Monday, August 10, 2020

Brush Creek property owners talk development

Mt. CB on board, CB more hesitant

By Mark Reaman & Alissa Johnson

The owners of 17 acres at the intersection of Highway 135 and Brush Creek Road just south of Crested Butte are beginning discussions on what to do with the property.

The land was purchased in 1998 by Gunnison County, Crested Butte Mountain Resort and the towns of Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte, and some owners—but not all—want to explore what it would look like to have private developers build on the site.

According to Mt. Crested Butte town manager Joe Fitzpatrick, the towns and CBMR contributed $75,000, and the county contributed $15,000 and a small piece of land. While the county is officially the property owner, there is a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that outlines how all four entities work together to take care of the property.

“It was set out to be potentially a parking lot, intercept lot or affordable housing site, and it’s a pretty good location for either,” Fitzpatrick told the Mt. Crested Butte Town Council on January 17. He explained that all four property owners had recently met to discuss exploring private development on the parcel.

“There is the potential out there for a private developer to come in and make something work. What is that something, we don’t know exactly,” he said, indicating that it could be a mix of rental housing and affordable housing, as well as an intercept lot for the Gunnison Valley Rural Transportation Authority (RTA). He was gauging the council’s interest in such an idea, which seemed to be high.

The Crested Butte Town Council discussed the matter at its meeting the same night, where councilmembers were more cautious. They wanted to make sure the property was not sold to developers to fund affordable housing projects elsewhere in the valley.

At the Mt. Crested Butte council meeting, discussion focused on a local developer’s expressed interest in constructing something on that property. That has led to the idea of putting together an RFP (request for proposals) to see what the developers, or others, might suggest for the property—it could perhaps include free market rentals and/or a lot for the RTA.

Mayor Todd Barnes noted that in the initial discussion among the property owners, Crested Butte representatives were hesitant to jump into a project that included the free market. Barnes thought exploring its potential was important, given the results of a recent housing needs assessment, which identified a need for 900 units over the next three and a half years.

“If someone is interested in building at this end of valley in particular, it eliminates the stress from the south end to the north end, giving people a place to live literally in walking or riding distance of their jobs. It’s worth looking at. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work but this is worth looking at,” Barnes said. He did expect to get some pushback from nearby subdivisions, such as Larkspur and Skyland. Other councilmembers agreed, but none saw that as a reason to not explore the idea.

“I think we have to do something for seasonal employees. There’s nowhere for people to live. We’ve got to do something and soon,” councilwoman Janet Farmer said.

Councilman Danny D’Aquila liked the idea but wanted to see it go forward only if the RFP was for projects that combined housing with an RTA lot. And councilmember Ken Lodovico wanted to confirm the discussion was not about selling the lot.

“So these four entities would retain ownership, and you’re looking to investigate if there would be an outside developer to build?” he said.

“It was brought to our attention that there may be a very interested private party who would be willing to build on that property and take care of it all,” Barnes said.

Community development director Carlos Velado confirmed that two local individuals had attended the last Gunnison Valley Regional Housing Authority (GVRHA) meeting, but didn’t know if they would submit a proposal.

In Crested Butte, the Town Council seemed less clear on the intent of the idea, and expressed more hesitation. Councilman Jim Schmidt said the property and what to do with it came up “almost in passing” during a meeting of the GVRHA, of which he is a member.

“Land is the most valuable thing we have up here and this is a pretty big parcel,” Schmidt said. “I certainly got the feeling there were some people who wanted to sell it to a private developer to raise money for affordable housing, as opposed to using it for affordable housing.”

“That sounds counter to the direction that was pointed out from the affordable housing needs assessment survey we just did,” said mayor Glenn Michel. “That would be alarming to me. The town wants it to stay available for housing. This parcel is irreplaceable.”

“If that’s the case we should perhaps explore the option of purchasing the county’s interest in the land,” suggested councilman Chris Ladoulis.

Crested Butte town manager Dara Macdonald said after an unsolicited offer was made for the property, representatives of the ownership group have had very preliminary discussions about the property. It was suggested that perhaps an RFP on how to develop the property should be considered. “The discussion was that if there was any sale to a developer it would have to include an element of affordable housing,” MacDonald said.

“The first question to address is whether there is an interest by the parties to pursue development of that property,” added town planner Michael Yerman.

“I am just very disappointed that the owners don’t seem interested in utilizing the Gunnison Valley Regional Housing Authority to look at that parcel for housing,” said Schmidt. “That’s the point of the authority. I don’t understand not using the housing authority. We all want to have workforce housing near the jobs and this parcel is in an ideal location.”

“Let’s let this simmer a little bit and get more information before we get too deep into discussions,” suggested councilman Roland Mason.

“The bottom line is that we as a council prefer that it remains available for the use it was intended and that’s affordable housing,” said Michel.

According to Fitzpatrick, it’s not yet clear if a project would involve selling the land. “That’s a potential. It could include the sale of the land, so it’s really wide open right now. This Mt. Crested Butte council is just interested in throwing an RFP out there, rather open-ended, and seeing what comes back,” he said. He also noted that the county review process is 18 months, so that even if a developer could make something work on the property it would be at least a year and a half before construction could begin.

The property owners are planning to meet again on February 8 following a GVRHA meeting.

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