Officials seem pleased, while opponents suggest it’s not good enough
By Toni Todd
Gatesco, LLC, presented concessions to the Gunnison County Planning Commission last Friday on its sketch plan proposal for The Corner at Brush Creek. The Corner is a proposed workforce housing development currently being reviewed by the Planning Commission. The plan calls for 240 units at the corner of Brush Creek Road and Highway 135, about 1.5 miles south of Crested Butte. Developers say the changes to the plan came in response to public comments on the project.
The changes include decreasing the density of the community by reducing the bedroom count from 408 to 362; decreasing the number of buildings fronting Brush Creek Road; increasing the setback along Brush Creek Road from 30 feet to 45 feet; increasing the residential parking to 400 spaces; increasing transit parking (park-n-ride) from 69 to 75 spaces; and decreasing the total building count from 32 to 28.
The development team said that with the new proposal, the total number of residents estimated at The Corner would drop from an original population of 800 to an estimated 540 residents. However, the overall number of units will remain 240 in order to keep the project financially viable.
The developer has also increased the number of deed-restricted affordable units available for workers earning 50 percent or less of Area Median Income (AMI) from 16 to 40, and from 58 to 60 for those earning less than 80 percent AMI.
Both the Gunnison County Planning Commission and Gunnison County commissioners were in attendance at last Friday’s work session and seemed to embrace the changes.
The commissioners’ chambers in the County Courthouse was filled to near capacity with opponents to the project.
After the applicant’s presentation, officials offered comments.
“I do see the project evolving based on the feedback heard by the applicant while maintaining what makes this project feasible,” said Gunnison County commissioner John Messner.
“People moving from the south to the north valley was a pretty big theme in the discussions with Crested Butte,” said planning commissioner Molly Muggelstone, “but what we’re really talking about is people who live in our coun ty. I just don’t see a huge migration of people from outside of the county moving to this location. I see movement of people from within the county, and it’s our job to figure out how to make adjustments to accommodate that.”
Muggelstone noted citizens’ concerns over the impact of the development on the Crested Butte Community School as an example.
“The number of kids estimated to go the Crested Butte School from this project will be in the 40s,” said Gatesco owner Gary Gates. “Most of those kids will move from Gunnison, and the money will move with those kids to the school.” Add in property taxes paid on the developed property, said Gates, and that’s how the district will pay for growth in enrollment.
“When the Crested Butte school opened, it became an open enrollment school district,” added county commissioner Jonathan Houck. “That exchange happens. Students can move back and forth within the district as they wish. The district has maintained a policy that we will serve the students in this county wherever they choose to go to school.”
Community development director Cathie Pagano said there’s still some outstanding information the county is waiting for from the applicant, such as modifications to lease terms; parking comparisons from other workforce housing projects; visuals; bus ridership from similar communities; and parking requirements from similar communities.
“I found the numbers Scott [Truex of the RTA] sent were very useful, especially the ridership from Crested Butte South,” said planning commissioner Jack Diani.
They’re still awaiting water level and pressure tests too, as required by the LUR. SGM civil engineer Tyler Harpel said tests on the single well on-site would be conducted soon, saying the best time to do that is late January or early February, when water levels are at their lowest. “We’re hoping to have two wells,” he said.
Harpel added that it makes most sense for the development to install its own sewage treatment system rather than tap into either the East River or Crested Butte systems. “With the new technology, we can probably treat the water better and make it cleaner than any of the existing treatment facilities out there,” he said.
“For the next meeting, I hope to have accurate building sizes and sections so we can show compatibility with the LUR in terms of height standards,” said architect Andrew Hadley. He also hopes to have a full video ready for the public hearing in February, showing the view driving up and into the property.
“To me, the neighborhood is diverse. I’m glad you addressed that. It’s added to our comfort level, and hopefully the public’s to some degree,” said planning commissioner John Cattles.
“We have an architect who has worked in this area before, and it looks like the design standards are going to be compatible with the surrounding area. And what we’ve heard is that the designs will be varied,” said planning commissioner Jack Diani.
Messner said additional open space over and above what’s required, clustering of residences, reducing the number of buildings, and participation in the public transportation system are all improvements on the original plan.
“Can you explain how the LUR defines incompatibility in terms of social impact?” Muggelstone asked Pagano as a point of clarification regarding the county’s Land Use Resolution’s requirements.
Pagano explained that the LUR mandates any proposed land use change should not adversely impact nearby residences in terms of hazards. “Things like noise, fumes, etc.,” she said.
“To me, community development is tradeoffs,” Pagano added. “This is why we’re looking at net adverse impacts. Changes in perceived character, traffic impacts, etc. Are those worth the tradeoff for affordable housing? Are the impacts so great that the potential for affordable housing doesn’t offset the negative impacts, or are the impacts so great that it’s not worth it for more affordable housing?”
Planning commissioner Tom Venard said he’d be stepping down from his seat on the Planning Commission in February and wanted to make a few key points before he departs.
“First of all, please don’t interpret the things I’m going to say now as my having made up my mind,” he said. “In my first career, my training and education was in public health, where we had to make these kinds of decisions. That’s why we have decision makers and leaders who have to weigh all this and then decide.”
“I’ve been on the board five years. I have not re-applied for a variety of reasons,” Venard continued, citing family obligations. “I want everyone to know that it’s not to avoid making a decision on Brush Creek. But the decision boils down to the needs of the community and what we have to do to be healthy is to get along together. We need to meet the needs of housing, food, security, to meet the basic needs. Once your basic needs are met, then you start to move up in level of need. We’re not providing the basic needs of some in our community, yet we’re upsetting another part of our community at another level of need. So, we must decide based on what’s best for the entire community. I felt like I had to say that here because this is potentially my last meeting.”
Comments from audience members were consistent with previous meetings, despite the changes presented.
“You’re suggesting we’re a bunch of NIMBYs [Not In My Back Yard],” said Robert McCarter of the Friends of Brush Creek group. “You’re suggesting we’re a bunch of one-percenters. You’re suggesting we don’t care about affordable housing. We’re very loving people who care about this community. All we care about is compatibility. That’s all we care about. This is incompatible.”
Subsequent speakers echoed one another, saying the development is too dense and therefore incompatible with the neighborhood, and that there are not enough units devoted to housing that’s truly affordable for the lowest-wage workers. They expressed concerns over the impact of the development on the Crested Butte School and traffic, and insisted there is still not enough parking. Several asked the applicant to make “financials” available for public view. Clay Berger offered the simplest solution: “Go buy a 100-acre ranch and build there. Buy another piece of property, reduce the density and everybody will be happy.”
Materials presented by the applicant, along with transcripts of comments made by members of the public, are available on the Gunnison County citizen’s access website.
The public hearing is scheduled for February 16 in Mt. Crested Butte at the Ballroom at Mountaineer Square.