Sunday, December 17, 2017
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The orb on the Horse Park, Big Blue, summer crowds and living longer

There is magic in the orb.

Looking at a photo of Donald Trump and the king of Saudi Arabia stroking a lighted orb in a darkened room was like seeing a snapshot from a 1958 horror movie where the super-villains gather to see the future. If you don’t believe me, just Google it. If the orb can look into the future, let’s see what the orb can tell us about this place.

A local couple wants to open an equestrian facility on a 73-acre parcel near Crested Butte South. Several neighbors obviously hate the idea and have lawyered up to try to stop the Crested Butte Horse Park. It is a bit of a head-scratcher to oppose a horse-centered facility that is pretty much surrounded by ranches. I know it will be a commercial project but unless I am misreading the situation, the proponents have attempted to address the concerns of the neighbors but the neighbors aren’t buying it.

Horses in the American West are not unusual. Many voices have expressed a desire to have a horse facility in the valley. As I drove back up-valley from the meeting where the county staff informed the county Planning Commission that the public hearing on the project would be reopened, horses were grazing all around that piece of property.

There are certainly valid concerns with a commercial development in the location and the details should be thoroughly explored—and it seems they have been. But the overall big picture seems like a good fit there.

There is no doubt that the couple of neighbors living directly next to the proposed facility will be impacted with more activity and all that comes with it. Their concerns are real and should be respected. And it appears that the county and the proponents have respected their concerns and made legitimate moves to address mitigation of the impacts. The proponents have a solid vision for a horse development and continue to soften the impacts.

The orb predicts the neighbors will continue to fight the project but the county will ultimately approve it with conditions. A lawsuit is not out of the question but change happens even here in the upper valley.

Speaking of change: The orb predicts big changes as people enter into Crested Butte.

The Mary Yelenick Park hosted its last toddler this past weekend. What was built in a community barn-raising effort decades ago is being dismantled to make room for an expanded Center or the Arts. Construction of Big Blue will begin soon, with the ceremonial groundbreaking scheduled for June 5. A fresh “Pirate Park” will be constructed to replace the old playground.

The new 38,0000-square-foot Center will help facilitate more community art and that is a good thing for Crested Butte. It does come at a price, as “Big Blue” will swallow some of the green space that welcomes people driving into town. The orb predicts the Center will look larger than what people expect. But everyone will get used to it and it will ultimately be an amenity for those living in the valley. John O’Neal’s recent comment to the council that it will help provide “a richness of life” for people living here was a good one.

At the same time, councilwoman Laura Mitchell deserves a big shout-out for casting a gut-check vote against the Center starting construction immediately because of valid concerns about the financing. The money to build it really isn’t secured and there is no “surety” in case of unexpected circumstances, despite recent promises from the board that there would be. Now, I do have confidence the Center will raise the needed money to complete the project but it is not a 100 percent given. In that situation, with a room full of Center supporters asking the town government to “take a leap faith,” Laura had the biggest cojones on the council and voted her conscience. That’s not always easy to do.

The orb declares that when a government body takes months and months to try to impose some sort of zoning that offends no one, chances are you end up with a pretty flimsy piece of putty because of all the kneading it has gone through. That might be the case with the latest short-term rental (STR) ordinance making its way through the Crested Butte Town Council. The council has changed direction numerous times, pretty much depending on the last person to talk. The fact is, zoning is limiting to property owners and there will be people who do not like it. The council seems to be trying to limit something without hurting homeowners—at least the ones they know. If the council just stops and asks the staff to truly enforce what is on the books, the town will be light years ahead of other communities. With current regs, there are limits in town now and neighborhoods that will be STR-free. That’s huge in the long run. Consider implementing significant licensing fees, give a legit grace period to those with licenses in zones where STRs are not allowed, throw in a 30 percent STR cap in currently allowed zones where it’s at about 28 percent now if you feel the need, and move on. But the orb sees the danger of an eventual STR ordinance that has no immediate impact and feels like an overused piece of putty that puts STRs into every neighborhood in Crested Butte.

The orb sees people—lots of people. And they will be descending on the valley this summer. The U.S. Forest Service has made adjustments in its policies in an effort to help tamp down their impacts. Good on ‘em. The orb has no clear vision on where the county commissioners and the Crested Butte Town Council will fall on the effort to help backcountry management through the CBMBA Conservation Corps and the Peak Protector programs. Immediate efforts to deal with an immediate problem takes immediate money, and those elected officials should follow the lead of the Mt. Crested Butte Town Council and allocate real dollars to the effort this summer while a longer-term plan is prepared. We can’t just talk about addressing major changes—we have to productively deal with those changes.

You don’t need the orb to predict there could be some high water in June. Backcountry skiers report there is still plenty of white in the high mountains and it will melt at some point.

The orb sees a good life in the valley. According to a recent study from the University of Washington, if you live in a Colorado ski resort like, say, Crested Butte, you are probably going to live longer than most other people in the country. “Study after study has shown that where Americans live has a big effect on how long they live. A new study out Monday finds that difference works out to as much as 20 years,” reported NBC News. “The longest life expectancy—up to 87 years—was in central Colorado’s ski country. The lowest—66 years—was found in southwest South Dakota, with other parts of the Dakotas, Appalachia and the Mississippi river basin close behind.”

In case you forgot, Crested Butte is about as central in central Colorado’s ski country as one can get. And it is a pretty good place to spend time. So living longer here is not a chore. The orb predicts that those who choose to reside here will live long and prosper—even as it all continues to change.

—Mark Reaman

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