Sunday, September 24, 2017
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We need to do more than see if the pasta sticks to the ceiling

When I lived in the old Disneyland and Sylvanite condos, my roommate and I ate a lot of spaghetti. That’s what you did when you were financially challenged and hungry. We would test the al dente pasta by throwing it on the ceiling. If it stuck, it was considered done. Success! If it didn’t stick, we kept boiling the noodles. I think some spaghetti strands might still be stuck above the stoves in those condos. Sorry.

That gourmet cooking method sort of seems what the effort to get a Gunnison Valley Regional Housing Authority property tax on this November’s ballot felt like—throwing a noodle against the ceiling to see if it sticks. But it was even less efficient. The money that would be raised was not tied to any plan, either concrete or even conceptual. The support from many local government officials was tepid. Putting a nebulous property tax before voters would have thrown some confusion into the future of affordable housing in the valley, with Crested Butte talking STR sales tax, the Rent-a-geddon idea that is the current Brush Creek proposal, and increasing angst over how to get a foot in the housing door anywhere in the northern end of the valley. At least with spaghetti we knew if we put some sauce on the pasta, it would end up pretty good and satisfying.

But throwing noodles against the ceiling to see if something sticks is not really good government, no matter how hungry you are. So it was a good thing that the county commissioners put the kibosh on that spaghetti dinner. Their rationale was pretty good, in that if everyone took some time to come up with a solid plan, the dinner could get upgraded to Veal Parmesan.

And that is where, in government, the hard work happens. While there is a “needs assessment” on housing in the valley, there is no overall plan. How does Crested Butte’s lot sales come into play? What will the final number of deed-restricted rental units be on the Brush Creek parcel (that is apparently anywhere from 13.3 to 17 acres in size) and will there be any opportunity for buy-in on that property? How many units might be built within three miles of Gunnison and where? Mt. Crested Butte allowed tent camping in July on 17 acres of its property near town hall (Hmm… 17 acres in town with water and sewer) so how could that land be used for more permanent housing? In my head, I have an idea of some of the available public property where housing units might go but I can’t find a comprehensive list anywhere—and that would seem to be the first step to take in any housing plan before any money is taxed and spent or any land given away in that arena.

It is pretty well accepted that housing, “affordable” or not, is in a pinch around here right now. It’s been discussed for years. To ask for tax money without a plan is sort of like the Republicans in Congress talking Obamacare repeal and replace for seven years but not bothering to have a real plan in their pocket. The housing issue has a bunch of scattered projects trying to take a nick out of the problem but little overall finite planning. This decision by the county commissioners presents an opportunity to develop that plan before asking for funding on the 2018 ballot. Otherwise, we will all just be throwing more spaghetti against the ceiling a year from now.

—Mark Reaman

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