The beginning of many months or years of meetings
By Mark Reaman
The first of many county meetings over the proposed Brush Creek affordable housing project was held Friday, October 20 at the Gunnison County courthouse and drew about 90 citizens interested in the project. The Planning Commission also conducted a visit to the site that same afternoon. It should be noted that Planning Commission chairman Kent Fulton has recused himself from discussions since he lives close to the project site. Jack Diani is running the Planning Commission meetings on the subject.
Gunnison County community development director Cathie Pagano explained the process for any project that goes through the county’s Land Use Resolution (LUR) review process. This project is in the sketch plan phase that takes anywhere between four and a half to 12 months. “I tell applicants that the major impact review process takes one to two years to get through the county,” Pagano said.
There are no public hearings scheduled yet for the proposal and, given rules for notification and time constraints, there may not be any scheduled for 2017. But Pagano assured the public there would be plenty of opportunity for the citizens to make comments on the plan during the review.
The applicant’s development team spent about an hour going through the proposal. Houston-based Gatesco Inc., a company that oversees about 6,000 rental apartments in Houston, is proposing the project.
Principal Gary Gates has a home in Crested Butte and saw the need for affordable workforce housing in the valley. The Gatesco plan calls for 240 rental units on the 14-acre parcel located at the corner of Highway 135 and Brush Creek Road. Buildings range from 24-plexes to duplexes. Sixty-five percent of the units would have a deed restriction based on Average Median Income (AMI) and local job status ensuring the units would be rented to local workers making no more than 180 percent AMI, currently $89,230 for a single person. A transit stop for buses is included, as are 69 parking spaces for a possible park-n-ride on top of the 361 parking spaces for residents.
“We all love living here in a magical place. The north end of the valley is at a critical juncture in need of a community where people live here and work here,” said project community relations director John O’Neal. “Our community needs the leadership of the community living our community. The trend on how workforce housing is disappearing is alarming.”
“The parcel provides a place that makes a real impact,” added project attorney Kendall Burgemeister. “The Brush Creek corridor is the most heavily developed drainage between Crested Butte South and Crested Butte.”
“We’re not just designing for the site but for the general community as well,” said project landscape architect Margaret Loperfido of Sprout Studio. “We need it to fit in with what is located around us.”
Architect Andrew Hadley said one thing that makes this development different from similar developments is the “large amount of public space. That was so important to us and led to the creation of some of the larger buildings. It opened up the open space.”
Hadley said the eight-plexes located along Brush Creek Road would be designed and built to reflect the Skyland neighborhood.
Burgemeister said the proposed density of the project was probably the primary concern the development team has heard. He said it came in at about 16.5 units per acre. “Folks say this is 20 times the density of the surrounding neighborhoods and that sounds sensational but is not fact. The truth is, there are a lot of single-family homes nearby but there are also dense multi-family parcels such as the Skyland Lodge, the Golf Villas and Teocalli Townhomes.
“There is no requirement by the county to have identical density of the surrounding community,” Burgemeister continued. “It is about compatible density. We respectfully suggest this fits and Margaret and Andrew are working to mitigate the density impacts.”
The proponents said building heights would be no taller than what is allowed by Skyland. They emphasized that the wastewater treatment plant would not be an open lagoon treatment facility but would rather be “an enclosed package plant” similar to the one at Crested Butte South. It would be regulated by the state and utilize modern technology to treat sewage.
“We ask the Planning Commission to make decisions based on facts and not on fears and rumors,” Burgemeister said.
As for the demographics of the project, Burgemeister said the idea was to set aside units for various income levels. He said that a couple making 120 percent AMI would be bringing in $68,000. “Those aren’t doctors that would be renting the unit but a couple of school teachers,” he said. “The 180 AMI is a maximum allowed under the proposed deed restriction. The project could fill up with people all making under 120 percent AMI.
“Introducing this many units into the north valley will impact supply and demand and rental rates and we think this will all help with affordable housing,” Burgemeister continued. “This provides efficient rental opportunities. We aren’t creating crash pads out there. That won’t be able to take place here.”
Burgemeister explained the team wants to take title to the property before the county review is completed so that it could begin the process of obtaining financing for the project. Doing that concurrently with the review would speed up the timing of getting units out of the ground. He said a deed restriction would be attached to the title before it is transferred to the developer and there would be a buy-back option for the county if the project is not approved. He said there have been discussions with major employers in the valley such as Crested Butte Mountain Resort, Gunnison Valley Health and Western State Colorado University about so-called master leases. But he said Gatesco is open to working with any business interested in reserving units.
Gates himself admitted to being surprised by some of the opposition to the project. “It’s been quite a journey,” he said. “When we started we were in a bubble where everyone supported the idea. We’ve been a little bit surprised at the vocal opposition but we are blessed to have a local team. We think we’ve designed a good project here and we want to keep it long-term.
“There will be some impacts but we don’t think they are nearly as big as some detractors have said,” concluded Burgemeister.
“The people are what makes a community what it is and that’s why we think this project is important,” added O’Neal.
Pagano and the Planning Commission members went through some process options and decided it would be productive to hold work sessions dedicated to specific topics. For example, there will be a work session focused on affordable housing and deed restrictions and another on wastewater issues. There could be one dedicated to transit and traffic.
Planning commissioners asked a few very broad questions about the parking, wastewater issue, other affordable housing site options, density and potential master leases.
Twenty minutes were set aside at the end of the meeting for public questions and comments. Friends of Brush Creek attorney David Leinsdorf suggested the Planning Commission tour not just the specific site but also the nearby neighborhoods to see if the proposal is actually “compatible” with the neighborhood.
Mike Billingsley of the Skyland Metro District and East River Sanitation District asked that those two entities be included as referral agencies by the county when submitting comments.
Robert McCarter said most of the neighbors voicing opposition to the project agree with the development team’s desire for workforce housing in the north end of the valley and even on that site, but “It’s all about density.” He said rental units needed to be spread throughout the valley and not concentrated on any one site.
Kent Cowherd said the lack of deed-restricted ownership opportunities was a detriment to the plan, as was the scale and size of the project.
Ted Colvin described the plan as “a massive, unprecedented project with too many people on one site.”
Bob Fitzgerald asked if the proposed solution actually met the real needs for workforce housing, especially considering the potential rents.
Mike Wright was concerned that because of how the county LUR is designed, approving such density at that location would set a precedent for nearby vacant parcels. If such density was approved for this project, Wright said, it could spread throughout the nearby Highway 135 corridor. “That would be a game changer for the corridor,” he said.
The next work session on the project is planned for November 17 and will focus of the housing issue in general, with Gunnison Valley Regional Housing Authority executive director Jennifer Kermode.