“Holistically it will help the town…”
The Crested Butte Town Council voted 5-2 on Monday to change the zoning of some property at Sixth and Belleview from “Business” to “Tourist,” paving the way for the proposed 30-unit Caddis Flats affordable housing rental project.
The generally favorable council sentiment for the project was relayed at last week’s town Planning Commission and special council meeting when the council voted 6-1 in other zoning matters to clear the way for the 21,000-square-foot building.
On Monday, December 16, Councilperson Shaun Matusewicz joined Councilperson Chris Ladoulis in voting against the measure that amended the town’s zoning map by rezoning 50 feet of lots on the parcel by True Value from B-2 to T. Ladoulis has consistently voiced concerns with the location and ultimate impact of the project, while Matusewicz asked that the council wait to vote on the zoning change until the final housing study was submitted by Rees Consultants. He wanted to make sure the town was getting truly “affordable” rental units and not just units renting close to market rate. The final mix of rents and unit size would be determined with the final report that is due in mid-January.
Gunnison Valley Regional Housing Authority executive director Karl Fulmer assured the council that based on the preliminary report, there could be some change in the unit mix but nothing major was expected.
“My main issue is the finances and the unit mix,” said Matusewicz. “We still don’t know what the mix will be. The units that were going to go to those making 30 percent of the AMI and have the very low rents are now gone. The majority will be rented to those making 60 percent of AMI and the rents will be close to $700 per month. That’s close to the current market rate. If we are giving up the things we’re giving up, the proponents should tell us the final mix of units that the town will see over there. We should wait for the final report in January. I think we’ve been pushed and we should push the proponent on the mix. I think it is inappropriate for us to vote on this without that information.”
“There is opportunity in the PUD [planned unit development] process to add conditions that we want before approval,” said town building and zoning director Bob Gillie. “That’s largely in BOZAR’s [the Board of Zoning and Architectural Review’s] hands. If the council has interest in making sure the project functions as represented, there is some leverage in the PUD process.”
“From my perspective, we shouldn’t micro-manage the project,” said Mayor Aaron Huckstep. “We’re here to vote on the zoning change request. The details are a function of the staff.”
“The detail discussion has just started with the proponents and BOZAR,” said Gillie. “I think they need a comfort level to move forward and spend money on engineering. No one wants to see the project fail and not be attractive.”
Fulmer said according to Rees’ preliminary report the average one bedroom rent in Crested Butte is $956. “These rents would be well below market, especially with the high-efficiency construction that will keep utilities minimal,” he said.
Ladoulis pointed out that $956 was for a very small pool of one-bedroom units in the town itself. It did not take into consideration the less expensive one-bedroom rental prices in Mt. Crested Butte and nearby subdivisions.
“To be clear, I am in favor of this and comfortable with the site,” said Matusewicz. “But we’re being asked to do something without fully knowing what we’re getting from the other side. It feels inappropriate to me and it will be the last time the council really can address it.”
“We’re not talking about project approval tonight. We’re talking about a change to the zone,” said Huckstep.
“Shaun’s right about that. The toothpaste will be out of the tube if the council passes this tonight,” Ladoulis said in response to Huckstep. “I’d like to take the time to get more thorough answers to some questions. But if we aren’t going to do that, we might as well act tonight.”
Ladoulis argued that other locations in town would be more appropriate and could still earn federal and state tax credits.
“This is a great location for the tax credit criteria as any piece of prime real estate would be,” he said. “So would Third and Elk. But I’m not sure that’s the best way to evaluate the proposal. We seem to have this fear of loss, that if we don’t do it now, it will never happen anywhere in town. I don’t believe that. This is not the only place it would work. I believe BOZAR will help make this as nice as it can be on that location but I’m not sure that’s the standard we should hold.”
Former councilperson John Wirsing again reiterated his thoughts that while the proposal is fantastic, the location was not. “It is the absolute wrong site,” he said. “Major red flags keep showing up and the council keeps having to change things to make it fit. This is the entrance to town. It should be visitor friendly and be about shops and retail. If retail and shops were built there, they would have to include affordable housing as part of the project without a cost to the town.”
Bob Starr said he hasn’t been to a council meeting in 40 years. He lives in affordable housing “and I love it but this is too big for the town and especially that spot. Take a breath and look closer into it,” he suggested.
Margo Levy again said she supported the site. “The gateway to town right now is not exactly charming and attractive,” she said. “I have faith in BOZAR and the town staff that the project will be held to attractive standards.”
Local builder Paul Barney said he was concerned about the tax revenue loss by eliminating property zoned for business. “It will cut those tax revenues not for a year but for generations to come. Other land has been suggested as being available both in town and in Mt. Crested Butte.”
“But the private market can’t supply rents at that price,” said resident Susan Eskew. “There’s a need for this type of project. And people want to live here in Crested Butte rather than Mt. Crested Butte or Crested Butte South.”
“The site is awesome for the renters,” said architect Jim Barney. “I’d like to go to a movie and walk home in a minute. But there is a cost in choosing that site in lost tax revenues. Affordable housing is definitely needed in town. It is an attribute. We don’t want to get into an Aspen-Carbondale situation. But the town-owned lots set aside for affordable housing should be the place to do it.”
Fulmer re-emphasized that the state granting agency had inspected the various sites and found the proposed parcel at Sixth and Belleview to be the best one.
“I’ve seen that lot be vacant for the 30 years I’ve lived here,” said Councilperson Jim Schmidt. “It’s not always been attractive. I don’t see anything being built there in the next 20 years. There is always opposition to affordable housing projects in town. The town-owned lots by Rainbow don’t have infrastructure and that will cost about $450,000. I’ve learned that when you have the opportunity to do affordable housing, you take it, even if it’s not perfect.”
“Large structures like this would not be appropriate over at the town-owned lots on the edge of town,” added Councilperson David Owen. “This project addresses a need in town. This might be the last chance to build this kind of project in town.”
In response to Matusewicz’s issue, Huckstep said there was no “magic” in waiting for the final report. “We need to rely on the experts and the staff,” he said.
“The study will show the community need,” said Gillie. “Either you trust the study or you don’t. The project will be based on that study. There’s science behind it.”
“It’s not a town project but it is happening in town,” said Councilperson Roland Mason. “A lot of things have come together to make this happen. The fact is if we wait another 10 or 15 years to apply for these tax credits, it won’t be helping the town. Plus BOZAR could determine there is too much mass with the building. I’m not completely psyched on the location but I think holistically, it will help the town.”
With a motion to approve the rezoning from Councilperson Glenn Michel, the council approved the zoning map change by a 5-2 vote.