“We need economic development. We’re dying here.”
The town of Mt. Crested Butte is taking its time in deciding whether to vacate ownership of a cul-de-sac at the end of Treasury Road in hopes the surrounding properties would then be more attractive to develop.
After an initial public hearing on the vacation on Tuesday, March 19 turned up several property owners from the area and a concern about moving public property into private hands, the council agreed to hold a second public hearing before giving a resolution to vacate the land final consideration April 2.
Six-year Crested Butte resident John Johnson told the council Tuesday he and his partners had purchased all the property immediately surrounding the cul-de-sac and was interested in developing the area around the Nordic Inn, which they also own, into something—what, he couldn’t say. “If anyone has an idea, we’d love to hear it,” he said.
But before committing any more time or money to the project, Johnson would like to know what he’s working with. “Quite frankly, we’re not going to start that [development] process before we have a base point to start with,” he said.
According to community development director Carlos Velado, the original developer of the property gave the .461-acre cul-de-sac at the end of Treasury Road to the town as an “access easement” and a public right of way.
“Because it’s a public right of way, it isn’t something the town can convey or sell,” Velado said. “State statute dictates that if the town is agreeable to the vacation, they have to do so by ordinance.”
The ordinance requires a public hearing on first reading. Neighboring property owner Reed Meredith wrote a letter admonishing the council for considering the proposal, which he said would “in essence ‘give’ this approximately one acre of land to the Nordic owners for inclusion into their property and allow them to utilize it for future building and development.”
Right now, the property is zoned for low and high-density residential use and the developers would have to comply without a Planned Unit Development (PUD), which customizes the zoning in an area of town to meet a specific need.
In addition to pointing out that the Crested Butte Fire Protection District had not been notified of, or asked to comment on, the ordinance to vacate the right of way on Treasury Road, Meredith also questioned if it was wise for the town to “give” property away without knowing what it would be used for.
Because of the uncertainty, Meredith asked the council to delay its decision on the vacation until a plan for the property could be presented to the town’s Planning Commission.
Johnson’s counsel, David Leinsdorf, told the council, “I understand the concern that Reed and the other property owners have … But it’s not reasonable to expect somebody to put together a master plan for a piece of property like this, which is an expensive and time-consuming process, if they don’t know what land they have … You can’t go forward and master plan the property if you don’t know what you own.”
Because it was the first reading of the ordinance, which is the council’s first look at the official draft ordinance and doesn’t commit the town to anything, Leinsdorf said, “Let it go through the process … Let the public weigh in to hear all the pros and cons and I’m confident you’ll make the right decision.”
Johnson readily admitted that he didn’t have a definitive plan for the property, but said he would be remiss in moving forward with his existing plans without having control of the entire property.
Since buying the Nordic Inn in November, Leinsdorf said, Johnson and partner Ken Stone have spent over $300,000 renovating the building and doubled visitation over last year, he said.
“I took on this project from Allen [Cox] because I saw it as an opportunity to make an improvement to the community,” Johnson said.
“This property was given to the town by the original developer after they put the road in … So the town didn’t pay anything for this property in the beginning,” Johnson continued. “So what we’re asking for them to do is give us the opportunity to look at what’s the best and highest use of that property—all encompassing about 3.4 acres if you consider cul-de-sac—and come before y’all with a great plan.”
Right now the property is open and hasn’t been developed since the Nordic Inn was built decades ago.
“We have no master plan to give you,” Johnson said. “I’m not going to spend tens of thousands of dollars to develop a master plan not knowing if we have the cul-de-sac to work with or we don’t, and then come before you and say ‘What do you think?’”
Johnson pointed out the carving that hangs on the wall of the council’s chambers, which reads, “Without vision people perish.” “Well, we’re offering some vision,” he said.
Councilman David O’Reilly was frustrated by Johnson’s comment, saying, “If you don’t get what you want, well then, you’ll go away. That bothers me.” Johnson explained there just wouldn’t be any incentive to stay otherwise.
The council seemed happy to accommodate the request, but conceded that the CBFPD should have been consulted on the ordinance and agreed to keep the public hearing open until its meeting on Tuesday, April 2.
Like Meredith, other members of the public were wary of what appeared as a giveaway of public land, but everyone was ultimately supportive of the vision to develop the Nordic Inn property if it were done appropriately.
“It’s just that there are a couple developments in town in which the council listened to a very similar speech to the one you’re giving right now and we’ve gotten burned,” Councilman Chris Morgan said. “I don’t know that you’re going to own this piece of property next week. You could sell it and the next person might not have your vision. What I’m trying to say is that it’s difficult for me to take five lots with different zoning and vacate the access to them just because you own them.
“I’m in favor of you doing something here and using that land for the economic development of the town. It’s just tough for me to vacate lots without knowing why you’re doing it,” Morgan continued. “We need economic development. We’re dying here.”
Neighboring property owner Steve Mabry stood up early in the meeting to say he supported his neighbors, without making it clear if he was talking about his Nordic Inn neighbors or the more residential variety. But toward the end of the meeting, he elaborated on what he’d meant.
“We need to sustain our community and we’ll do that by growth. I feel like with the numbers they’re throwing out I’m all about it. If they grow, I grow. So I’m not in any way trying to stand in [the developer’s] way. My intent was to say, ‘What is your plan? Did you buy the property assuming the town would vacate that land?’” His question hung in the air until Mayor William Buck moved on.
Comments on the proposed vacation can be submitted to the town for consideration until April 2 at 5:30 p.m.