“We were never in the construction business before,” said Thad Noll, assistant county manager, “and now we are. We realized with Huron Landing … ‘Whoa, man, we don’t have the expertise to analyze construction costs.’ We don’t have that person who can just focus 100 percent on a giant housing project.”
On Huron Landing, the $8.5 million rental project being split down the middle between the county and the town of Breckenridge to develop 26-two-bedroom units, the county relied heavily on town personnel to analyze expenses and negotiate the finances. County planning director Don Reimer, who has a background as an engineer, also temporarily filled in where needed.
So the county posted out this spring for the new job title of housing director, who will report to director of community development Jim Curnutte. The county is currently in the process of initial interviews for the position. The intention is to get someone ideally with a background in construction, real estate and finance hired and in the position by early August.
“We seem to be going down the road of building housing,” said Curnutte, “so we want to hire someone solely dedicated to making housing happen. The idea is getting someone on staff who can build on our county-owned properties. And other properties, as well, because we’re hoping to get more and more and build more housing in the upcoming years.”
The job posting calls for someone to be responsible for the planning, management, administration and operations of a number of affordable housing projects. Specifically, applicants are asked to have a degree in public or business administration, community planning, finance or real estate and at least five years experience in one of the noted fields. The description was left intentionally broad.
“We’re not sure of the exact job yet,” said Noll. “The job will likely morph. We know all of these things have to get done, and so, ‘You, new person, will help sort of develop the real details of the day-to-day job.’”
With construction on the 1.7-acre Huron Landing lot having now begun and set for completion in June 2017, the county shifts its focus toward the development of Lake Hill. The nearly 45-acre property is a longstanding enterprise that former county manager Gary Martinez, who recently retired on June 30, will maintain a reduced role to help shepherd it along through the rest of year.
He was perhaps the most experienced member of county staff in the field of real estate and land deals. He spent 15 years as Breckenridge’s town manager before joining an Eagle County developer as a managing partner for seven years, and then returning to the county as manager for a nine-year run. He said he sees the importance of bring on the right person for the new role, particularly as he exits.
“We are now going to need a real professional in the housing business,” said Martinez, “somebody who understands the financial things, understands the needs of developers, understands how to estimate costs and to put deals together. Hopefully, between myself and that new person coming on sometime in the summer, we’ll have a good transition.”
The job is about far more than just Lake Hill, though. The fresh hire will lead the county on its designs for additional workforce-housing concepts like those proposed at a portion of the Wintergreen parcel in Keystone, as well as others that mature in time.
“As we start to gather more and more properties,” said Noll, “who’s overseeing all of this for us? Unlike a developer who sells off his property and then he’s done, we will own these for the foreseeable future. So we’ll always have somebody needing to be on top of that, helping oversee the property managers, overseeing contracts.
“Lake Hill’s a big driver for this,” he added, “but if it wasn’t Lake Hill, it’d be something else. But we realized we’re in the business of building housing for a while. We’ve been buying land over the years, and now we’ve got to start putting vertical stuff on it.”