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Water and sewer board receives broad response on affordable housing annexation

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The future site of the Riverview workforce housing project, a joint effort between the Big Sky Community Housing Trust and Lone Mountain Land Company. PHOTO BY JOSEPH. T. O’CONNOR

Official vote pushed to September

By Bella Butler EBS STAFF

BIG SKY – The Big Sky County Water and Sewer board received nearly 800 responses on the matter of annexing the RiverView workforce housing project into the water and sewer district. The majority of comments favored annexation.

The proposed project’s location—the former American Bank and adjacent lots—is contiguous with the current water and sewer district. The board says it has enough capacity to include the project, and that it’s not obligated to bring the issue to a public vote. However, at their June 22 meeting, board members elected to involve the public in the decision through a survey and public hearing, which occurred immediately prior to the board’s July 20 meeting.

Of the 790 people who responded as of press time on July 20, nearly 78 percent said they were “very concerned” about the lack of housing for workers in Big Sky.

Approximately 17 percent of respondents said they were familiar with the RiverView project, which is a collaboration between Lone Mountain Land Company and the Big Sky Community Housing Trust to build 100 permanently deed-restricted units with affordable rent caps. The remainder of respondents fell somewhere between “somewhat familiar” and “never heard of it.”

The majority of respondents, more than 60 percent, said they “fully supported” annexing the project into the district. Supportive comments mentioned the overwhelming need for affordable housing, calling the addition “vital” to the success of the community.

The remainder of respondents said they were either in moderate support of annexation, had concerns, or were against it. While these responses were in the minority, comments that were supplementary to the survey multiple-choice responses were overwhelmingly critical of or questioned the annexation. Respondents brought up concerns over the project’s affiliation with private developers, local resource scarcity, traffic impacts, and the obstruction to Big Sky’s viewshed upon entrance to the town, among other issues.

“It was impressive how the community participated,” said Ron Edwards, executive director for the water and sewer district. 

The board was scheduled to vote on the issue at the July 20 meeting, but instead approved amendments to the ordinance in question that will trigger an additional two readings before it can be voted on by the board.

Because the Housing Trust applied for federal tax credits to help fund their portion of the housing development, RiverView must generate income within a certain time period as a condition of the funding.

The Trust anticipates RiverView’s water and sewer connections will not be active until Phase 1 of the Water Resource Recovery Facility is complete. The amendment suggests, however, that if the facility’s construction is delayed beyond the Housing Trust’s mandated timeline, the district will guarantee 25 single-family equivalents in hookups from its current capacity to the portion of RiverView beholden to tax credit conditions.

The Housing Trust recently made it to the final round of applicants to receive the 9 percent Low Income Housing Tax Credits, and according to the Trust’s executive director, Laura Seyfang, these credits are “crucial to the overall financing feasibility of the project.”

Seyfang also told the board that without approval of annexation and a “will serve letter,” the Housing Trust’s project will not qualify to receive LIHTC funding.

“We are in such strong need in this community to move forward with projects like this, and I know it’s been a challenging one for you guys because of some of the nuances,” Seyfang told the board. “But the reality is the land that’s available for this sort of development is going to be challenging.”

In a 3-2 vote, the board elected to approve the July 20 reading of the ordinance with the amendment and to move forward with two more readings. Board members Tom Reeves and Dick Fast voted against the passing of the ordinance reading.

“I’m very much in favor of affordable housing, but I think this is the wrong project,” Fast said, also referencing an early comment he made about prioritizing the needs of existing customers within the district before adding new ones.

Reeves agreed. “I do not want to get into the situation where we deny somebody who’s owned property here for 20 years and building because we annexed in a property and … reserved 25 SFEs,” he said.

The second reading of the ordinance will occur at the board’s tentatively scheduled Aug. 17 meeting, and they will likely complete their final reading and conduct a board vote on the ordinance at their September board meeting.

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