in a Jan. 19 press release along with their intention to develop and build a new housing complex exclusively for local workers.
“In order for the Big Sky community to thrive, it is imperative that local workers have access to quality, affordable housing,” said Matt Kidd, Managing Director of CrossHarbor Capital, parent company to LMLC. “We are thrilled to be working in conjunction with the Big Sky Housing Trust on this large-scale initiative that will benefit the Big Sky community for years to come.”
LMLC recently closed on the former American Bank property along Highway 64 and hopes to close on the adjacent parcel soon. The land was purchased with workforce housing in mind and, in addition to the aforementioned parcels, LMLC also recently acquired Buck’s T4, River Rock Lodge, and the Powder Light parcel next to Ace Hardware.
“Big Sky Community Housing Trust is pleased to be collaborating with LMLC on this project that will add desperately needed housing for the workforce in our area,” said Laura Seyfang, Big Sky Community Housing Trust Executive Director in the press release. “As a nonprofit, partnerships like this allow us to move forward with our mission of creating secure housing for the people who support this community through their employment.”
The American Bank land and adjacent parcel are earmarked for one-, two- and three-bedroom units as well as some dorm-style designs. The mix of unit types and rental rates would be deed restricted to prohibit short-term rentals, according to the press release, and will also likely be rent-restricted units in order to make them affordable to the local workforce in perpetuity.
Currently, a consulting team is conducting a market survey to gather data on the number of people and income levels in Big Sky as a way to determine the best use of the parcels in terms of number of beds and units.
The existing American Bank building on the land already has three units and the commercial space will likely be converted in the future to offices for the housing trust.
On the same day LMLC and the housing trust announced their partnership, both organizations gave a joint presentation on the project to the Big Sky County Water and Sewer District at its Jan. 19 board meeting.
Seyfang and LMLC Vice President of Development Bayard Dominick addressed the water and sewer district board with an informational presentation as a precursor to their application to the district for annexation and an allotment of Single Family Equivalents.
As part of the 1 percent for infrastructure interlocal agreement between BSCWSD and the Big Sky Resort Area District, a measure that Big Sky voters approved in May of 2020 as a means to gather additional tax revenue by increasing the resort tax amount from 3 percent to 4 percent on luxury goods, 500 SFEs were set aside to serve workforce housing. Eventually, the new workforce housing units will need to be annexed into the water and sewer district and the recent presentation was a precursor to an official application for an estimated 100 SFEs needed for the new development.
Discussion during the meeting covered various aspects of the project including the potential for federal funding in the form of Low-Income Housing Tax Credits, density bonuses from the county, and deed restrictions on the units, among other topics. While many details still need to be fleshed out, Seyfang said it’s important for the housing trust and LMLC to garner support from the water and sewer district so they can begin discussions with the Gallatin County Planning and Zoning Commission.
In order to move the process forward, the water and sewer district agreed in the meeting to submit to the commission a high-level letter of support for the project. According to Seyfang, the hope is that this proof of support will galvanize the county into a discussion that will help identify how many and what type units can be built. Most importantly, Seyfang said, initial discussions will assist in determining if the project will receive any density bonuses.
A density bonus, according to the Montana Department of Transportation website, is “an incentive-based tool that permits developers to increase the maximum allowable development on a property in exchange for helping the community achieve public policy goals.” In the case of the Big Sky Community Housing Trust and LMLC development project, the county will potentially award density bonuses that, if awarded, could help to maximize the number of units that can be built.
“Until we can understand what density bonuses will come from the county, and also what setback relief we might get, we really can’t be sure how many units will fit on the land,” Seyfang told EBS in a Jan. 19 interview.
The way forward is not simple and Seyfang said it has been difficult to hammer out details and answer questions until she receives some answers from the county.
Part of the clarification will be how the interplay of the public and private sectors will work in the partnership between BSCHT and LMLC. According to Seyfang, final partnership details, including future ownership and administration of the housing units, are still being fleshed out.
“The bottom line is, we want to take advantage of the development skills and experience of Lone Mountain Land Company, as well as the funding they have available, to focus on creating a lot of workforce housing for our community and partner it with the nonprofit side of things, which makes sure that we really represent the views of the entire community in this project,” she said.
Seyfang added that the partnership has a number of additional benefits. “It allows us, being a nonprofit, to get access to some federal funds that help actually make this thing affordable to build. That’s what we each are bringing to the table that we think is a win-win situation for the overall community.”
Another key component of the project is potential funding from BSRAD.
The housing trust applied during BSRAD’s FY21 fall allocations cycle for funding to support a project called Future Property Development to the tune of $1.4 million. The board placed the request in “pending” status and a subcommittee was formed to gather more information on the project and how exactly the funds would be used.
BSRAD and the housing trust are working together to ensure that all public funds will support the community at large, according to the press release.
“Because these are public dollars and private entities are engaged and involved, we are ensuring that all details for the project are provided,” said BSRAD Executive Director Daniel Bierschwale.
Leading up to a Jan. 27 BSRAD board meeting, BSCHT did provide the project subcommittee with a budget for the project and the subcommittee has requested further details. For now, the BSCHT request to BSRAD for funds to develop new workforce housing on the American Bank land remains in a pending status.
“The fact that a developer is working with the housing trust is a win, because they have experience in that,” Bierschwale said. “I’m hoping that they can really hit their stride here with this project, working with a local community partner that has experience in development, and really bring their talents to the table in an equitable way that supports the community at large. However, the reason we are asking for budget and project details is we need to make sure that public dollars are being used legally and for broad public benefit.”