Last-minute concerns registered by public
An updated ordinance designed to protect Crested Butte’s water supply from the effects of development will go into effect this week. After hearing some final comments from the public, the Crested Butte Town Council approved the 52-page document during its regular meeting on Monday, May 19.
“I feel really comfortable and proud of the staff for working with the community in this process,” Crested Butte mayor pro-tem Leah Williams said. She said the adopted ordinance was “one that will stand up and we’ll be proud of.” The meeting marked the third public hearing on the ordinance.
Crested Butte town attorney John Belkin and special counsel Barbara Green were on hand to present the final version of the document, which took into account some comments the town had received from Irwin Lodge owners and U.S. Energy Corp. earlier this month.
Specifically, the attorneys deleted sections that covered aquatic animals and habitat, after U.S. Energy Corp., which is proposing to develop a molybdenum mine in the watershed, brought up the tenuous connection between the standards and water quality. Green said she felt other standards in the document would protect the watershed and said she supported deleting the sections. The attorneys also made changes to the runoff and drainage standards to accommodate concerns brought forward by Irwin Lodge.
The watershed protection ordinance will allow the town to take advantage of a state statute that permits towns to prohibit and mitigate impacts to their water supply within a five-mile area. The town first adopted a protective watershed ordinance in 1978 and revised it in 1996. The town has been working on this version for the past year, during which time it adopted a temporary moratorium in August 2007, preventing development within the town’s watershed. The ordinance essentially requires a permit for land use change activity within the town’s watershed, with varying degrees of overview, depending on the project.
During the meeting on May 19, attorney David Leinsdorf, representing Scarp Ridge LLC, which plans to develop the existing Irwin Lodge property, said his clients supported the ordinance overall but had some lingering concerns. Specifically, he questioned the difference between a major and minor impact project, saying he could find no definition in the ordinance. “I do feel that this is a glaring part of the ordinance,” he said. “I think it subjects the town to vulnerability it doesn’t need.” He asked how a single family home would be classified.
Green said the ordinance relies on town staff to determine in which category a project falls on a case-by-case basis. She said she couldn’t answer Leinsdorf’s question because a single-family home could have a variety of impacts depending on its size and location. Belkin added that the impact classifications were different because the watershed ordinance is an environmental regulation, not a land use document. “It has a different flavor,” he said.
Leinsdorf argued that the town should give parameters that would give the applicant some idea of what category their project falls into. He also drew the Town Council’s attention to a section that forbids the council from conducting a public hearing prior to the issuance of permits from the federal, state and county governments. Leinsdorf pointed out that many issues are brought up at public hearings and it seems unfair to wait until the last minute to hold a hearing. “Public hearings raise lots of issues that haven’t been raised before,” he explained.
Town Council member Billy Rankin answered that the Town Council often holds a public hearing and adopts that very night.
Belkin agreed. “I think it’s a little different from the county process,” he said. “The reason is that we wanted the benefit of all those submittals before the public hearing.”
Crested Butte resident Lee Dickleman asked what kind of fees would apply to a small cabin in Irwin townsite.
Belkin said there was no application fee for minor impact projects but the applicants are expected to pay the town’s expenses to process their application.
Rankin said there was no hard number in the document, but the cost would be “nominal.” Rankin suggested an easy 15-minute-type review could cost $50 to $100.
To a question about how small homes would be dealt with under the ordinance, Rankin answered, for a 1,500-square-foot cabin, “99 percent of the time, it’s a minor impact and will be handled administratively.”
Irwin resident JW Smith asked why the watershed ordinance was necessary and how the town could regulate outside its boundaries. He also pointed out that the watershed map seems to extend beyond the jurisdiction granted by the state government.
Green agreed that town’s extending their authority beyond their boundary was a situation and wouldn’t be allowed in most instances. “If there weren’t a specific statute, this body could not regulate outside their boundaries,” she said. “The state gave this opportunity to protect the watershed.” She noted that the watershed map has not changed and was part of the original 1978 ordinance.
U.S. Energy Corp. director of community relations Perry Anderson thanked the Town Council for considering the company’s remarks and noted that some of its concerns were left unaddressed, noting that an area of concern might be “trying to fit a land use regulation into an environmental ordinance.”
The Town Council wrapped up the public hearing by thanking staff who had worked on the ordinance for many months. “This isn’t about trying to regulate outside our county, but it’s about our water,” Rankin said. “I think the process has been great.”
The Town Council voted to pass the ordinance 5-0, with mayor Alan Bernholtz and Town Council member Dan Escalante absent.
The ordinance will go into affect on Wednesday, May 28.