We are in transition mode in many respects. The ski area closes Sunday (it was a good season) and the major shift to two wheels begins in earnest. Tuesday’s weather was a return to winter while Friday looks like it will be late spring. The Crested Butte school break brings transition for many families in search of sun, sand and 70-degree weather for at least a week as the potential offseason could bring the same or 25 degrees and another 100 inches of snow. Coming back is always an adventure in April and May.
The Gunnison County clerk’s office has transitioned out of the Crested Butte Town Hall. The Town Council would love to have it back, and Monday the council chatted about considering not charging rent if paying $125 per month is too burdensome. Council would like to continue to provide the DMV service for citizens in this end of the valley. It seems it is less the rent situation and more the relationship that perhaps needs shoring up.
The entrepreneurs who have always been a part of the upper valley have transitioned from the early ski days developers looking to capitalize on a nascent ski area in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s to a wave of young businessmen opening stores and restaurants in an effort to live here in the ’80s, ’90s and early 2000s. Now we seem to attract a more techy “lone eagle” type that makes a lot of their money outside the valley or through the internet and need a lot more money to comfortably live here.
The upper valley school situation has transitioned from having just a grade school and then middle school at this end of the valley to currently having one of the top K-12 schools in Colorado. The result is a facility filling to the brim and already looking at having to expand again to accommodate more students. That probably means citizens will be asked to consider another tax issue in the next few years. It can probably be stated that the school is one of, if not the, biggest reasons for the year-round population growth in the upper valley. Families are moving to a somewhat isolated mountain town with ski area amenities because their kids can get a quality “private” education in a public school located in a beautiful place. It was a game changer that keeps on changing.
The workforce housing situation in the county has changed dramatically, along with the transition in entrepreneurs and the school. It used to be you could rent old mining houses for a few hundred bucks a month or less. But pretty much all of those have been bought and fixed up and now there aren’t many, if any, of those opportunities out there. It used to be that teachers, cops, bartenders and small business owners could figure what was needed to buy a free market house in the Butte or nearby (Crested Butte South) or just down the road (Gunnison).
Those who didn’t want to be saddled with deed restrictions went in search of another ski town that hadn’t yet been “discovered” and where free market housing was still affordable to the working people. But there are workers who want to live here at any cost—and deed restrictions come at a cost—so the public sector has had to step up. All the local governments are on the train to raise $80 million through a potential new tax on lodging or property tax to help build 400 new “affordable” units all over the county by 2020.
Frankly, blue collar workers can no longer afford the free market houses here, so those who want to stay in this particular mountain valley must rely on this local government assistance. That means foregoing the free market opportunity to see their house appreciate in value beyond normal inflation. That is a major transition from the past but a necessary one for both the people who want to live-and-work in this valley and those with the means to simply live here. Someone has to build their new houses, teach their children and serve them their food. It is better if it is their neighbors doing that and not people bused in from Montrose. Look for some sort of countywide tax proposal to address housing on the ballot this November.
Building in the town of Crested Butte this summer could see a transition. Sure, there will be more houses constructed and those will likely max out the size restrictions allowed, but those restrictions keep it so no McMansions can be built lot line to lot line in the town. There are plans for several commercial buildings in Crested Butte that will be larger than what we’ve seen in the past. Once the Center for the Arts gets everything lined up, it is expected to begin construction on its expansion that will result in a total of 38,000 square feet of artistic space in the town park. Clark’s Market is looking to add on to its store to make it bigger. The Crested Butte Hotel in the Sixth Street Station development has a couple of buildings in the works at just under 30,000 square feet each. A new commercial space on Elk Avenue next to the Steep will not be tiny.
Efforts are under way to manage the backcountry flood of people. It seems the last several summers have seen a transition to simply too many people with too much attitude trampling the backcountry near the population centers in the county. Efforts are being taken to educate and inform backcountry visitors on proper etiquette and ways to keep the natural backcountry natural. Partnerships that mitigate the numbers are being planned. More bathrooms, trailheads, signage and enforcement are in the works where none was needed before. But it sure is now.
Anyway, transition and growth are part of a vibrant life. While these transitions are taking place, the local community still seems to have a handle on guiding them. Some, like the school, might still surprise in their impact, but most important, the valley community in general continues to avoid just keeping its head in the sand and letting the tide wash over us all. That is still what makes this transitioning community vibrant.
Like coming back from a trip to the desert during the spring break, it will be interesting to see what adventure the next wave of transitions has in store for us all.