Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Six pounds of flour in a five-pound bag?

The Crested Butte Town Council is doing the right thing to hold a deep discussion about the proposed low-income affordable housing project at Sixth and Belleview next Monday evening. It is a project that will have major impacts on the town long into the future. For the board to have an honest discussion about the project now is the correct move.

From everything I’ve heard, the primary area of concern about the proposal centers on the location. Everyone gets that having workers live close to their jobs is a major benefit in any community. But it seems several of the councilmen have heard similar concerns about the proposed site of the project. I wouldn’t expect a full house at the discussion meeting on Monday. No one wants to come to a public board and be perceived as the person speaking against cute babies, fluffy kittens and affordable housing. As someone said to me, ”No one wants to push workers out of town but there are appropriate spots for things in town and this particular lot isn’t it. It impacts virtually everyone. It won’t add to the visual charm of Crested Butte and might end up being a nightmare of congestion. Is that what we want people to see when they first get here?”

So let me at least highlight the major issues that should be discussed by the council.

*Building affordable housing at the entrance to town: The proponents and town planners point out that the building will not be on the corner of Highway 135 and Belleview. It will be approximately 115 feet back from the corner. A business building site will be located between the 21,000-square-foot Caddis Flats and the highway. But the reality is that it is located directly in the entrance viewshed as one drives into town. As a guy who drives down that hill almost every day, the sightline currently goes to the Inn at Crested Butte. This building will be constructed on that sightline and thus I would say should be considered as the entrance to town. That neither makes nor breaks the project but let’s be honest about it.

*Attractiveness of the site: As pointed out in Bob Gillie’s “Master Memo” to the council on the proposed project, BOZAR comes into play to ensure the attractiveness of the site. I would also say we can have confidence in the design by the Coburn Development group. It might look like a Pitchfork cousin but that is, in my mind, attractive to the area. Coburn said the cash flow would include a healthy maintenance budget to keep the building looking good for many years.

*The clientele: Gillie points out that tenants will be required to sign one-year leases and renters will have checks conducted on their rental histories and credit scores. A half-time manager and strict rule set will also help address the look of the property. Will that manager have the cojones to throw out a tenant who might break some of the rules? That will be one key to keeping the place nice.

*Revenue losses: The town will lose about $30,000 a year in potential sales taxes if a hotel or commercial project is built on the site instead of affordable housing. This project will be exempt from property taxes so it dings the town, the school district, the fire district and the county.

*Money: The use of tax credits is what makes the project affordable. Anywhere from $3.7 million to $5 million in tax credits will make the construction possible. The experts say the site fits perfectly into the tax credit criteria. The stars are aligned to take advantage of that financial opportunity.

*Congestion: This to me is probably the biggest issue for that site. Councilman Jim Schmidt, a big proponent of the proposal, admitted at last Monday’s council meeting the plan looks tight. It is. There will be congestion. At the Tuesday site visit, the council got a visual of the plan. The building will be pushed really close to the current apartment building located at the west end of the site. Parking will be snug. Snow storage will be rough in a big year. Some of these issues will be up to BOZAR to solve. But as Schmidt stated weeks ago when he first saw the concept, “It will be like trying to put six pounds of flour in a five-pound bag.” It really will. But it’s been done before. The Majestic Plaza PUD cut some corners on parking with the idea that it was important to get a new amenity in Crested Butte.

*Why wouldn’t we enhance community diversity by making a zoning change? This was a thought Mayor Aaron Huckstep was struggling with Monday night. “We all talk so much about community—why are we challenged by this?” he asked. The answer is that community is about a basket of attributes, not just one attribute. And “community” (not town) expands beyond the boundaries of Crested Butte proper. Most would say Crested Butte South to Gothic is a better geographic definition of this community. So if it doesn’t work at this particular site, John Wirsing pointed out that Mt. Crested Butte might be a better choice, with many of the same amenities with similar benefits to the community as a whole.

When size limits were put on houses in town 20 years ago, the idea was that smaller houses belonged in Crested Butte, larger houses belonged on Treasury Hill and the Bench and the largest houses fit in Trapper’s Crossing and Mt. Crested Butte. Each piece of the community added to the whole and provided various opportunities in various locations. Pot shops might be a good fit in Crested Butte but not in Mt. Crested Butte.

So it comes down to this: Are the tradeoffs worth it? Is putting a large housing project for workers in one of the busiest, most high-profile visible sites in the town a good move one, five, ten, 30 years down the road? The site is not perfect but there are probably no perfect sites in Crested Butte to accommodate a project of this size. It’s not about the idea—it’s all about the location at this point. Overcome that concern, and you get Caddis Flats with no problem. There are pluses and minuses on each side. Money opportunity is a big plus. There are several honest minuses. The council gets paid the huge salaries to hash it out and make a decision. They will do that Monday. All we are asking is that before making the decision, whatever that decision is, have a thorough and honest discussion.

You can come to the meeting or get in touch with your elected representatives to voice your support or your concerns. Their emails are located on the town’s website. The council will be discussing the issue Monday at 5:30 p.m.

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