Council will let public make the case at August 21 meeting
By Mark Reaman
A Crested Butte Town Council discussion over whether to accept a paving bid for the alley behind Soupçon will be held at the August 21 meeting. The town had planned to pave a portion of the alley this summer, and bids for the project that are part of a more comprehensive paving plan were submitted August 11. The town had worked with several neighbors who agreed to put up some of the money to help pay for the cost of the alley project.
But several other alley residents and neighbors had not been aware of the paving proposal. They came to the council’s August 8 meeting to protest the paving proposal and they had some initial council support.
“There has been no real public discussion about this project. We would like to have that,” said Sam Robards, who owns a house in the alley and reminded the council of some of the “values” listed on each council meeting agenda, including the value of the town’s historic core and the need to maintain a “real” community.
“Going ahead with this paving without a full-throated discussion is not a good thing. One question is—Does the council want all the alleys in town to be paved?” said Robards.
Soupçon owner Jason Vernon was against the paving idea. “I am here to beg and plead that this be put on hold until other solutions are considered,” he said. “Paving that alley would hurt my business. It would ruin the aesthetic. It would be a travesty to pave.”
Vernon said there are also safety concerns involved. “People drive that alley and they go pretty fast,” he said. “The potholes and condition of the alley actually slows them down. Much of my clientele is not as quick and agile as they used to be and exiting the restaurant goes right out to the alley. It currently has an aesthetic charm that is so beautiful. I beg you not to do this. There are lots of other avenues to consider and I would help contribute to those solutions. Paving would be detrimental, so let’s explore other options.”
Neighbor Molly Murfee agreed. “I too think there can be better solutions to address the drainage and parking issues. Paving the alley will destroy the quaint, quirky nature of our alley,” she said. “Crested Butte alleys are part of our heritage so this impacts more than just the Soupçon alley. Alleys are part of the culture of town. I see people walk up and take pictures of the alley all the time.
“This whole arrangement took place without talking to all of us who live there,” Murfee continued. “That is not a good, small-town way to conduct business. I feel there is a way to mitigate the water issue and keep the character of the alley. I don’t think that taking a cultural artifact from town will do as much good as harm. If this happens, it is another example of losing some of the town quirkiness piece by piece.”
One of the alley homeowners who had agreed to help pay for the project, Gabi Prochaska, explained on Monday that the town approached some of the homeowners on the alley about whether they would be willing to help pay for the paving of the alley. She said the homeowners were told that the work would allow the town to deal with the snow and water issues.
“None of us wanted the alley paved, nor did we secretly try to get it paved,” Prochaska said. “All the property owners were asked if they would be willing to contribute to the project so the town could fix the alley. Our concern is remediating of the water flow in the alley, which has been caused not only by construction projects over the years, but also poor ‘engineering’ of the alley in the first place. If the water issues can be resolved without paving, so much the better, but this was never presented as an option by the town.
“I think we all view the alleys as ‘public space’ that the town is responsible for managing,” Prochaska continued. “It may be time for the town to formally set policies and take measures that both preserve the historic nature of our alleys and provide maintained public rights of way.”
At the Tuesday meeting, the council discussed the issue hours after the initial public comments were taken. Public works director Rodney Due gave some history of how the town had reached the point of accepting bids to pave the alley, saying the discussion started about four years ago and included not just drainage issues with the alley but also delineating public parking spaces located at the site. He said several neighbors had come up with a total of $20,000 to contribute to the project.
“Would something else like using pavers work back there?” asked councilman Paul Merck. “I’ve received emails about paving paradise. Is there something to find common ground?”
Due said pavers would get damaged in the winter from plowing.
“My guess is that we can come up with something,” said councilmember Chris Ladoulis.
“And there is a cost element to consider with the alternatives,” suggested mayor Glenn Michel.
“I would like to have another discussion about it,” said Merck.
“The aesthetics were brought up just like with the Pita’s lot we bought,” said councilman Roland Mason. “We need to keep the community involved with the discussions.”
“From my experience in government, I thought people would like it if we paved the alley,” said Michel. “To hear that people want dirt in front of their restaurant was counterintuitive. Maybe it’s my bad.”
“The constituents felt they weren’t being heard,” said Merck.
“It is hard for us to anticipate everyone’s reaction but it is up to us sitting up here to get these things out there,” said councilman Jackson Petito. “It is also up to the populace to be aware, even if that means reading the legal notices in the newspaper.”
“It is representative democracy and we are the representatives,” added Michel. “It sounds like right now there is not the council support to continue with the paving.”
“I would like to hear from the neighbors who want the paving,” said Petito.
“I don’t think we did anything wrong but I hope we can come up with a solution before the August 21 meeting when the bid will be before the council,” said Ladoulis.
Merck suggested a council subcommittee be appointed to look at the issue. Councilman Jim Schmidt also volunteered to participate.
“We have all the information,” said Ladoulis. “We can solve this now.”
“The people who put in the money have a plan. We would have to refund their money. Keep them in mind,” said town community development director Michael Yerman.
“Can we do the drainage without the asphalt?” asked Ladoulis.
“Probably,” responded Due. “But not without an engineer to tell us what that is. And you would still have to give the money back to the homeowners. I’d have to relook at my budget.”
“I’d say we don’t have the political will to pave right now,” Ladoulis told the council. “So if we let this sail we will live with mud and puddles in front of the Soupçon. I’m comfortable tabling the drainage and asphalt in that alley.”
“We have a lot of items on the list for next year so it is not like we can just pick it up in a year,” said Due. “This would probably literally drop off the horizon if it is not done.”
“I remember when Elk Avenue was not paved,” said councilman Roland Mason. “I understand the views of the people we heard tonight who do not want it. But we have way more people in town now. It is a small price to pay to alleviate some issues. I spent a lot of time plowing that alley last winter and it can be a mess. I’d support the staff recommendation. I say pave it and discuss the rest of the alleys later. Adding blacktop saves the town time, money and effort. In five years no one will even remember it was an issue.”
“Let’s keep it on the August 21 agenda as a separate item and let people argue about whether to pave or not pave,” said Schmidt. “And then the seven of us will have to make a decision.”
The town staff will present four alternatives to the council on how to handle the alley situation at the August 21 council meeting.