Preliminary plans may move into final planning stage
The Gunnison County Planning Commission voted unanimously to pass a recommendation on to the county commissioners for preliminary plan approval of the Whetstone Business Park at a meeting Friday, May 2.
The move puts Whetstone Business Park Inc. on the final leg of a trip through the county’s approval process that has taken nearly four years to complete.
“Once the Planning Commission makes the recommendation on preliminary plan approval then the Board of County Commissioners decides whether to accept it or not,” says Ian Billick, chairperson of the county Planning Commission. “If they accept it, then there will be final plan approval and then the board decides whether or not it comes back to the Planning Commission for final plan review.”
John Nichols, a partner in Whetstone, is relieved the plan is finally going to the county commissioners and hopes it will make it through without any further complications.
“It’s been a long time coming and we’re still not all the way there,” says Nichols. “We still have to go through another leg of a long journey, which is to get the engineering approved, but we’re confident that we’ll have no problem with that.”
The proposed site for the Whetstone Business Park is south of Crested Butte on State Highway 135 on a 13.25-acre lot adjacent to the Riverland Industrial Park. It will be a mixture of commercial and residential space, including 10 deed-restricted apartments that will be available to those who meet affordable housing criteria.
The original plan called for a developed area more than 9,000 square feet larger than what is included in the current plan. Due to the concerns of various parties and through the course of the planning process, the business park has eliminated 13,500 square feet of commercial space and added 800 square feet total to five of the residential units.
“Our original proposal certainly has changed a lot, but we did what was necessary to get the job done—but it’s not the project we’d originally envisioned,” says Nichols.
No commitment can be made by anyone interested in occupying the commercial space until a final decision is made by the county commissioners, but according to Mike Potoker, another Whetstone partner, there are several potential lessees.
However, the passage of a preliminary plan doesn’t mean everyone is happy about development plans.
All through the approval process, there have been outspoken opponents of the project, including Ted Colvin, owner of Colvin Construction, who owns land that borders the Whetstone property.
The main concerns are the park’s aesthetic impact on the landscape surrounding the entrance to the town of Crested Butte, the mixture of residential and commercial interests in such a small area, and the potential devaluation of the surrounding properties, among other things.
“Breckenridge admits they made a mistake by allowing similar (industrial type) uses at the entry to their town,” writes Colvin in an email. “Breckenridge planners have worked hard for a few years to try to change this planning mistake.”
“Many towns in Colorado have made the mistake of allowing inharmonious projects and development at their entry. We don’t have to.”
Colvin continues, “The project is a toxic mix: animals [referring to the animals allowed in each dwelling], multi family and single family [housing], lumber yards, supply houses, semi trucks and trailers, noise, trucks attempting to negotiate a tight site on sloping roads, kids crossing a busy highway, no park for children and adults, all on 13 sloped acres at the entry to our beautiful piece of paradise.”
According to Potoker, in an effort to conceal the business park from the highway, the plan includes 12-foot-high landscaped berms that will provide a barrier between the road and the buildings, as well as “hundreds of mature trees.”
As part of the planning process, the Planning Commission holds the proposed plan against the requirements of the Land Use Resolution (LUR), says commissioner Richard Karas. If the plan holds up, it is passed on to the county commissioners for review.
The comments of concerned citizens who come before the Planning Commission are part of the official record, and the record is reviewed in its entirety before any decisions are made, says Billick.
“There is a public record—people can put any information they want into the public record and the decision is based on that and what we’re deciding is whether the recommendation follows the LUR. We look at everything on the public record before we make our decision,” Billick says.
But according to Colvin, the LUR requires that “a project such as this can only enhance or not affect neighboring properties or their future development. There is a $2 million negative impact on just two of the neighboring properties.”
Nichols acknowledges there is opposition to the project. “There was some well organized opposition and the council did a thorough job of everything and went beyond typical comment period to make sure that everyone that wanted to be a part of the process had an opportunity,” says Nichols.
The Whetstone Business Park preliminary plan has not been scheduled for a hearing by the county commissioners, but could possibly be heard at the May 20 meeting, according to county planning director Joanne Williams.