Steamboat Ski Area employees expected to have $255 a month housing option this winter despite legal hiccup
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — When Steamboat Ski Area housing manager Alison Brodie talks about her tenants at the Ponds, she often refers to them as the kids.
Brodie sees the housing complex as a community, not just a collection of buildings.
“The kids are happy with (their living arrangement) and comfortable and excited to find the housing,” she said as she showed the amenities of a six-person unit in the Ponds earlier this week.
The $255 per month, all-inclusive rent for the unit was so enticing during the inaugural season last year, Brodie said she saw an employee switch from a four-person to the six-person unit mid-season to save money.
Some friends also arrive in groups to pursue the living arrangement, which for some isn’t so different from living in a college dorm.
Why did the ski area start adding bunk beds and increase the occupancy last year?
When rental housing became more scarce in the city in recent years and rents went higher and higher, Brodie was tasked with looking into space beyond the Ponds, which often sees a long waitlist.
She said at the former Iron Horse Inn space, employees would face tighter living quarters and have to sleep several people to a hotel room with no living room or individual common area.
“You’d have people eating Cheetos watching their roommates brush their teeth,” Brodie said of the potential of living in a former hotel room.
Brodie said that option also has become more cost prohibitive after a change of ownership from the city to a private developer, which has renovated the units.
Other places in the city were eliminated as places to affordably house resort employees because of their distance from the city’s bus routes or a prohibitive cost.
So the ski area’s focus last year turned inward, and some bunk beds were ordered at the Ponds to accommodate more resort employees at the complex it already managed.
Brodie called the six-person units a significantly better alternative than other living arrangements that are possible in the city.
She touted the additional storage space and common areas where everyone in the unit can have a seat and enjoy dinner.
But fast forward a year, and the living arrangement is the subject of a sort of legal hiccup between the city and the resort after a resident who doesn’t live at the Ponds complained about it.
Resort officials thought a 1990 planning document made it legal to house up to six unrelated people per unit in the Ponds.
The city administration checked and now thinks the arrangement goes against city code and the resort needs to apply for a dormitory use to legalize the six-person units.
But Steamboat Ski Area employees aren’t expected to lose the option of bunking up with five other people and finding housing for as low as $255 a month this winter at the resort’s employee housing units.
Resort officials said this week they plan to continue the six-person, two bedroom units at the Ponds while the ski area works with the city to approve of the higher-occupancy units, which the city said are currently against city code.
City planning director Tyler Gibbs is predicting the ski area can easily get city approval for the six-person units by applying for a dormitory use.
Gibbs also didn’t see any major obstacles that would hold up the process in the coming weeks.
“It could absolutely fit the code,” Gibbs said. “It seems perfectly OK with everybody from a regulatory perspective they could use the dormitory designation.”
He suggested the process will just be a matter of paperwork and a public hearing.
Gibbs said he recently toured the six-person units at the Ponds with the city’s fire chief, and they didn’t find any life safety issues with the living arrangements.
Still, the city said the six-person units currently go against a city code that caps the number of unrelated residents of a multi-family unit at five people.
City Attorney Dan Foote said the code was put in place primarily to mitigate the impact higher occupancy living situations can have on neighbors.
But in the case of the Ponds, all of the apartment units are utilized as employee housing for the resort.
The ski area started the six-person units last year and cited a 1990 planning document they thought would legally allow six people per unit.
The city is interpreting the planning document differently and has invited the resort to apply for a dorm use.
Foote said last week that if the resort continued the six-person units this winter, they would receive a letter about the non-compliance with city code and be given a sort of grace period to come into compliance.
There was a similar situation at the Alpiner hotel when it started to be used as workforce housing.
Seasonal employees were allowed to continue living there while the property owners applied for and received the dorm designation.
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