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Powder Light reaches the finish line

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Visible to residents and visitors entering Big Sky, the Powder Light apartments were designed to combine local "mountain modern" architecture with a significant share of workforce housing stock. PHOTO BY JACK REANEY

New deed-restricted workforce housing complex adds 448 beds for mostly seasonal workers 

By Jack Reaney STAFF WRITER 

More than five years since Lone Mountain Land Company planned to acquire the parcel and three years after its original projected completion, the Powder Light apartment complex has been built. 

On Thursday, Feb. 16, more than 100 tenants will move into the westernmost quarter of Powder Light, bringing the 48-unit complex to full occupancy. The modular-unit apartments were constructed and furnished offsite as modular units by BuildingWorks Nashua in Boise, and assembled onsite in 2021 by Langlas and Associates. The project adds 448 beds of local workforce housing, generally focused on seasonal workers employed by Lone Mountain Land Company and its subsidiaries.

Of 48 units, 36 were designed with five double-occupancy bedrooms (10 tenants per unit), and 12 units have four double bedrooms. Each apartment has a stacking washer and dryer, shared kitchen space and living room, and lockable cabinets to store personal belongings and food. Each of the two buildings have a 71-kilowatt solar PV system, expected to produce 182,224 kilowatt-hours of energy each year, according to a LMLC press release. The east building became occupied in November.

Shared by eight to 10, each unit’s kitchen includes lockable cabinet space. PHOTO BY JACK REANEY

Bayard Dominick, vice president of planning and development with LMLC, told EBS that beyond typical delays of modern construction, work was kept on hold until turn-lanes were built using TIGER grant funding awarded in 2018. After months without action, Dominick said LMLC decided to pay for the turn lane construction last year which allowed them to close on the land in 2019 and build. 

“We had a really a challenging employment situation coming out of COVID,” Dominick said, referring to the local shortage of long-term rentals. “Being able to provide beds for seasonal workers has really helped [LMLC-owned] clubs and restaurants and whatnot [to] actually staff up to the level of services, getting back to where it was before.” 

He said that although Powder Light will not fit everybody’s needs, tenants are excited for the opportunity to live and work in Big Sky.  

“I mean, this is dorm style housing,” he said. “People are sharing bedrooms, these are four and five bedroom units, and each bedroom has two beds in it. So it’s obviously not the perfect housing for every solution. But this was a really efficient way to deliver a lot of beds when the community was really desperate for beds.” 

A typical Powder Light room. Each tenant has a small closet and lockable chests beneath their bed. PHOTO BY JACK REANEY

Dominick said LMLC will continue to build diversified workforce housing in Big Sky, adding single occupancy dorms, apartments and single-family homes. Efforts will prioritize the “critical [housing] need” of LMLC-affiliated businesses including the Yellowstone Club, Moonlight Basin, Montage, Spanish Peaks and operating businesses within Town Center, he said.  

Project Manager CJ Myrick said that staffing and contractor resources were the biggest challenge in constructing Powder Light. He added that off-site construction helped reduce traffic load, debris, and resources needed in Big Sky.  

View from a north-facing window in the project’s newly completed section. Especially in the summer, Bayard hopes residents will spend time by the river and trails across. PHOTO BY JACK REANEY

As Powder Light is highly visible from Lone Mountain Trail, Dominick described the exterior as “mountain modern feel so that it blends in with the level of architecture [LMLC is] doing elsewhere.” He added that LMLC dedicated “a lot of resources” to landscaping and amenities including a small fitness center attached to the east building, picnic pavilions, bike storage and recreational access to the West Fork Gallatin River and trails behind the buildings; this summer, Dominick hopes LMLC can build a footbridge allowing residents to cross the river and connect with Community Park trails. 

A few hundred out of a thousand 

Of Powder Light’s 48 units, 38 are owned by LMLC, and will be “master-leased” to LMLC-owned businesses. The master-leasing structure allows those businesses to charge rent at rates discounted—or possibly raised—at their own discretion based on individual needs of employers and employees. 

Dave O’Connor, executive director of the Big Sky Community Housing Trust, pointed out that master leasing gives a competitive advantage to larger employers who can afford a deficit in rent earnings. He also gave credit to LMLC for typically “stepping up to the plate” with regards to local workforce housing needs. 

If Big Sky’s unmet housing needs were represented simply as “one thousand,” O’Connor said, LMLC’s efforts between Powder Light and RiverView would drain the pressure by “a few hundred.”  

Across the street from Powder Light, LMLC will operate 75 units in the RiverView apartments, now in the early stages of construction.

In 2019, a resort-tax-funded agreement with the Big Sky County Water and Sewer District gave leverage to the nonprofit Housing Trust—600 single-family equivalents of water reserved for workforce housing. Having contributed 12 SFEs to Powder Light, BSCHT now manages 10 units and can rent to any business it deems eligible. BSCHT’s partnership increased the scope of the project by 21%. 

“I think [that’s] a great thing, because local businesses have been struggling with housing as well [but] weren’t in a position to build housing,” Dominick said.  

The housing trust also used its “liquid assets” to enable RiverView construction, adding 25 units under the federal Low-Income Housing Tax Credit program. 

The actual ‘Powder Light’ 

Local developer group Big Sky Rock, LLC originally laid the groundwork for an employee housing project on the same parcel of land.  

“We did a bunch of work, added a bunch of water and sewer [capacity] to the property,” said Scott Altman of Big Sky Rock. “We took a raw piece of land with a lot of easements, not a lot of water and sewer, and worked with the district to make it work for employee housing.” 

Altman said Big Sky Rock was finishing their work as Lone Mountain Land began investing in employee housing, so they sold the land in 2019 after turn-lanes were complete. 

“Our goal was always to have a tower out front that would light up when we had a powder day up at Big Sky,” Altman said, an idea based on Bozeman’s powder light atop the Hotel Baxter. “That was my fancy to put it on there.” 

While it might not be a tower, Dominick suggested that soon, Powder Light might include some sort of powder light. 

“I’ve always told him, ‘please put that up,’” Altman said, laughing. “But hey, all I really cared about is we got employee housing in town. We’re pretty excited about that.”

In the space between the Powder Light buildings, LMLC is considering another apartment building featuring single-bedrooms and studio-style living, according to Dominick. 

This vacant lot between Powder Light buildings could host a third building. PHOTO BY JACK REANEY

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