“Density is a good thing”
By Toni Todd
Density was the topic of discussion for the Gunnison County Planning Commission last Friday as they continued their evaluation of the proposed Corner at Brush Creek rental housing development.
Gatesco, Inc. seeks to build 240 residential units on roughly 14 acres at the corner of Brush Creek Road and Highway 135, about 1.5 miles south of Crested Butte. The project has entered the sketch-plan phase of the county’s Land Use Resolution (LUR) development approval process.
The plan promises 65 percent of the units at The Corner will qualify as deed-restricted workforce housing, meeting the income requirements for residents earning from 50 to 180 percent of Area Median Income (AMI). For a single person, 100 percent of AMI is $49,600.
“From the staff’s view,” noted Gunnison community development director Cathy Pagano as the meeting began, “[Gatesco is] generally compliant with the requirements of the LUR.”
The Friday meeting began with architect Andrew Hadley and Margaret Loperfido of Sprout Studio Landscaping sharing design strategies. “Quality architecture pays its way,” Hadley said. “Margaret and I have really done a lot of work to reduce the perceived density. We have five different buildings with different unit types. Vertical and horizontal diversity, balconies, a mix of pitched, flat and shed roof buildings—there’s a lot you can do to break up perceived densities and preserve views.”
“It’s also important to install and maintain a landscape that is compatible with the surrounding landscape,” added Loperfido. “To reduce the perceived height of some of the buildings, the front of the buildings will be bermed to visually bury the first six to eight feet of those buildings.”
Hadley said there would also be plenty of room for people to stash their stuff. “It’s a large concern of ours to have a maximum amount of indoor storage so they don’t turn into junk piles.”
“We saw the comparative size of the Crested Butte South sewage treatment plant,” said Planning Commission member Molly Mugglestone. “What’s the comparative size of this one?”
“This will be about a third the size, with similar technology, though newer, so it may be better,” said spokesperson for The Corner at Brush Creek and attorney Kendall Bergemeister.
“I recently spent time with friends who live in an apartment complex in the city,” said Diani. “The number of packages delivered from Amazon has grown exponentially there. Are you making accommodations for that?”
“We hadn’t thought about that, but maybe we should consider that,” Bergemeister replied.
Getting back to the issue of density, Bergemeister said, “We’re providing more open space than required by the LUR. We’re also clustering residences to minimize visual impact as well as the impact on wildlife.”
“Density is not a bad thing,” added project manager John O’Neal. “Density is a good thing, and it’s a necessary thing in order to provide for a sustainable future. It’s far more environmentally friendly. It prevents sprawl. It’s better for creating community. Density is cheaper, and less costly to heat. It’s a good thing for the community, for the environment and for the sustainable future of this community. Lack of density leads to the growth of suburbs that we’ve seen all around the country. Density is an essential part of this project and starts to help solve the housing problem at the north end of the valley.”
“People in Crested Butte are concerned they’re going to be overwhelmed with people using their parks and school,” said Diani.
“We’re sensitive to the concerns the town is expressing,” said Bergemeister. “We’re trying to get some more data regarding how this might impact the town.” He pointed to a loss of housing inside the town of Crested Butte due to a proliferation of vacation rentals. “We’re sort of filling in the gap that’s already been created.
“Growth is going to be an issue,” Bergemeister continued. “All the public entities are going to have to deal with it. We’re certainly interested in studying it further to resolve the concerns.”
“Are we going to hear from RTA to learn about the transit center?” asked Mugglestone.
“If the RTA is able to serve it or not, if Mountain Express is able to serve it or not—we’re still working on that,” said Pagano.
“My understanding is that there is no government subsidy other than the price of the land. If the county were to build this, how much would it cost? If we were to do this with public funds, how much would it cost?” asked Mugglestone.
“We’re talking tens of millions of dollars,” responded Pagano. “We have enough money to build a few units per year, but no entity in the county has the money to build something like this.”
“When we start to talk about density, it’s not just talking about bigger buildings, but how tightly you pack different kinds of homes,” said Planning Commission member Vince Rogalski.
“I haven’t driven through Skyland in years and had kind of forgotten how much territory has been built on,” added Planning Commission member Tom Venard.
“I have never been to Pitchfork and didn’t realize how packed everything is up there, and how snow storage is such a big issue,” said Diani. “It made me think about your snow storage plans and how you’d really thought about it and how you can get it out of the way.”
“I know we’re comparing things in terms of units per acre. I guess I’m interested in the number of people per acre,” said Coleman. “These [density comparisons] are all smaller parcels. Can you give us some information on a comparable acreage [to the Brush Creek parcel] to give us a comparison that’s more similar in size to this one?”
Planning Commission questions provided ample homework for The Corner at Brush Creek applicants to conduct further research and return with answers on their return visit.
Several members of the audience also took advantage of an invitation to make short comments on the project.
“One of the things you need to consider is that there’s about two acres of transit, so when you’re looking at the residential density, that is going to increase the density,” suggested Bob Pannier.
“I would like to take issue with the comparisons of other high-density subdivisions,” added Mike Wright. “All the ones in Gunnison are within the city limits. The one in Crested Butte South is within the Crested Butte South limits. Anthracite Place is in the town of Crested Butte. And the two in Brush Creek are about half the size, and are within a giant subdivision. I don’t believe any of this is apples to apples.”
“My experience with density is that when you have a project, you look at the adjacent neighborhoods,” said David Leinsdorf, representing Friends of Brush Creek, an organization that stands against The Corner at Brush Creek development.
Leinsdorf continued, “Now we’ve been talking about properties that are far removed from this neighborhood, and if you look at the projects that are contiguous, the Brush Creek proposal is almost 10 times the density of Larkspur… and many times the density of adjacent property. If you look at the traditional way the Planning Commission has compared a project with the neighboring properties, you will have to cut this density way, way back. There are nine structures proposed that are of comparable size to Anthracite Place. So, what you’re really looking at here is nine Anthracite Places out in the county with no central public services.”
Other commenters questioned the affordability of the units and the fact that only a relative few will be made affordable to those who earn 50 percent to 60 percent of AMI, and expressed concern for this development setting a precedent for future large projects in the area.