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Modular assembly nears completion on Powder Light workforce housing

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Crews unwrap a piece of the modular Powder Light workforce housing on Dec. 3. Each piece of the modular development arrives on the back of a truck with the furniture already inside. PHOTO BY GABRIELLE GASSER

Project will add 228 worker beds in summer 2022

By Bella Butler EBS STAFF


BIG SKY – At noon on Friday, one-fifth of an apartment dangled from the end of a crane as construction crews guided the fully furnished box into place on the second story of the new Powder Light workforce housing project in Big Sky.

Phase 1 of the $17 million project, a modular building made of 60 pre-manufactured boxes, will house 228 local workers beginning summer 2022. With a zero percent housing vacancy, as reported by the Big Sky Community Housing Trust, Powder Light will house more than the approximately 200 people currently on the housing trust’s housing waiting list. Local developer Lone Mountain Land Company is acting as the development manager for Powder Light.

According to an LMLC spokesperson, the entire project is deed restricted for Big Sky workers and will be available to the community.

Though the property was vacant less than a week ago, the nearly 44,000-square-foot building is almost assembled just five days after the set crew started placing the boxes Monday.  

“Big Sky has a housing crisis,” said Bayard Dominick, VP of planning and development for LMLC, at a Dec. 3 Powder Light preview event. “This project is one of many that is going to take to put a little dent into our need.”

Members of the public gather at a Dec. 3 preview event to learn about Lone Mountain Land Company’s Powder Light workforce housing development.

Though it only took a few days to assemble, the workforce housing project has been years in the making. Matt Kidd, managing director of LMLC’s affiliate firm CrossHarbor Capital Partners, said LMLC put the land for Powder Light under contract in September 2017 with the expectation that construction would begin in 2018 and the project would be completed in 2019.

“And yet here we are in 2021 and we’re just getting to this point,” Kidd said at the preview event, the partially erected structure in the background.

In November of 2017, the Gallatin County Commission unanimously rejected the proposal for the Powder Light project due to concerns about how the increased traffic turning on and off the busy MT 64 would impact safety.

The Federal Highway Administration then awarded a $10.2 million TIGER grant to Gallatin County in March 2018 for improvements to MT 64, including a turn lane at the Powder Light site. The county and then-developer A2LD entered into an agreement that would allow Phase 1 of the project to be built before the turn lane was completed but not occupied until then. Phase 2 of the project can’t begin construction until the turn lane is completed.

The project was stalled once again when the county only received one bid for the road work that was approximately $3 million dollars over budget. To expedite the Powder Light project, LMLC announced in September it would foot the $1.7-million bill for the turn lane. Half of the turn lane was completed this fall, but weather pushed the completion of the lane back to spring 2022. LMLC is also still in discussion with the Big Sky Water and Sewer District sorting hookup rights for Phase 2.

“Our challenges in the development phase of this are examples of how, as a community, we need to come together if we’re going to build more affordable workforce housing,” Kidd said. “It’s not going to get done by one group or any one partner. But as a community, we need to come together and work together to find solutions to get through our county’s processes faster.”

Kidd pondered how many Big Sky housing units were converted to short-term rentals while Powder Light development hurdles were sorted over the last four years, exacerbating the community’s growing housing crisis while the project lay dormant behind red tape. Data from AirDNA shared by the housing trust reveals that while there were 14 short-term units for rent in Big Sky in 2014, that figure has grown more than 6,000 percent to 858 units today.  

Each apartment includes double-occupancy bedrooms, living space, a kitchen and dorm-style bathrooms.

Dominick said LMLC chose modular construction for Powder Light for a few reasons. According to LMLC, modular construction expedites project completion by 50 percent, minimizes construction waste and allows the majority of building to be done indoors so cold, snowy winter work can be avoided. The 60 boxes that now make up the building have been fabricated over the last several months in Boise, Idaho, by Nashua Builders. Each apartment is made up of around five boxes, depending on the unit size.

Once assembled on site, finishing touches will have to be put on the building, including electrical wiring and plumbing.

Powder Light Phase 1 will consist of 24 apartments, six four-bedroom and 18 five-bedroom. Rooms are double occupancy, adding up to a total of 228 beds. Each roughly 1,500-square-foot apartment includes a kitchen and dormitory-style bathrooms. Powder Light Phase 2 will consist of 24 apartments, and the entire project together will have 448 beds.

One fifth of an apartment dangles off a crane as crews work to attach one of the 60 pre-manufactured boxes to the main structure.

Powder Light amenities will include a fitness room, covered bike storage, onsite waste disposal and recycling, a picnic pavilion overlooking the West Fork of the Gallatin River and a Skyline bus stop, among other features.

“A key part of this was to create a unit that was livable,” Dominick said. “Livability is really key, and sustainability.” Powder Light will also receive power to heat water from a 72-kilowatt solar photovoltaic system.

Dominick later added that LMLC has worked to distinguish each of their workforce housing properties to accommodate different kinds of tenants. For example, the forthcoming RiverView Apartments, which LMLC has partnered with the housing trust to develop, may be single-occupancy rooms, he said.

Laura Seyfang, executive director of the housing trust, said Powder Light will be hugely helpful in addressing the local housing crisis.

“When a company like theirs steps up to address housing needs, that in large part they’re contributing to creating, that’s responsible citizenship and that’s what it takes for this community to grow responsibly,” she told EBS after the preview event.  

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