Council urging Planning Commission to deny sketch plan
By Mark Reaman
While the exact wording in a comment letter to the county will be tweaked, the Crested Butte Town Council on Monday made it clear they want the Gunnison County Planning Commission to “deny the sketch plan application for the Corner at Brush Creek.”
Public comment is due to the Planning Commission by February 16 when a public hearing will be conducted in Mt. Crested Butte to discuss the proposed 240-unit project on 14 acres about two miles south of Crested Butte. 150 units would include a deed restriction. A draft 14-page comment letter was discussed Monday and a final version will be reviewed by the council at its February 5 meeting but no major changes are expected. The council’s letter states that it feels “strongly that the application should be denied… the application is far from satisfying many requirements of the Gunnison County Land Use Resolution and does not conform to the adopted advisory plans of the County and the Town.”
Mayor Jim Schmidt said he has been a councilmember for a long time and deliberated over many controversial issues such as the ski area expansion onto Snodgrass, but never had he seen such staunch opposition to a project. “This is the first time no one has come up to me and said ‘Let’s do the project as proposed.’ Aside from the proponents, I’ve not heard any support from this end of the valley.”
Councilman Chris Haver has been attending the Planning Commission meetings reviewing the project. “In general, the bottom line is the 240 units,” he said. “That number seems to be make or break for Gatesco and if that’s true, then it’s break. It is not worth it to have that dense of a development at the entrance corridor to our town that we have worked for so long to keep small and charming. I’ve read all sorts of planning documents from Gunnison County, the city of Gunnison, Mt. Crested Butte and Crested Butte and we all state similar values about development and entrance corridors. The concept of infill development inside our municipalities is a strong common belief. And urban sprawl should be avoided. While there is a plan in the works, the region doesn’t have a strategic housing plan so we have no idea how this fits into such a plan.”
Councilman Kent Cowherd has also attended the county planning sessions and he agreed with Haver. “I’m extremely disappointed that the proponent made some changes to the original plan but didn’t change the 240 unit number,” he said. “And I’m extremely disappointed in the size of the buildings. Two of them grew to 30,000 square feet each and will be the size of our community school. That is completely out of context. I hope we can somehow get on the same page.”
“The sheer numbers of how dense it is compared to nearby developments as pointed out on page 9 of the letter [“9.2 times greater than Larkspur and 19.3 times more dense than Skyland”] should be enough right there for the commissioners to reject the plan,” councilman Jackson Petito said. “The entire letter is great but I feel you could put this on a post-it note to the county and it should be enough.”
Councilwoman Laura Mitchell agreed the density issue was major. “But for me the bottom line is the water. Two wells to fill up all those toilets? Where will the water come from?” she asked.
“I like the idea of building housing but remember that the original intent for the property was parking,” said councilman Paul Merck. “I’d like to get as much housing as possible but having an intercept parking lot is important.”
“This was originally looked at as a way to solve the affordable housing issue and I commend the effort,” added Haver. “But it is really sprawl and not the best way to solve the problem. It belongs in one of our population centers. It’s not a ‘Not In My Backyard’ issue but more of a move it to my backyard issue. Having a bedroom community out there busing people in and out for work is not representative of an authentic Gunnison community.”
Schmidt brought up the idea of using the 17 acres of land located next to the Mt. Crested Butte town hall as an alternative site for such a project. That idea has been floated to the developers by, among others, Mt. Crested Butte mayor Todd Barnes, but Gatesco principal Gary Gates is not interested in moving the project to the town.
“The cost of tap fees versus them building their own plant is an issue with that idea,” said Merck.
“If it’s tap fees I think there’s a way we can all work together to help out on that,” suggested Haver.
Jim Starr of the Gunnison Valley Housing Foundation said that while one part of the argument is that the proposal is not a part of the valley’s north end communities, the other part of the argument should then be how the towns will “step up and provide the amount of affordable housing needed. That could mean building a couple more Anthracite Place projects in town or having Mt. Crested Butte step up with those 17 acres. Maybe Skyland has to step up. Beyond just saying ‘no,’ you need to take a significant step up.”
“I’ll disagree with my good friend Jim,” said former town planner John Hess. “The town has done a lot for many years on this issue. You don’t want to alienate people from supporting affordable housing by putting in a too dense project that nobody likes. I think your letter is great. The county is not even paying attention to their own comprehensive plan if they approve this.”
Town manager Dara MacDonald said the staff would make adjustments to the draft and bring back a final copy for the council to review at the February 5 meeting. It will then be submitted to the county.