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Brush Creek proposal begins journey through county

First county meeting on October 20

By Mark Reaman

The proposed 240-unit Brush Creek affordable housing project is officially in the Gunnison County review pipeline.

Cathie Pagano, Gunnison County director of community and economic development, verified last week that the application was complete, thus beginning the review of the proposed sketch plan. The first work session with the Planning Commission is scheduled for October 20 at 9 a.m. in Gunnison. A site visit with the Planning Commission will take place that same afternoon.

According to the sketch plan submission, the proposal calls for 240 rental apartments to be constructed at the corner of Highway 135 and Brush Creek Road by Houston developer Gatesco Inc. Of that, the sketch plan states, “65 percent would be restricted to qualifying households based on income and residency.”

That translates to 156 units that would have a deed restriction and rental caps for households making less than 180 percent of Area Median Income (AMI). That currently means a single person would have to make $89,280 or less. A four-person-household could make up to $127,440 and qualify for one of the restricted apartments.

A rent cap example in the proposal shows that “a married couple with one child earning 120 percent of AMI ($76,560) could rent a two-bedroom apartment for no more than $1,914 per month… It is important to remember that these are not the exact rental rates that will be charged. It is simply a maximum that cannot be exceeded.”

Restricted units will be limited to lease terms of six months or longer, and free market units will be restricted to lease terms of three months or longer. The developer predicts that at “full build-out, the estimated range of occupancy is between 600 to 700 residents. The 240 units include 408 bedrooms.”

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Counting on little need for cars

The units would be spread across 30 apartment buildings ranging from eight duplexes to three 24-plexes. A transit center to serve the RTA bus, intercept parking spaces, open space, a general store/coffee shop and on-site management office are all part of the plan.

As far as living space, the development would include seven different unit types, from 500-square-foot studio efficiencies to 1,300-square-foot three-bedroom units. The plan is to have 32 studio units, 64 one-bedroom units, 120 two-bedroom units, and 24 three-bedroom units.

The proposed sketch plan anticipates a development in which vehicles would not be needed. “The Property is close enough to walk, bike, or ski to the Town of Crested Butte. Alternatively, the bus system could be used to reach the Town of Crested Butte, Mt. Crested Butte, or Gunnison. A car would not be needed to live in the proposed development,” the sketch plan introduction states.

“The proposed development will address the dire need for housing for the local workforce, which will help maintain the sense of community and strengthen the local economy,” it continues.

Water and sewer a question mark

The most noticeable immediate infrastructure issue is how to provide water and sewer service to the project. “Water supply and wastewater treatment are known issues that the team believes are surmountable,” said project spokesperson John O’Neal.

According to the proposal, connection to nearby existing water supply systems in either the Larkspur subdivision or the Skyland Metropolitan District is not feasible. So the current site plan “contemplates that the water treatment facility will be located in the community building near the northeast corner of the property. Gatesco will develop a single water supply system to provide the domestic, fire protection, and landscaping irrigation uses of water for the project.”

It is anticipated that two on-site wells capable of producing an estimated 50 gallons per minute will suffice. At build-out, it is expected that 75 gallons per person/per day will be needed or about 62,000 gallons a day in all. O’Neal said that Gatesco does not own any water rights “and water rights aren’t needed to get a well permit.”

Wastewater treatment is more difficult. The developer is looking to build its own wastewater treatment facility or strike a deal with the town of Crested Butte to extend sewer service to the project.

“There are two feasible options for wastewater,” the sketch plan explained. “A central onsite treatment facility has been tentatively sized to treat a demand of 62,000 gallons per day at full build-out. The facility will be designed to accommodate 20 percent more than this. The purpose for this is to keep the facility below the CDPHE (Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment) threshold that would dictate an upgrade at full build-out. The facility at completion will be a smaller version of the plant serving Crested Butte South.”

“Another option to further explore is connecting to the Town of Crested Butte’s system,” the applicant continued. “Tap and user fees would be paid to the Town. Additionally, infrastructure upgrades to convey the wastewater to Town would be included in our design and construction schedules.”

The sketch plan states that connection to the East River Regional Sanitation District treatment plan has been considered but it is the least preferred alternative due to the significantly higher augmentation requirement created by delivering wastewater return flows from the Slate River basin to the East River basin.

Project attorney Kendall Bergemeister of Law of the Rockies has a letter to the Planning Commission included with the sketch plan, admitting the water and sewer service could be complicated in such a scenario.

If that is the case, “Each one of the above alternatives [outlined in his letter] would be expensive and time consuming to implement, most would require water court approval, and all would almost certainly adversely impact Gatesco’s ability to offer housing at affordable rates,” Bergemeister’s letter states.

Bergemeister indicates in the letter that if wastewater is returned to the Slate River (either via onsite treatment or connection to Crested Butte’s treatment plant), depletions to the Slate River could be augmented by the purchase of Meridian Lake augmentation certificates and such a solution would “not even require a water court application. This would be a turn-key solution that is the quickest and most economical for the Project. I have no hesitation representing to you that a legal water supply is absolutely feasible in this scenario.”

O’Neal summarized the project as filling a need for the upper valley. “The housing need is very real… you regularly meet people living in their cars, living in tents, long-time locals couch surfing, all fighting to make Crested Butte their home. The needs are real,” he said.

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