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Clearing up some council-county tensions over Brush Creek

Council backs off resolution until meeting with Gatesco

By Mark Reaman

Tension between the town of Crested Butte and Gunnison County exploded a bit early this week. Then elected officials found a way to settle it down after further discussion.

At Monday’s Town Council meeting, the council was considering a resolution put forth by councilman Chris Ladoulis that would have reaffirmed the town’s opposition to the idea of the publicly owned Brush Creek land being sold to a developer for an affordable housing project before county land use approval is given. The town is a one-quarter owner of the property, along with the county, the town of Mt. Crested Butte and Crested Butte Mountain Resort.

But the title to the land is held by Gunnison County, and the county has sent the developer, Gatesco Inc., a proposed contract to sell the 14 acres of land to Gatesco for $100,000, over the town of Crested Butte’s objections.

Gatesco is proposing a 240-unit rental complex, of which 65 percent would carry a deed restriction. The remaining 84 units would be rented at free market rates with no restrictions. The plan is currently before the county Planning Commission.

The proposed resolution stated that before any sale of the land takes place, an amendment to the 1998 Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) governing the partnership had to be approved by the partners. That has not happened and the other partners have shown no interest in pursuing such an amendment.

Crested Butte mayor Glenn Michel told the council on Monday that the county was taking great offense to the proposed resolution. “The county has said that if we pass this they will take it as a threat and they will cease all communication with us,” he said.

At Monday’s meeting, Michel said he felt county commissioner Jonathan Houck also lightly implied to him last Friday that if the town approved that resolution and continued to fight the Brush Creek project, the action could fray county-town relationships on any number of issues, and even adversely impact how much the county participated in any future effort to alleviate the threat of the molybdenum mine on Mt. Emmons.

“The implication was that this issue could impact other matters between the town and the county. Our relationship with the county is very problematic right now,” Michel told the council. “I was a big supporter of the One Valley Prosperity Project and so had hoped for a better dialogue with them and we have not had that. Something has to change with our relationship.”

On Tuesday, Houck said he did have a conversation with Michel last Friday after Michel called him expressing concern about the potential resolution on the council agenda. In a voice mail Michel left for Houck (that he shared with the Crested Butte News), the mayor stated that he was concerned that the language was harsh and he thought it was the wrong approach.

Houck offered the following view of the Friday conversation: “I asked Glenn that if the point of the resolution was simply bomb-throwing, then what really was the point? I said we had too many places where we worked well together, and used the mine issue as one example. I also cited how the county plows the highway through town, our cooperative efforts to work on water quality issues in the northern valley and the Standard Mine reclamation, to name a few.

“We agree on a lot of things,” continued Houck, “including affordable housing needs. We happen to have a disagreement on a particular issue with the Brush Creek process. But passing that resolution I believe would have marginalized our greater relationship. From my perspective, never did I suggest or imply that a passing of the resolution would result in the county pulling away on those other issues and I am regretful that I did not communicate that with enough clarity and that Glenn walked away with the impression he did.”

Michel said he talked with Houck Tuesday and both concluded the Friday conversation was misinterpreted. Both agreed their words could have been better chosen and feel the two bodies need to focus on ways to work better together. Houck reiterated that it has not been, nor will it be his position, that support or collaboration hinges upon total agreement on issues. He emphasized that he “respects the town’s processes and positions and hopes that the same generosity will be forthcoming from the new mayor and council toward the county’s positions and processes.”

“I don’t think we should provoke the county and pick a fight,” Ladoulis said Monday. “I took a sentence out of the resolution they found particularly offensive. But this is meant to represent the town’s interest in the MOA and is meant to help preserve the town’s future options and rights under the MOA.”

In a memo to the Town Council, the town staff recommended the council “postpone consideration of the resolution until after the opportunity for direct discussions between the council and Gatesco.” The staff was hoping to arrange a work session between the developers and council later this month.

“It is a double-edged sword,” noted councilwoman Laura Mitchell. “Unfortunately, the county is not pleased with our actions. It doesn’t feel comfortable with them and I think Chris is just trying to protect our butts. Will it anger the county? They’re already angry at us.”

Crested Butte’s David Leinsdorf, a former four-term county commissioner and attorney for the Friends of Brush Creek, said he had never known of any county board “to conflate one issue with another. It is astounding that the county is threatening to not support the town on the mine because they are mad at you about Brush Creek. I don’t think that would happen. This resolution is saying you stand up for the citizens of Crested Butte.”

Larkspur resident Bob Pannier said the resolution protects residents in the north end of the valley. “You are four equal partners and the county is saying to just go away,” he said. “This is a chance to protect your rights. If you don’t do it, who will?”

Another former county commissioner, Jim Starr, took a more conciliatory approach. “We all agree we need a regional approach to the issue. I am so tired of hearing all the attacks. It is a good step to meet with Gatesco in a work session. If you continue down this confrontational path, the mining company could see a fracture between the partners in the valley and question the strength of our coalition. I’d urge everyone to try cooperating instead of fighting.”

“I disagree with Jim,” countered Joanie Windsor of Crested Butte. “I think it is appalling that the county is threatening us. You are just asking them slow down, not stop.”

Mayor Michel said his feeling was to not consider the resolution until the council sat down with Gatesco. “I don’t want to jeopardize our voice in the future,” he said.

“I’m all for collaboration and don’t want the county to think otherwise,” said Ladoulis.

Councilman Roland Mason said he didn’t appreciate the path the proposed resolution traveled. “This resolution didn’t come through our town staff or town attorney,” he said. “Even since the last meeting, the wording was changed with an outside attorney. I am not in favor of selling the land to the developer but I definitely don’t like how this came to us.”

“I, too, will go with the staff recommendation,” said Mitchell. “We need to think positive that things will get better between us and the county.”

“This has been an ugly process that’s left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth,” said councilman Jim Schmidt. “I’m having a hard time with this. We need to continue to work with the county in any fashion we can. It seems like we’ve lost the vote 3-1 with our partners in the property so I’m not sure what this resolution really accomplishes.”

Ladoulis said it was apparent the council would not support the proposed resolution at the November 6 meeting.

The council moved to postpone consideration of the resolution until after a meeting with Gatesco in a work session. That passed 6-1, with Petito voting against it.

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