Grand Lake declares housing crisis
One trustee says he’s ready for town to enter the housing business
On Monday, Grand Lake declared a workforce housing crisis shortly after at least one of the town’s elected officials indicated he’s ready to get Grand Lake into the housing business.
During discussions about the crisis declaration, Town Manager John Crone told trustees the resolution might help Grand Lake elbow its way to the front when seeking state and federal funding and likened the resolution to “a yell for help.”
“The idea behind this declaration is when applying for state or federal funds to help offset (the housing shortage) … this just strengthens our position when dealing with those governments or agencies that have funds available,” Crone said, adding that the declaration won’t grant the mayor any additional powers.
The worker shortage is not unique to Grand Lake but remains one of the most pervasive issues in a town where just 26% of residences were found to be occupied year-round in 2018.
It’s no secret. Help wanted signs litter almost every business, and rising wages, flexible schedules and hefty sign-on bonuses have had little effect easing the crunch for employers. Many have scaled back hours and services because they can’t find staff.
“I’m sure there might be a couple businesses that are fully staffed, but it would be a handful if there are,” Crone said Monday. “Most businesses are short on workers, primarily because of the lack of affordable housing.”
The resolution was closely modeled after discussions about a similar declaration in Summit County. Meanwhile, a disaster resolution regarding housing in Crested Butte allowed the town to take more drastic measures.
One exchange that preceded Monday’s crisis declaration in Grand Lake might have fleshed out at least one trustee’s position regarding the town’s role in the housing crisis.
Prior to trustees’ evening meeting, a board workshop was meant to give town staff direction about how to proceed with two homes that sit on the recently purchased 21-acre Stanley Property, which has been a contentious issue for Grand Lake.
Ultimately, trustees wanted town staff to get moving on a sale, which will require annexing the land, deciding lot sizes for the homes and subdividing the property, along with other considerations.
The sale would recoup some of the $1.5 million the town spent to buy the Stanley Property and corresponding water rights and pay off Thomasson Park, an eight-acre parcel near the northwest corner of the town.
While a majority of the board wanted to see the Stanley Property homes sold and sold quickly, some empathized with those struggling to find housing and said that they could support moving working people into the homes while the town hashes out a sale.
At one point during the workshop, the public was given a chance to comment, and a longtime former Grand Lake mayor and trustee used her time to issue a warning to trustees.
Judy Burke served more than 28 years as trustee, mayor pro-tem and mayor. Prior to that, she was a member of the Grand Lake Chamber board and on the town’s planning commission. She’s also made a career in real estate.
Relying on her background in real estate sales and rental property management, Burke drew a clear distinction between seasonal and long-term workforce housing as she asked trustees to consider making local businesses provide their own seasonal housing, which Burke said has been done in the past.
Burke also warned trustees to carefully consider the costs of renting, including clearing a long driveway in the winter, bringing the properties up to specification and who’s going to do the cleaning when people move out.
“I don’t think the town really needs to be in the housing business,” Burke said as she agreed that Grand Lake probably needs to sell the properties and should do it as quickly as possible.
Responding to Burke, however, Trustee Michael Arntson took a very different position.
“I disagree with you in the fact that, yes the town should probably not be supplying housing, but there is no other option at this point in time,” he said. “This is essentially the exact same scenario that every small town in the mountains is facing, and every other one of them is starting to get into the housing market or employee housing for this exact same reason.”
Arntson said that since he moved here almost 20 years ago, he’s only seen housing prices go up, and there’s been a history of real estate pros serving on town boards that “has come at a large cost for small families and new families coming into this area.”
“If the town cannot make any type of actual affordable housing, we are in that scenario that we talked about before, where it is the 60 and 70-year-olds taking care of the 80 and 90-year-olds,” Arntson said. “Like, it’s bound to happen.”
Arntson said that with the cost of construction, a family would have to make around $150,000 or more just to afford a quarter acre to build a 1,000 square foot house, and that’s just not feasible.
“I know we’ve been talking about this for a long — hell, since last year — and this was actually part of one of the possible reasons we bought the Stanley Property in the first place,” Arntson said. “We, as a town, somehow need to come together — and I do agree with you on possibly making sure (local businesses) keep their seasonal rentals like they used to … but I think we have to somehow get into that business.”
In other business:
• During a workshop with trustees, Grand EMS Chief Robert Good covered how the agency plans to ask voters for a mill levy increase to address rising demand for EMS services. EMS relies on revenue from ambulance calls and mill levies to cover the department operations, and this would be the first mill levy increase for Grand EMS since 2003.
• Grand Lake entered a memorandum of understanding concerning a countywide Drought Preparedness Plan. During discussions, Crone told trustees Grand Lake was unique from other towns in the county because Grand Lake’s water flows northeast, not southwest, so the town has “plenty of senior water rights” to weather almost any drought situation.
“There’s no pressing reason for us to join the drought preparedness plan or sign on to the MOU other than to send a message we are a West Slope town — even if our water flows east — we understand the water conditions faced by everyone in this county, particularly the other towns, and we are willing to stand with them,” Crone told trustees.
Not seeing much of a stake in the issue, trustees voted to instruct Mayor Steve Kudron to sign the MOU in hopes the county will support the town’s interests on other water issues down the road.
• Trustees recognized the 100th anniversary of the Community House, which was built in 1921 after citizens raised the money and provided volunteer work. Upon completion, the Community House has served as a focal point for community gatherings, including countless town meetings, dances, movies, plays, special events, weddings, funerals, birthdays and other life events.
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