Town wants to take the politics out
It appears the town council of Crested Butte is amenable to holding a new trail easement located in Baxter Gulch. But the council members don’t want to take any stand on the wisdom of purchasing the easement.
A somewhat controversial proposal was made earlier this summer to the 1% for Open Space board to fund a $50,000 easement that would make the current trail easement in Baxter Gulch, just south of Crested Butte, easier. The proposal came from attorney Jim Starr and the town was asked to hold the easement and eventually help build and maintain the trail.
When presented with an ordinance to officially accept the easement at the Tuesday, August 3 council meeting, the title of the ordinance included a reference to “approving the purchase” of the easement through lot 19 in the Trapper’s Crossing at Wildcat subdivision owned by Dr. Jeffrey Zipper. That bothered some of the council members.
Local attorney Jim Starr has negotiated the easement. The 1% for Open Space board has been asked to pay $45,000 of the $50,000 purchase price.
Members of the Crested Butte Land Trust have raised questions about the depth of public process the issue has gone through and whether it is a good idea to pay for an easement.
“I feel this issue has been highly politicized,” said Crested Butte mayor Leah Williams. “I felt and still do that this is putting additional pressure on the 1% for Open Space board. I feel like we’re putting pressure on them to make this purchase.”
1% executive director Molly Murfee gave the council a brief history of the organization and town planner John Hess explained how the easement would make a trail up Baxter Gulch a useable trail as opposed to one with potentially dozens of switchbacks.
“It seems like this ordinance has us approve the purchase as well as accept the easement and it seems to me those should be two separate things,” said councilperson John Wirsing. “The town is being asked to accept the easement only and I am not comfortable approving the purchase. The purchase itself isn’t any of our business.”
Town attorney John Belkin explained that the purchase reference in the title was included as a matter of clarity. “The town is essentially being assigned the contract from Starr and Associates,” he explained in reference to Jim Starr’s legal firm.
“Look, I don’t care if it’s five dollars or a million dollars if someone else is buying it,” said Wirsing. “Are we putting our stamp of approval to the deal on the table? That shouldn’t be our concern since we’re not paying for it. It’s not our place.”
There was some discussion about replacing the wording from “approving the purchase” to “approving the acquisition” but Belkin said that was an attempt to cloud the issue.
“The bottom line is that this will be a better trail and could save us money over the long run with reduced maintenance costs,” said councilperson Jim Schmidt. “I’d just as soon move ahead.”
Williams was reluctant to move forward. She asked for a comment from the Gunnison County Trails Commission. She also argued that the trail use should be limited to the same uses as a connecting Forest Service trail farther west up Baxter Gulch. That trail is a “hiker recommended, horse allowed” trail. Bikes are not permitted under the agency’s Travel Management Plan.
Crested Butte Parks and Recreation director Jake Jones said changing that use through the Forest Service would be very difficult. He also said the easement issue is on the agenda for the August 16 County Trails Commission meeting, of which he is a member.
Starr said given the hiccups with the easement, he will be asking the property owner to extend the August 17 closing date for the easement purchase until September. He and Belkin will be working on some indemnification issues as well.
“I want the trail to be useable,” he said. “Let’s look at all the scenarios and figure out a way to make it work.”
“The intent of town is to probably accept the easement,” said Williams.
Starr will return to the council’s August 16 meeting with some new language for the ordinance accepting the easement.
After that was decided, Land Trust president Keith Bauer addressed the council and told them that while the organization “has taken some heat for getting involved in the issue we care deeply about open space and public access.”
Bauer said that while the Land Trust is pleased “the public process is taking place, we are sad there is so much brain damage around it. We feel our involvement has brought tangible results,” he said. “The price of the easement has been reduced, there is a better layout for the easement and there is better collaboration between the parties. Collaboration is important. There is strength in numbers. If we all work together, there will be better out-comes. We all bring different strengths to the table.
“Because this transaction came from an individual, it was more complex,” Bauer continued. “For example, had it come from, say, the Trails Commission, a lot of these things would have been vetted.”
The council did not comment on Bauer’s remarks and will look at a new ordinance accepting the easement at the August 16 meeting.