City disagrees with Steamboat Ski Area over occupancy limit at employee housing complex
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The city of Steamboat Springs is disagreeing with Steamboat Ski Area’s position that the resort can legally house six people in some employee housing units at the Ponds without applying for a higher occupancy limit.
The legal debate could force the resort to spend the coming weeks pursuing a new property designation that would allow more people to live at the Ponds this winter at a time seasonal workers around the city are struggling to find affordable housing.
Resort officials said last week they thought a 1990 planning approval for the Ponds condos would give the ski area the ability to house more than five employees in the same unit.
But City Attorney Dan Foote and Planning Director Tyler Gibbs reviewed those planning documents and came to the conclusion that they should not allow the resort to increase the occupancy beyond what citywide codes allow for.
To help mitigate any impacts to nearby property owners, the city’s community development codes cap the limit of unrelated individuals living in a single, multi-family unit at five.
The ski area added bunk beds and started housing up to six people in some of the Ponds units last ski season.
There are plans to have 30 six-person units at the Ponds complex.
But the city recently determined the higher occupancy units violate city codes after a resident complained about the living arrangements this month.
“From our perspective, (the ski area) will either need to reduce the occupancy to five or seek some sort of change of use,” Foote told the City Council on Tuesday.
Foote said the resort is still “digesting” the news and deciding what to do next.
“We’re talking later this week,” Foote said. “They were hoping they’d get a better response from us (on the planning documents), and I think they are still digesting our response.”
Foote said the resort has told the city there currently aren’t six people occupying any of the units at the Ponds.
Nicole Miller, the ski area’s digital communications manager, said Wednesday ski area officials plan to talk to the city about the potential of seeking a dormitory designation for the property.
“We just want to make sure it’s a good fit for the property,” Miller said of pursuing a dormitory designation.
Miller added the ski area’s employee housing manager explored several other options last year before increasing the occupancy to six at some of the Ponds units.
The research included visiting other housing properties around town and determining that even with six people in the 860-square-foot, two-bedroom units at the Ponds, a group of six residents there would have more square footage and more storage space than they would at other workforce housing options in the city.
The resort also touts the $255 per resident price tag of the six-person unit.
The ski area isn’t the only local business trying to get creative to solve its workforce housing needs at a time Steamboat’s rental supply is getting more expensive and scarce.
Mountain Resorts is housing several of its seasonal workers in the former Alpine Hotel building in downtown Steamboat.
And the Sheraton Steamboat Resort has also utilized the former Iron Horse Inn building to house seasonal workers in a dorm-style setting.
The Alpiner property had to get a change of use approved by the city to a dormitory to legalize that housing arrangement.
Councilwoman Heather Sloop wondered Tuesday night whether there could be a “win-win” with Steamboat Ski Area proceeding with the six-person units while it awaits approval for the dormitory use.
Foote confirmed that if the resort went forward with the occupancy plan, the city would send a violation letter but the city would give the resort time to come into compliance with city codes.
The city has historically allowed property owners to pursue a change of use such as a change to a dormitory before taking any enforcement action.
That means the resort could technically house the extra employees while going through the city planning process to come into compliance.
Foote did caution that if the ski area went in that direction, some residents at the Ponds could face eviction in the middle of the winter if the City Council did not approve the dormitory status.
Foote said last week the city’s fire chief had toured the six-person units and deemed them a suitable candidate for the dormitory designation.
It would take about six weeks for the ski area to apply for the dormitory designation and go through the city’s planning approval process.
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