After months of review, housing project will advance
By Bella Butler EBS STAFF
BIG SKY – The Big Sky County Water and Sewer District board voted at a Sept. 21 meeting in favor of annexing a workforce housing project into the district, concluding a monthslong debate.
In a 4-3 vote, district board members approved the latest of three ordinances after passing the ordinance’s first reading at an Aug. 24 meeting.
The ordinance adopts into the water and sewer district the RiverView affordable housing project, a collaborative effort between Lone Mountain Land Company and the Big Sky Community Housing Trust. It also grants the housing trust 25 single family equivalents, or SFEs, to its portion of the project—25 of 100 units—upon the completion of the district’s new wastewater treatment plant or Aug. 1, 2023, whichever comes first.
With this step behind them, the housing trust can continue pursuit of $6.7 million in tax credits to fund the majority of its portion of the development. Guarantee of service by the August 2023 date was crucial for the housing trust, which would be liable for getting the project online within a certain timeframe if awarded the tax credits.
The board, however, grappled with the possibility of compromising available SFE capacity to current properties in the district should they seek them down the road and the new facility upgrades aren’t completed on time.
AE2S engineer Scott Buecker shared a graph at the Sept. 21 meeting that projected SFEs would be unavailable by spring of 2024 if hookup demand continued on its current 4 percent growth rate. The projection was an amendment to one shared at the Aug. 24 meeting, during which Buecker stated capacity would run out by late summer 2023.
“Annexation of the property was a vital step in the process,” BSCHT Executive Director Laura Seyfang wrote in a statement to EBS after the meeting. “We know this was a tough issue for the Board and appreciate their concerns.”
Among the dissenting were board president Tom Reeves along with board members Bill Shropshire and Dick Fast.
“I’m concerned about the precedent we’re setting,” Fast said during the meeting, referring to annexation requests without guaranteed capacity.
Board members Peter Manka, Brian Wheeler, Mike Wilcynski and Mike DuCuennois remained steadfast in the support they voiced for the ordinance at the Aug. 24 meeting, all voting in favor.
At the beginning of the meeting, Reeves reported that a letter of public comment had been received on Sept. 19 questioning why DuCuennois, an employee of Yellowstone Club, had not declared a conflict of interest on the annexation issue. Lone Mountain Land Company and the Yellowstone Club are both subsidiaries of Boston-based CrossHarbor Capital Partners.
“Its [sic] long been my personal belief Mr. DuCuennois’s presence on the Board of BSCWSD is to benefit Cross Harbor Capitol – his employer – and his voting on important matters has been a conflict of interest ever since the day he grabbed a seat years ago,” the letter stated. The author further suggested that DuCuennois’ participation in the annexation discussion and decision is a “glaring example.”
Reeves said the board had requested a legal opinion in August, ahead of receiving the public, from the district’s general counsel, Susan Swimley, on DuCuennois’ potential conflict of interest.
When asked for comment, Swimley provided EBS with letters she had written to the district stating her opinion. In her letter addressed to district Executive Director Ron Edwards and dated Aug. 23, 2021, Swimley determined that based on an interview with DuCuennois and additional information provided to her, DuCuennois had no “financial or pecuniary dependency that would preclude [him] from participating in the board’s work” on the annexation matter.
She further advised that DuCuennois “stress that his mind is not closed on the matters at hand and that he listens impartially to the information presented as well as public comment made on each of the issues before participating in discussion and decision.”
The board had requested a similar opinion from Swimley in March 2021 for board member Wilcynski, an employee of Moonlight Basin, another subsidiary of CrossHarbor Capital Partners. At the time, Swimley offered the same opinion that she stated for DuCuennois.