Canyons Village breaks ground on development to house 1,100 workers
Officials laud the project’s environmental and economic impacts
Within walking distance of the Cabriolet lift at Canyons Village — ski-boot walking distance, even — officials on Monday held a groundbreaking ceremony for an employee housing complex that might be home to more than 1,000 lifites, hotel workers or waiters in coming years.
Officials from Summit County and the Canyons Village Master Association, which directs the base area’s development, touted the project as a unique example of a public-private partnership that they say will make meaningful progress in two issues affecting Summit County: an affordable housing shortage and traffic-clogged roads.
Plans call for 169 units and 789 bedrooms spread across seven buildings to house 1,107 or more employees. The buildings will be located about 1,000 feet south of the Cabriolet lift and the Canyons Village transit center, and the first building might be completed by next June.
The vision for the project is that a seasonal resort worker could share a room, pay inexpensive rent, use mass transit to head to Kimball Junction or Main Street, mostly leave their car off the street, store their gear on site and walk to work and ski.
Summit County Council Chair Glenn Wright lauded the project, touting its potential to take pressure off the private housing market while relieving the necessity for resort workers to drive to and from work.
“If you look at the surge in employees that come here every October and November, they have no place to stay. They’re renting rooms from people in the private sector, they’re sleeping in their cars if they get evicted. It’s just a disaster. And you have people maybe living four to a room in a lot of places,” Wright said. “This is going to give them very livable conditions and to get to work, they’ll walk to the Cabriolet. … From a sustainability standpoint, we’re taking potentially hundreds of cars off the road everyday.”
The apartments will be restricted to those making 80% of the area’s median income or less, according to the employee housing master agreement between the county and the master association. In 2021, 80% of the area’s median income for one person was just shy of $67,000. Rents will be capped at no more than 30% of that amount, which could yield a rent of up to $1,670 per month plus utilities.
Summit County assisted in the project’s creation by bonding for the money to purchase the land, which it now owns. Property owners within Canyons Village will repay the county using an instrument similar to a tax called a special assessment.
The arrangement, Wright said, essentially gave the master association, which oversees development in the area, access to the county’s AAA bond rating. That allowed it to secure “rock-bottom financing,” Wright said, which can be especially important in creating affordable housing projects.
“This is really a perfect example of how a private-public partnership can operate to do good for the community,” he said.
He indicated the county could pursue a similar arrangement for other future developments.
The same bond proceeds were used to pay around $5 million toward the construction of the Ecker Hill park-and-ride, which has scores of spots dedicated to Canyons Village employees. Officials hoped employees would park there and take a shuttle to work, but have lamented that the spots sometimes sit unused.
The groundbreaking, complete with silver shovels, ornamental hard hats and parked heavy machinery, was decades in the making.
The obligation to construct workforce housing dates back to a 1999 agreement that governs what is now the Canyons Village specially planned area. It required the Canyons Village Master Association to build 1/3 of its required workforce housing when 1/3 of the project was built.
The agreement has since been retooled, with more stringent deadlines set in 2018 that require the master association to complete construction of its entire housing unit obligation by the end of 2023.
The complex that officials feted Monday aims to do just that.
Work has already begun on the first building, according to Tony Tyler, a partner with Columbus Pacific Development, which is overseeing construction. Tyler said he expects the first building will be delivered early next summer.
He called it a “once-in-a-lifetime project.”
“It’s not everyday you can find a project that has the backing of every stakeholder in the area,” he said.
Columbus Pacific has experience building student housing, and Tyler has indicated this project will incorporate some elements of dorm-style life. The plans include multiple housing types, including some areas with 10 bedrooms surrounding shared common spaces.
The project also plans to offer a small number of townhomes, which officials have presented as potential homes for managers or year-round employees.
Brian Madacsi, the president and CEO of the master association, called the project a “differentiation” for the area. He touted the location’s proximity to the Canyons Village transit center and to the resort facilities.
He also said that an adjacent parcel of land, which on Monday featured balloons and a Freshie’s Lobster Co. food truck, was intended to be the future site of a 25,000-square-foot grocery store that would hopefully open by the end of 2023.
Standing on ground that is to house workforce housing nearly 25 years after an agreement was inked that called for it, Madacsi said the project didn’t take too long to come to fruition, instead indicating that the association had surpassed its original obligations.
He said the association originally was only required to build half of the employee housing on-site and that it was to be completed in phases.
“We didn’t have to have it all done until the (Canyons Village specially planned area) was completely built out. And so when we first came and looked at this, the reality was, we’re only 37% built out and we only have to build 1/3 of employee housing. But it didn’t make any sense,” Madacsi said.
He said the team considered not just what they were obligated to provide, but what sort of product would best serve the needs of the employers and employees in the Canyons Village area.
“The idea was it needs to be all on-site. It doesn’t do us any good to have employees 40 minutes away who are taking a bus in every day. It doesn’t make any sense to build 1/3 of it and then just wait 20 years and build the next one,” Madacsi said.
Now, after negotiating with the county, the master association has agreed to do it all at once, greatly speeding up the delivery of what officials say is a commodity that is in dire need in the county.
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Summit County’s sales taxes are beating 2019 levels, with an estimated additional $1.2 million in revenue. Councilors debated using the money to hire more employees.