County hears opposition, struggles with issue of significance
More than three years after the sketch plan was first submitted to Gunnison County for review, proponents of Whetstone Park on Hwy. 135 south of Crested Butte received approval of the park’s preliminary plan, putting them two steps along a three-step approval process.
The commissioners voted to approve the preliminary plan after hearing about several of the changes the three members of Whetstone Business Park LLC—John Nichols, John Councilman and Mike Potoker—had made to the project to accommodate the needs of the area. Commissioner Jim Starr recused himself from the vote because of a professional connection to one of the proponents.
“I think [the proponents] have done a good job of finding all of the issues that have been a part of this proposal from the beginning,” said commissioner Paula Swenson. “I think you have done a lot of work changing the plan, making it more compatible with the needs of the community.”
Some of those needs were detailed in letters of support from Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte, including additional commercial and light industrial space, along with more housing, some of which would be available to people who meet the county’s income requirements for “affordable housing.”
The town of Crested Butte also said in its letter that “The proponents of the project have offered to designate the Town the beneficiary of a portion of the monies they intend to collect in the form of a retail sales assessment from the project,” adding that the town had not used the money as a motivation for support, but would appreciate it none the less.
In the preliminary plan, filed in December 2006, several potential uses for the two commercial lots are laid out, like lumber and building supply yards, a warehouse and mini storage facilities among other things.
The park, adjacent to the Riverland Industrial Park, will incorporate the commercial and 13 residential lots that could be developed into 23 residences on a 13.25-acre lot, including several deed-restricted apartments that will be available to people who meet affordable housing criteria.
Due to the requirements of the process for approval of a project of this size, the park’s proponents have had to go through a nearly identical process with a sketch plan, prior to getting the preliminary plan approved. If it is approved, another nearly identical process awaits, this time for a final plan review. Each time the plan includes more detail.
“This project has been through nearly 11 and a half hours of joint public hearing and at least seven work sessions. The project was unanimously recommended for approval from the Planning Commission,” said David Leinsdorf, an attorney representing Whetstone Business Park LLC.
Originally the project was called the Whetstone Business Park, but since the review of the sketch plan, the name has changed to Whetstone Park and the focus has shifted from being a commercial space with residential lots to having fewer commercial lots and more residential space, to accommodate the owners and employees of the commercial lessees.
In the early stages of the Planning Commission review, concerns were raised about the density of the proposed commercial space with the inclusion of housing in the same development area.
Leinsdorf said one of the turning points of the project review was the elimination of 13,500 square feet of commercial space, or one full lot, that would be used as open space.
“That had a lot of positive effects in the eyes of the Planning Commission and some of the neighbors—provided a buffer between Riverland’s industrial [areas] and Whetstone’s residential,” he said.
One area of concern voiced in the Planning Commission’s report to the commissioners is the “inclusion of a lumber and building supply yard, included and allowed as uses” on one of the two commercial lots.
Critics of the project, like Ted Colvin of Colvin Construction, say the county process has not fully considered the impacts the business park will have on the aesthetics of the entrance to the town of Crested Butte, the mixture of residential and commercial interests in such a small area or the potential devaluation of the surrounding properties.
“To say that allowing the development of the business park would not hurt the property values of neighboring land owners are absurd. I have had people come to look at my houses and had to politely excuse themselves after seeing the Riverland Industrial Park. Allowing more industrial development would only bring that closer,” said Colvin.
Colvin, who developed the eight 35-acre home sites behind Riverland Industrial Park known as Whetstone Mountain Ranch, had said previously that he planned to build four more high-end houses along the East River next to the proposed new industrial park.
To help reinforce his point, Colvin enlisted the testimony of Martin Froehlich, a real estate appraiser who had done a valuation analysis of the properties affected by the proposed business park.
“Based on the values of just two pieces of property, in 2006 there was just under a million dollars of damage done to land values because of the park. That number has doubled in two years,” said Froehlich, citing the visual impact of the park, the noise it would generate and the traffic problems it could create.
In the end the commissioners voted to end the public hearings on the matter, saying there was no new information being presented in opposition to the park.
“I think it boils down to the subjective term ‘significant’ and that is the significant net adverse impact [of the project],” said commissioner Hap Channell, adding that the significance of the impact is diminished by the presence of the neighboring Riverland Industrial Park.
Once proponents of the park have submitted the final plan to the Planning Commission for review, they have 10 to 45 days to review the plan before passing it on to the commissioners, who will again vote to approve or deny the plan.