County officials OK plans for boarding home in neighborhood outside of Fraser after hearing resident opposition
The battle to secure housing for seasonal employees of Winter Park Resort came to a head at the Grand County Board of Commissioners meeting on Wednesday, Nov. 9, with county officials ultimately approving a modified version of a special use permit request from Winter Park Resort.
Winter Park Resort has signed a lease with the managers of the Casa Colo short-term rental in the Winter Park Ranch subdivision just outside of Fraser. The lease was signed before the county approved the number of occupants — many of the subdivision’s residents were shocked to hear the resort’s initial intention was to house 38 employees.
The resort and short-term rental managers planned to convert the single-family home to a boarding home. Carl Dowdy, Winter Park Resort’s vice president of legal counsel, and the managers of Casa Colo, husband and wife William MacDonald and Brittany Nudge, were all present at the meeting. They requested a special use permit to allow them to operate the boarding home for a six-month lease, since the home is currently permitted for single-family use.
Casa Colo is an 11-bedroom, eight-bathroom home. There’s also an accessory dwelling on the property, where the caretakers live. During the commissioners meeting, Kris Manguso, director of the Grand County Community Development Department, gave commissioners her recommendations on how to move forward with the special use permit.
Manguso stated the resort reduced their initial request to house 38 individuals down to 30. They also reduced their request for parking spaces from 14 to eight.
According to MacDonald, the house can accommodate 30 people, which it already does as a short-term rental. If the home was not in use as a short-term rental, a maximum of five unrelated individuals would be allowed to stay there.
“I believe this is short-term rented in the summer for up to 36 people,” said Manguso.
Residents said they’ve already suffered from the impacts of the building being used as a short-term rental in their neighborhood, including noisy partiers and overflowing trashcans. When they were informed of the potential boarding house, they banded together, sending a total of 62 letters of opposition to county commissioners. There were no letters of support.
“The (subdivision) is a single-family, residential-type area,” Manguso said. “The majority of owners there are actually residents of the county, not second-home owners.”
Manguso said her staff recommended Casa Colo withdraw their request; if they don’t, she said the commissioners should deny it.
“The applicant has some additional work to do here,” she said. “I think there’s some legal issues that might come up with covenants.”
Covenants are deed restrictions issued in by a community. According to Winter Park Ranch’s covenants, homes are only allowed for residential use and must either be a “detached family dwelling house” or “guest house.”
Manguso said Grand County government does not enforce covenants.
“However, we do not generally approve things that are in direct violation of covenants. … We want to be good land stewards as a county too,” Manguso said.
She advised there should be a limit of 16 individuals if the commissioners decided to approve the special use permit.
“The 16 people is actually based on our building code requirements,” she said.
She added that short-term rentals have been able to go around this number to accommodate more guests, but her office plans to address this to limit short-term rentals to 16 people.
Apparently, the managers of Casa Colo have always been aware of the 16-person stipulation for their home’s zoning. According to Manguso, MacDonald and Nudge were renting their home to 24 resort employees (either of Granby Ranch or Winter Park) in 2017 before the county discovered the managers were ignoring zoning codes.
“My understanding is some of the people were told to leave the home in the middle of winter,” she said. “We do not want to create a similar situation under any circumstances.”
Resort’s legal counsel steps forward
After Manguso’s recommendations, Dowdy addressed the crowd.
“Pretty much the entire room behind me is not happy with the resort, and that weighs on us,” Dowdy said. “This community is very important to this resort.”
He added that the resort relies on service workers, yet affordable housing is unattainable for them. Winter Park has an affordable housing development slated for the 2023-24 season that is expected to provide more than 300 beds. For this season, they are relying on homes in the community, like this one from Casa Colo, to house seasonal workers. The resort currently utilizes over 400 bedrooms in the community.
“We think the better solution that benefits our community now for the upcoming six months is to allow this property to be filled with 30 employees, rather than … vacationers,” Dowdy said.
He added that the resort would not withdraw their request and the commissioners could make a decision that day.
“We have 20 employees living in hotel rooms ready to move in tomorrow if this board allows,” he said. “If this board allows 16, we’ll go with that.”
Dowdy continued that boarding homes are allowed in residential zoning. Since only five-bedroom boarding rooms are allowed, they are requesting a special use permit to go up to 11 bedrooms. He reiterated that boarding homes aren’t commercial use, so they wouldn’t violate the subdivision’s covenants.
Dowdy added that tenant employees are much better neighbors than short-term rental vacationers normally are.
“There’s less noise, less partying. We’re planning to use this space for our H2B (visa) employees. These are skilled workers supporting their families. Some of them are parents themselves, even grandparents,” he said.
The resort also plans to have an on-site resident advisor to curtail any issues. Three employees have already moved into the location.
“We appreciate the neighbors who recognize the need for affordable housing for front-line workers, but this usually means … higher occupancy and roommates,” he said.
Commissioners then allowed time to public comment, as a line of residents formed in front of the podium. Attorney Ashley Nichols of Cornerstone Law Firm spoke first in representation of the residents.
She stated that 30 individuals living together “would be over seven times the allowable limit in a single-family neighborhood (and) would destroy the construct and quiet enjoyment of the other owners.”
In her view, the accommodation’s structure is similar to a commercial dorm (which the subdivision prohibits), since there will be a resident advisor. Also, boarding homes are required to offer meals, which the resort hasn’t yet offered.
Nichols concluded by stating that expecting workers to live “with one kitchen and insufficient parking, in a house that is already the source of many noise and nuisance complaints — and as of this morning has trash littered and strewn around the property — is beyond the comprehension of many in the neighborhood.”
Residents then brought up concerns about transportation. According to the resort, they purposefully placed employees without vehicles at the home to minimize required parking spaces. This also means employees will use the Lift bus system. Several residents felt that during winter months, the eight-minute walk to the bus stop could be treacherous because there are no streetlights or sidewalks in the neighborhood. On top of this, employers are required to provide H2B employees with transportation to and from work.
Others questioned why the resort, with its advanced infrastructure and luxurious amenities, could not provide housing for their most essential workers until the 2023-24 season. One resident commented, “It’s time for the resort to swallow their corporate greed to provide housing for these 30 people since next year, there will be adequate housing.”
Commissioners move forward with approval
Dowdy spoke on some of the residents’ concerns, stating the resort would provide breakfast to satisfy the meal requirement for boarding homes. He added the resort would work with Lift to add a bus stop closer to the home. Then it was time for the commissioners to decide their move.
Since commissioner Merrit Linke was absent, commissioners Randy George and Richard Cimino deliberated together for a long time, with input from county manager Ed Moyer and county attorney Maxine LaBarre-Krostue.
Cimino decided to avoid denial, feeling that the applicants might move forward with “use by right” to operate employee housing anyway, or it would remain a short-term rental rife with noise and trash issues. George was also in favor of approval, with the condition there only be 11 residents, with one person per bedroom.
“You started off by saying how important the relationships are between the resort and the community. And I think that is very valuable, very important,” George said. “Workforce housing is critical, and I appreciate the resort is moving forward with the construction of more of that housing … I also really appreciate that we’ve got a community that is residential.”
The commissioners settled on allowing 16 people, including the 4 people in the caretaker’s building, with eight parking spaces. The lease will expire June 1.
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