Thursday, June 4, 2020

CB council approves letter asking to deny Brush Creek proposal

Need for one valley strategic plan

By Mark Reaman

The Crested Butte Town Council did not back off its stance, “strongly” recommending the Gunnison County Planning Commission deny the Corner at Brush Creek affordable housing project at the sketch plan phase.

In fact, the council voted unanimously on Monday to send a 23-page comment letter/memo detailing the myriad reasons it feels the proposal does not comply with the county’s Land Use Resolution “broadly or conceptually” and would have a negative impact on the town and the entire Highway 135 corridor.

The memo states that the proposal goes too far and “the incentives requested are not reasonable.” It makes clear that the town feels the proposed plan is too dense for the location, the building sizes are too large, the plan relies too much on rentals, it is too visually obtrusive and the development is not “compatible with existing, adjacent residential neighborhoods and landscape character.”

If the Planning Commission denies the sketch plan, the town believes that action would “allow the opportunity for the MOA (Memorandum of Agreement) Partners (Gunnison County, the towns of Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte and Crested Butte Mountain Resort) and the public to discuss what type of development is feasible on the site and create a plan for moving forward cooperatively.”

The town memo advocates for taking an approach to address the affordable housing issue in a “comprehensive, steady, sustained approach by one valley with one vision and one strategic plan.”

Town manager Dara MacDonald told the council at the February 5 meeting that the subcommittee, consisting of herself, council members Chris Haver and Kent Cowherd along with planner Bob Nivens and town attorney Barbara Green, spent many hours crafting the letter/memo.

“One of the main focuses was on compatibility,” noted Cowherd. “It just doesn’t meet the standards of the LUR. While this is a long letter, it is broken down in very digestible pieces that can be easily understood by the general public. I think given the detail, it is a hard letter to dismiss. If the county does dismiss it, it will be interesting to see the reason why.”

“I agree that it is very clear and easily digestible,” agreed Haver. “It was challenging but we stayed with the main issues. I feel it is solid. We did a lot of rearranging to make sure the important issues with the LUR were up front.”

Cowherd said he wanted to state in public that at the last meeting when the council was discussing the draft letter to the county he misstated that the two largest buildings in the proposal were equivalent to the size of the Crested Butte Community School. “That is not the case,” he said. “The two 32-unit apartment buildings are about 25,000 square feet each and the school size is closer to 115,000 square feet. So I apologize for that. But I do believe that the ten largest buildings in the project are not compatible to the nearby neighborhoods at all.”

Crested Butte mayor Jim Schmidt pointed out in the discussion that some county criticism has been directed at the town because it was part of the committee that selected Gatesco as a potential developer of the property. “Our approval was to enter into negotiations with Gates and not give him carte blanche approval. We have looked into the details of the project and we have major questions and criticisms. For us or any other public body to not look into the details would not properly serve our constituency. We’ve taken the time to study the applicable documents and wish to issue detailed comments.

“Overall, a majority of the people up here think the proposal is way beyond scale,” concluded Schmidt.

Councilman Paul Merck said the letter asked valid questions and he hoped the developer would respond with complete answers.

Larkspur resident Bob Pannier said he had read the letter and commended the council and staff on the document. “It goes to the heart of what a lot of us think about the project,” he said. “I live in Larkspur but appreciate the town’s stand on this.”

Earlier in the meeting, Mike Billingsley of the Skyland Community Association conveyed a similar thought. “I came tonight to thank the Town Council and staff for standing up to the county over this Brush Creek proposal and not letting yourselves get bullied by them,” he said.

The council voted 5-0 to send the letter to the county, with council members Jackson Petito and Will Dujardin not at the meeting.

The council plans to have Schmidt, Haver and Cowherd make verbal comments to the Planning Commission during the county’s February 16 public hearing. Each will have a maximum of five minutes to make their points. Schmidt is expected to give an overview perspective, while Haver and Cowherd will talk about conflict with the LUR and overall impact on community character.

In the meantime, the council also voted unanimously to tell the county it does not want the property transferred to Gatesco before the LUR process is complete. They expressed concern that, among other things, deed restrictions making some of the apartments “affordable” could be eliminated in the slight chance of a foreclosure.

MacDonald said while the county had been very responsive to several suggestions made by the town over the draft purchase agreement, there are a couple of “substantive issues” the staff wanted to bring to the attention of the council. The potential loss of deed restrictions is one. The second is the inability of any of the original MOA partners to potentially repurchase the property if certain triggers were not met and the county declined to make the repurchase.

“Attorneys always look at the worst-case scenarios and draft accordingly,” explained town attorney Barbara Green. “The county is reluctant to take our suggestions on these issues because it seems they are concerned they won’t be acceptable to the developer.”

“My concern is that five years down the road things change,” stated Schmidt. “It is very cyclical here. And we have seen the economy change and deed restrictions have been lifted. It makes sense to try to protect the deed restrictions down the road.”

Green said the staff was trying to figure out a way the county could “bind the property” to be used for the original intent of parking and affordable housing, no matter what unfolded in the future.

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