Fairfield, Hampton hotel-to-housing conversion projects move forward

The Hampton Inn & Suites in Steamboat Springs is planned to be converted into workforce housing.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

The Steamboat Springs Planning Commission on Thursday gave local developer Ski Town Commercial LLC the green light to begin moving long-term workforce tenants into the Hampton Inn & Suites and the Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott at the start of next month.

Ski Town Commercial Owner Jon Sanders, whose company has multiple apartment developments throughout Steamboat, said the project comes at a much-needed time, when Routt County is facing a historic housing crisis and businesses are struggling to hire staff heading into the winter season.

“We’re putting these deals together to help our community with both short-term and long-term solutions,” Sanders said. “We have a short-term solution to release the pressure valve on our community in supporting employers in town.”

Though he said city staff understood the need for urgent workforce housing, Steamboat Principal Planner Bob Keenan added a condition to Sanders’ application asking Ski Town to provide each tenant’s lease to the city on an annual basis. Keenan indicated that was to ensure tenants meet the qualifying definition of workforce housing, which the city’s community development code defines as not exceeding 120% of the area median income and working at least 40 hours a week in Routt County.

Sanders said he did not have time to look at the entire application before presenting to the commission, and he did not agree with the condition, as he believed it could violate tenant privacy.

“The private sector is trying to solve the problem, and it seems to me like what we’re doing instead is forcing us to go out and send out reporting,” Sanders told commissioners. “That seems like a version of policing, and no offense, but it was kind of a shock.”

Assistant City Attorney Jennifer Bock said when the city typically asks for reported leases, it does not seek identifying information. Instead, the city would ask for a generalized report, to which Sanders later agreed.

“You guys could come after us like crazy if you found a multibillionaire using one of our units and bunk housing all their buddies out of California,” Sanders told commissioners. “I think there needs to be some trust and faith in the people in the community that are trying to solve this problem without having to go and do more reporting.”

Mark Walker, president of Resort Group LLC, urged commissioners during the meeting to act quickly, as workforce housing is an immediate need ahead of the winter season.

“We all know we have a major problem with housing, and I’m just asking that anything we can do to expedite this, to make it happen, is critical,” Walker said. “I have an enormous waiting list of staff, and they’re ready to come here as soon as they know that they have a place to move into.”

Though Walker spoke specifically on behalf of the service industry, Sanders said he envisioned the units being for more than just service industry workers.

“These units in particular are proposing to be a different tenant mix,” Sanders said, adding that the large one-bedroom units he is planning will likely be of use for more long-term community employees.

Because the project is a conditional-use only, Sanders does not have to take the matter to City Council, and the planning commission’s stamp of approval means he can begin welcoming tenants Dec. 1.

For the winter season, the units at the Fairfield, located at 3200 S. Lincoln Ave., will essentially remain as they are, already equipped with microwaves and mini fridges with a shared common area. There are already units with kitchenettes at the Hampton Inn, located at 725 S. Lincoln Ave., which are to be occupied right away, Sanders explained.

Keenan, who oversaw the project for the city, said Sanders is proposing to convert 80 units at the Hampton Inn within six months, then send a construction team to the Fairfield in April to install fuller kitchens.

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