A dozen people for five seats
By Mark Reaman
The Crested Butte News hosted its Candidates Forum October 22 and, because of the breadth of discussion, we will divide the recount into two stories. Part One touches on climate change, roundabouts and fantasy world. Part 2 will delve into community engagement, planning and recreation. You have until November 7 to return your ballot.
The 12 people hoping to represent Crested Butte residents on the Town Council answered questions from the public for more than two hours Sunday as part of the Crested Butte News Candidates Forum at the Crested Butte Center for the Arts.
Two showed up on Crested Butte time (Paul and Lisa Merck); one was boldly clear about where he stood on any issue relating to growth (“I understand tourism drives this town but we shouldn’t grow by one more visitor or shorten off-season by one more hour until we make what we have today sustainable,” conveyed Jackson Petito); and another doesn’t use Facebook (Tracy Smith).
The majority are ready to slow down spending on local marketing efforts, most appear skeptical about the need for a roundabout at the entrance to town and most would love a recreation center in the north end of the valley but had no realistic plan on how to pay for it.
All 12 made some good points and all spoke eloquently about their desire to keep Crested Butte a special place.
Four candidates are running for mayor: Jim Schmidt, Chris Ladoulis, Paul Merck and Tracy Smith. Eight people are running for council: Will Dujardin, Lisa Merck, Chris Haver, Kent Cowherd, Jackson Petito, Candice Bradley, Richard Machemehl and Kyle Ryan.
Jeremy Rubingh opened the questioning asking the candidates about climate change and what the council could do to address it.
Mayoral candidate Jim Schmidt said the town has taken some steps, from placing solar panels on the sewer treatment plant building to buying electric vehicles. “We need to do more and have a voice to speak up on this issue,” he said.
“We need to lead by example,” said Smith. “All of us need to take steps that lead the community into the future so other people see what we’re doing.”
“It is a significant global issue and when you want to change the world you have to start close to home,” said Ladoulis. “We have an energy action plan and we can do more. Our most effective tool can be communication and how we lead by example.”
“The town is working with the county to make low income houses easier to live in by bringing back ORE [Office of Resource Efficiency] practices,” explained Paul Merck. “If you have ideas, please bring them in.”
“I think we need to do everything possible,” said Dujardin. “We need to work toward 100 percent renewable energy as fast as possible. We need to do our best to fight climate change.”
“I believe in using public transportation, solar, electric cars, walking to work,” said Lisa Merck. “We need to be the best stewards of our community.”
“I’d like to see this as part of our master plan for the town,” suggested Haver. “That’s why I really want a master plan to keep us focused.”
“I’m proud the town has taken some good action but the reality is that the thing to do would be for everyone to leave this area and move somewhere that doesn’t require heat all the time … and that’s not going to happen,” said Petito. “But we need to seal up the houses in town and make everything efficient, use public transportation and live close to where you work. For those against such steps, the loss of snowpack affects all of our wallets if people stop coming here because we don’t have snow, so there is also a greedy reason to take action.”
“We need to continue to be good stewards of the National Forest. We need to promote more bus use and all our affordable houses need to be energy efficient and tight,” said Cowherd. “We need to share our attitude of climate change with our visitors.”
“I think a master plan is needed to cover as many sustainable options as are available,” said Bradley. “Education is key and we need to push people to use transit.”
“It is important and essential to address the issue appropriately. I’m not sure of the proper way to handle it from here going forward so I’d reach out to people who know,” said Machemehl. “When my son grows up I want the place to be like it is today.”
“We’ve made strides forward but it is important to stay involved and lead by example and make Crested Butte part of the national discussion when it comes to climate change,” said Ryan.
David Rothman asked the candidates their views on the proposed Brush Creek affordable housing proposal.
“I believe the project as proposed is difficult for us. The compatibility standards like use, size, scale and density are difficult,” said Cowherd. “And does the proposal really solve the need for low to middle income families?”
“I’ve had issues with the process and whether it really solves the problem,” said Ladoulis. “Affordable housing has to be solved in many different ways in many different places. People should live where they work and work where they live and the Brush Creek parcel is several miles from any of the jobs.”
“I’m very disappointed in the county process,” said Schmidt. “It is completely backward. We should have had a community review before it leapt into the LUR process. Most disappointing is the push for an early sale of the property to the developer. It is incomprehensible to me why they need to do that. I’d prefer a lease project.
The county calls the council disrespectful to the LUR process but I believe the county is being disrespectful to the voices at this end of the valley which have come out very strong with its concerns.”
“I’m against this as proposed,” said Smith. “It would be better if it was deed-restricted only.”
“I’m thinking it is too much at that spot,” said Haver. “Affordable housing should be spread out. All economic levels live amongst each other here and that’s important. We will eventually need parking outside of town and this property could really address that.”
“The developer came to the county with a proposal. So now, we need to keep him at the table and we all need to keep involved and keep working on this,” said Merck. “We need to help shape how this will work out.”
“Brush Creek provides housing we need in the future but what about a parking lot?” asked Ryan. “Parking is also a very real problem. I also see greater demand increasing from this in places like the fire department and the school. We need to look at the bigger picture and not just the bed space.”
“I share the process and density concerns and prefer affordable housing to be spread throughout the community,” added Petito.
“Housing could be better dispersed throughout the entire valley and it needs more ownership units,” said Lisa Merck. “I think the project is very dense but it could work if we all work together.”
“I went to the county Planning Commission meeting and Gatesco [the developer] did a nice presentation,” said Dujardin. “We need affordable housing but we don’t need it rammed down our throats by the county. There needs to be a path to ownership. That is crucial to me. The NIMBYs that are saying there will be a ghetto at Brush Creek need to look at the definition of classism.”
“The impacts could be out of this world,” said Bradley. “There are things like traffic and waste management concerns. Overall it is too big and not what we need.”
“This is too much in one little space,” said Machemehl. “I agree we need people to have the ability to purchase homes. People have a bigger commitment to the community when they purchase rather than rent.”
Former town planner John Hess asked the council candidates about their feelings on a roundabout at the entrance to town. No one was enthusiastic about the idea.
“I’m not convinced a roundabout is the answer at the entrance to town,” responded Cowherd. “I’m not sure it will work as planned, especially with stop signs farther up the street. Roundabouts work well for cars but this town is about pedestrians and bicycles. I think a turn lane coming into town to the school will alleviate many of the problems, especially with the school.”
“I’m not a big fan of roundabouts so I’m not sure that’s the answer,” agreed Machemehl. “The problem is mainly when people drop kids off or pick them up from school. I think, given the dollars it will cost, having someone directing traffic there at those times would be more efficient and cost effective.”
“It would be right in front of my house so I don’t have the greatest feeling about it in my front yard,” said Bradley. “I don’t think it would work the way the roads are set up and with the amount of pedestrian traffic there is at school times. The real issue is parents driving their kids to school in separate cars. That’s not serving anyone.”
“Personally, roundabouts seem un-American to me,” said Petito. “I don’t feel safe driving in them and that’s not good by a school. Maybe we spend that roundabout money on crossing guards.”
“I understand it eventually comes to a light or a roundabout is the thinking. I don’t think we’re there yet,” said Haver. “The turning ramp off the highway into the school is a good idea. We could set up that area as a school zone with flashing lights to slow traffic to 15 from 25 miles per hour during those busy times.”
“As a Frenchman I’ll reassure Jackson that roundabouts aren’t scary and they’re easy to drive,” said Dujardin. “It wouldn’t be effective without a roundabout at the Four-way and at Gothic. So it may not be the answer there for now, but it is an option.”
“The ramp from the highway will help a lot but I’m concerned with the exit from the parking lot,” said Ryan. “Roundabouts to me are not pedestrian-friendly. Roundabouts speed things up for cars and we want to get people out of their cars by making driving difficult. We are not quite at the roundabout stage yet.”
“I’m terrified of roundabouts too,” said Lisa Merck. “I’d encourage parents to put their children on the buses and encourage ride sharing. We need more study on it at that intersection.”
Hardball from the former
Former mayor Alan Bernholtz asked the candidates what they see as their hot button issue in town right now, how they would specifically solve it, and what they’d add to town in an ideal Crested Butte world to make it better.
Merck again said relaying information between the town and public was extremely important and he would have the council and staff obtain education quickly on how better to handle the public relations element of the job. He would like a condensed cheat sheet on the town website to help get people involved with town government.
Haver said his website would help communication and engagement with the public and he would like to see more educational programs that get local kids into the backcountry.
“My hot button issue is housing,” said Dujardin. “I’d like to explore ways to incentivize homeowners to rent to locals. Maybe tax breaks or we can compensate homeowners on the difference between short-term renting and long-term renting. I’d raise the proposed STR tax to 10 percent instead of 5 percent. I’d like to find ways for local businesses to raise their wages. And ideally, I’d let the Vinotok fire rage as big as possible.”
“I would use digital technology outreach to get more people involved in local government and find more ways to interact with citizens in settings where a gavel is not involved,” said Ryan.
“The hot button issue is affordable housing and that is a problem in every ski town,” said Schmidt. “We need to look at places town has for housing and increase the densities. Not huge, but some. If it is slated for a duplex we can build a three-plex. As for the ideal, I’d ban all cell phones in town, but that isn’t going to happen.”
“I believe with a cap on short-term rentals and with the Sixth Street Station coming in with hotel rooms, you’ll have availability to rent units at a lower rate and that will lower the prices. So that will make long-term rentals more alluring to homeowners,” said Bradley. “Ideally, I’d focus more help on local non-profits like the Mountain Theatre.”
“Senior housing,” responded Smith. “How about some affordable housing for seniors? Cottages for them. And in a perfect world we’d have you back up here, Alan.”
“There are always hot button issues and the key is that instead of fixing one issue we have to try to see how all the issues correlate with each other,” said Machemehl. “Ideally, I’d like to see a rec center for kids to have indoor activities up here.”
Ladoulis went to the planning element. “We need to do a better job on the three to five year horizon and make real specific progress,” he said. “That way everyone knows what we are working on and not focus on distractions. Ideally, let’s make an iconic tiny home community on a parcel of land in town. Let’s break all the rules. Make it dense and make it small. Maybe if you register a car in town you wouldn’t qualify.”
Cowherd said affordable housing was the hot button topic and he’d explore opportunities at Avalanche Park instead of using that as a campground. Ownership opportunities were important to him in that regard.
“Housing is a big topic, as is backcountry etiquette,” said Lisa Merck. “We need to educate our community and our tourists on how to use the backcountry and rivers. Ideally, I’d want to create full-time jobs for locals who want to live here instead of having to rely just on summer and winter months.”
“My hot button issue is affordable housing,” said Petito. “I’d use the funds from the excise tax to figure out a development with a path to ownership for people. We need to fix the internet infrastructure and ideally I love the idea of Elk Avenue as a pedestrian mall.”
Next week we will visit other issues brought up by citizens at the forum.