Gathering info to form an opinion
By Mark Reaman
The Crested Butte Town Council will host a work session that will include a chance for the public to comment on the proposed Brush Creek affordable housing project. The meeting will be held on Thursday, October 5 at the Crested Butte Center for the Arts starting at 6 p.m.
The idea is for the council to get a feel for what the community at the north end of the valley wants on the site and what impact a project at that location will have on the town. The town staff will run the meeting and give a history of how the project got to the current point. The council plans to sit in the audience and listen to the pros and cons of the proposal.
Negotiations have been ongoing between Gunnison County and Gatesco, a Houston-based development company that was selected to propose a plan for the site located at the corner of Brush Creek Road and Highway 135. Gatesco’s initial proposal called for 240 rental units. The plan has been submitted to the county to begin a Planning Commission review but has yet to be made public while staff evaluates the completeness of the application.
The town of Crested Butte, along with Gunnison County, the town of Mt. Crested Butte and Crested Butte Mountain Resort, contributed to purchasing the property in 1998. A Memorandum of Agreement was signed between the four entities but the county holds title to the property.
Some Crested Butte Town Council members have voiced misgivings at how the process has played out to this point. At the September 18 council meeting several citizens spoke during the public comment section of the meeting to caution the town about supporting the plan, given the potential major impacts on the community.
“I sort of feel like we had just started dating and we were ready to go on a second date and suddenly we show up and find out we’re engaged, with the dad behind us with a shotgun,” said councilman Jim Schmidt.
Councilman Chris Ladoulis said he would prefer to have a public discussion before even discussing a draft purchase agreement between Gatesco and the county in executive session, which was scheduled for later in the meeting. “I think having an executive session tonight would be imprudent,” he said and later was the sole council vote against going into the closed-door session.
Mayor Glenn Michel said it was important for the council to listen to the constituents to help the council determine where the town should head with the project. “We might end up in the same spot or in a different spot but we need to understand the impacts of this project on the community in terms of both the costs to us financially and on the quality of life,” he said. “It would be good to have a general sense from the community of weighing the costs and the benefits of this project. We need to look at the county Housing Needs Assessment Study and see how this projects fits into that. It seems to be the Crested Butte way in that we are comfortable engaging the public and it helps the way forward. I think the people want to be heard and we’ll listen.”
“I’m encouraged by the public engagement on this issue,” said councilman Jackson Petito. “I love it when people come up with alternatives to an issue as opposed to just saying they don’t like it.”
“I think this offer was very seductive, especially to the county when it provided rental units at no cost,” said Schmidt. “But if something sounds too good to be true, it’s probably not true. I have educated myself and gotten information from the public and housing experts since this came out. I’m comfortable with my position.”
“I agree with the analogy of the second date,” said councilman Roland Mason. “I think the north end of the valley needs to be fully aware of the implications of this project. A public meeting to listen to the people and shed some light on our boundaries as the Crested Butte Town Council would be appropriate.”
“And it would provide an opportunity for the public to gain information and background on the process and project,” said town manager Dara MacDonald. “Ultimately the public input will go through the county.”
MacDonald said the September 18 executive session would center on the draft purchase agreement and not the county’s Land Use Resolution process.
“Some might say the two issues can’t be separated,” said Ladoulis.
“We have always said that we will publicly bring the document to the council for public discussion before council votes on it,” said MacDonald.
“I am reserved and guarded with the option of one suitor,” said Michel.
“The town participated in the Request for Qualifications and the Request for Proposals and agreed to go with Gatesco,” reminded MacDonald. “There was a process.”
“We know what we are trying to do. Is it the right place?” asked councilman Paul Merck. “Has enough public notice been given? People need to understand that the ship has not sailed. The land has not been transferred.”
“People also need to understand this is not in our municipal jurisdiction. It is in the county and we are not the Gunnison County Planning Commission or the county commissioners. We will do what the town can do but the real process is at the county. That is where it will really matter,” said Michel.
Friends of Brush Creek attorney David Leinsdorf wanted to comment on what he felt the council could do but Michel tersely shut him down before giving him a brief opportunity to comment.
“What concerns us is the lack of transparency thus far. We are trying to empower you to have multiple bites of this apple,” Leinsdorf stated. “The town should be a player in the sale and I urge you to slow down the sale of the property. We get the feeling you feel you are only bystanders but we want you as a partner in the property, to be empowered.”
The council decided to hold the public work session at the larger Crested Butte Center for the Arts space instead of Town Council chambers, given space constraints. They will implement some basic guidelines and let the staff run the meeting. Michel suggested a three-minute limit to each public comment.
“We want this to be about the project. We do not want character attacks,” said Michel. “The council wants opinions and information to form an opinion on the matter. We want to weigh the costs and the benefits of this and there are good points on both sides. We won’t have all the answers that night but we want to hear from the public.”