Former Colby School property owners ‘happy to house seasonal workers’
Admit up to 50 people lived in the home
When Juan Chavo arrived in Park City from Chile on a temporary visa in early December, he needed somewhere to stay.
Chavo said he, along with nearly a dozen other Chilean seasonal workers, looked for places throughout Park City and the Snyderville Basin. He said they were unable to find housing until a friend suggested the former Colby School property along the east side of State Road 224.
“We were looking and then someone said they have a house and we wanted to live there,” Chavo said in an interview with The Park Record.
Chavo moved into a large, dormitory-style room furnished with six bunk beds and found a job as a dishwasher at a restaurant in the Basin. He said sharing a living space was initially difficult because “there was like 50 people for four restrooms and one kitchen.”
“But after that, it wasn’t so bad. I met a lot of people from different countries and now I am so happy,” Chavo said. “When I heard there was a problem with the fireman I said, ‘Why? We don’t have any fires.”
Earlier this month, the Park City Fire District received a complaint from a citizen that people were staying in the former school facility illegally. The fire district conducted an investigation, along with Summit County building officials, after the March 10 allegation and issued a notice to vacate to the property owners. The tenants have until April 2 to leave.
Fire District Chief Paul Hewitt previously told The Park Record> the property met the minimum standard for fire code regulations, but the workers would still need to vacate.
Emma Worsley and Julie McBroom, who, operating as Hoffvest LLC acquired the former Colby School/Snowed Inn property in 2014, admitted up to 50 people were living in the nearly 10,000-square foot building’s 15 bedrooms. Worsley said “only 10 are left.”
The tenants had access to a kitchen on the main floor, a large dining area, a common area with a ping pong table and broken foosball table, and “seven or eight bathrooms,” according to Worsley. The workers were charged $400 on a month-to-month basis.
Worsley admitted there were plumbing issues, but emphasized it was fixed in a timely manner. She said the first person moved in during December and said there was no online advertising.
“We now know there is a different process we should have taken, but we undertook the steps we felt were necessary, such as ensuring the safety and hygiene of the people staying here,” Worsley said. “We had the place inspected by a fire company and had regular cleaners come in. We thought we were doing a good job looking after these seasonal workers who were only going to be here on their J-1 visas for a short period of time.”
McBroom said accusations that the property housed illegal immigrants or a sweatshop are offensive. She said their tenants were mostly in their 20s and on temporary visas, adding “several hotels were even ringing us asking if we had any space to house their workers.”
“There are some people you will never please and it is unfortunate,” McBroom said. “But, I think this has highlighted, now more than ever, the dire need in Park City for this kind of accommodations.”
Over the last several months, Summit County and Park City’s elected leaders have expressed their commitments to addressing the affordable/workforce housing shortage in the county.
However, the fallout from Worsley and McBroom housing season workers at the former Colby School property has spilled over to on the hotel project Hoffvest LLC is proposing, instead. Opponents of the project claim the housing situation highlights Worsley and McBroom’s ill intent.
Earlier this year, a conditional-use permit application was submitted to the county requesting approval for a 39-room hotel, three cabin-style rooms, a 5,000-square-foot restaurant, plus yoga and fitness studios. The project has sparked a petition from the residents in the three surrounding neighborhoods, who claim the project violates county code regarding commercial projects in the Snyderville Basin.
“Would we have done things differently? Yes. We were we naïve to think we didn’t need to do anything about the workers. But are we happy that we provided a solution for workers who needed housing? Yes. Are we happy we looked after them in a good manner? Yes,” Worlsey said. “
Worsley acknowledged the challenges the issue could create the next time they go before the Snyderville Basin Planning Commission. She said, “It will be brought up and it will be something for them to grab onto but every time we have gone before them something gets brought up.”
“More and more claims have been made about our project and we stand true and we believe our project is just simply bringing this property back to what it was used for,” Worsley said. “We are not asking for anything beyond that scope.”
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A gas leak forced the evacuation of North Summit High School and North Summit Middle School Monday afternoon in Coalville. No injuries were reported.