Town of Winter Park considers measures to alleviate seasonal housing crunch
February 21, 2008
There is a trend unfolding in Winter Park and the Fraser Valley that concerns employee housing ” or, more pointedly, the lack thereof.
Although seasonal employee housing has always raised a challenge in resort communities, Winter Park Council Member Chris Seemann, who owns the Viking Lodge in Winter Park, said at a recent town meeting that this season it has been more difficult hiring “decent” employees than it has been in the past few seasons.
Seemann pointed toward the lack of affordable, seasonal housing; more property owners are renting out their units on a nightly or monthly basis instead of offering them up for seasonal employees, he said. He also mentioned the ever-growing construction industry, which is drawing employees out of ski shops for bigger paychecks.
“As we get bigger, and there’s more demand on ski shops, restaurants; they’re going to need staff. It’s something we can’t ignore,” Seemann said.
Employee housing has always been a problem, agreed Mayor Nick Teverbaugh. But historically, finding housing has been up to employers.
The town has focused more on affordable housing for long-term residents, Teverbaugh said; Hideaway Junction, for instance, which is Winter Park’s attainable housing project, is geared toward residents who are making a long-term commitment to the community.
But perhaps the town’s focus will need to change over the next few years.
Granby is growing, Teverbaugh pointed out. The “safety valve” that Winter Park and Fraser have in Granby and Grand Lake for seasonal housing is drying up, he said. And as City Market builds momentum, and major developments like Granby Ranch keep building, employees may flock to the other side of Red Dirt Hill for a higher-paying job and an affordable place to live.
“If I was an employee looking for a job and I have an opportunity to take housing in Granby and work in Granby, with the price of gas and everything else … I think there’s going to be more pressure from businesses to begin looking as a community at seasonal as well as year-round housing,” Teverbaugh said.
And with some major developments under way, such as Winter Park Resort’s base village and Grand Park’s town center, the Winter Park and Fraser community continues to attract employees, he added.
“When I add all those things together, it seems to me like there’s multiple reasons that seasonal housing is going to be more and more of a crunch,” Teverbaugh said.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Town Council members discussed whether the time is right to build units that could be used for seasonal employees in the future. But for the town to afford that, it needs to find a model that will work, Teverbaugh said.
There are various ideas floating around: The town could build condos and sell them to businesses in town, who would in turn rent them out to employees. But what types of units are employees looking for? And what can local businesses afford? In other words, what makes the most sense for the community?
The council intends to look toward other ski towns and conduct more research.
One possibility could be Beaver Village, which incorporates 250 acres on both sides of Highway 40, Teverbaugh pointed out. If Beaver Village decides to annex into Winter Park town boundaries, it could have land available for 200 employee type units. That process, however, could be a long time in the making, if it happens at all.
Another possibility is Hideaway Junction, which so far has been structured as single family units. But not all the property has been developed yet, and land could be set aside for a taller, condo-type building instead, Teverbaugh said, with day care on the first floor and housing above. The land, about 1.2 acres, sits behind Kings Crossing on Lions Gate Road.
Winter Park Resort was considering turning the Vintage Hotel into seasonal employee housing for its employees a few years ago, but the hotel is a good money-maker for the ski area and, as Human Resources Director Karen Gadberry pointed out, it fills a need for the resort’s customers.
The resort currently has 233 beds for its employees located between Granby and Winter Park, and although the human resources department has not found major issues this season finding employees affordable housing, the ski area is keenly aware that employee housing has been an important and challenging issue for a long time, Gadberry said.
I wouldn’t say, ‘Nope, we’re fine, this isn’t a problem,’ because that’s not true,” Gadberry said.
She added that Intrawest has been compiling data over the last year to assess the need and figure out what type of employee housing fits. So far, there are no definite plans for units, she said.
“As we look forward at building a village and expanding the employee base, we want to make sure we put thought behind this,” Gadberry said.
Teverbaugh added that some people believe seasonal employee housing should be provided by Winter Park Resort because it is the biggest employer in the Valley. But that really is not fair to say, he said.
With new businesses popping up and major developments coming in, the ski area is no longer the sole draw for seasonal employees.
So what’s next?
As for downtown Winter Park, Teverbaugh believes Town Council members will have further discussion about employee housing. The idea for now is to find out what the numbers are ” such as the cost of a unit to a business ” and present it to businesses for consideration. By talking with more businesses, the town can gauge how much interest there is for seasonal housing.
The idea was floated 15 years ago, Teverbaugh added, but nobody pursued it. Perhaps now, things have changed.
“It’s a long time later; we have more demand. Does that mean businesses recognize that as more of a need? And would they be willing to put their money down and purchase or master lease something?” Teverbaugh asked.
So far, he doesn’t have an answer. But if businesses do want it, it’s going to take some time to build it. And that’s going to cause some frustration.
“I figure at some point, the time is going to be right. Unfortunately, when you get to the point where … (they) recognize the problem, it’s upon them.”