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Brush Creek public hearing to be continued again in Gunnison

Mark your calendar: June 1 at 10 a.m. 

by Kristy Acuff

It felt a bit like Groundhog Day at the latest public hearing concerning the proposed Corner at Brush Creek housing development at the Gunnison County Planning Commission meeting on Friday, May 4. Approximately 70 citizens attended to voice their opinions, and all but two of them spoke in opposition to the proposed 220-unit development submitted by Gatesco Inc., which is now in the sketch plan stage before the Planning Commission.

In the end, the hearing was continued to June 1 at 10 a.m. in Gunnison at the county courthouse.

The Corner at Brush Creek, if approved, would house more than 500 residents in 26 buildings at the corner of Brush Creek Road and Highway 135 on about 14 acres of land currently owned by Gunnison County in partnership with the towns of Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte and Crested Butte Mountain Resort.

The proposed development includes 20 deed-restricted, for-sale townhomes, and 200 long-term rental apartments, 80 of which would be free-market rentals.

Of the remaining 120 rentals, 82 would be deed-restricted for residents earning less than 80 percent of area median income (AMI) and 38 apartments would be deed-restricted for residents earning between 81 percent and 180 percent of AMI.

The development would also include a community/transit center, a wastewater treatment plant, a small soccer field and more than 400 parking spaces.

In exchange for building affordable housing, the developer would purchase the 14-acre parcel of land for $100,000 from the county.

The Gatesco team began the hearing with a slide show of renderings of the proposed buildings to give an idea of the style and size of the architecture. “The buildings along the perimeter of the development will have pitched roofs covered with cedar, very similar to the existing Skyland home style,” said Gatesco architect Andrew Hadley.

This was followed by a presentation of Gatesco’s numerous Houston apartment complexes, totaling 6,600 units. Gatesco executive Ben VanSomeren touted Gates’ record as a landlord, citing occupancy and rent collection statistics before passing around copies of a 30-page book showing full-color photos of the properties in Gatesco’s portfolio.

The book also included reference letters from Houston citizens supporting Gary Gates.

Gatesco team member Jeff Moffett then presented results from a polling survey that demonstrated what he called “overwhelming support for this project,” citing 1,361 signatures in favor of the corner at Brush Creek, 1,200 of which were collected in Gunnison, according to Moffett.

The planning commissioners then had the chance to ask questions before turning to public comment. Planning commissioner Vince Rogalski asked, “With these apartments, will they include television and WiFi? Or is every homeowner going to subscribe and install their own dish?” Rogalski also asked whether the development would use a public or private wastewater treatment facility.

Gatesco engineer Tyler Harpel, responded that there were three options for wastewater treatment and the team and county would choose an option if and when the proposal made it past the sketch plan phase.

“One option is for the developer to build a private wastewater plant, which is then operated by an operator provided by the county,” said Harpel. “The second option would be for the county to both own and operate a treatment plant, and the third option would be to set up a sanitation district for this 14-acre parcel. That decision will be part of a preliminary plan that is the next phase of this process. “

At this point in the hearing, the commissioners opened it up for public comment, most of which centered on concerns about the project’s high density and its impacts on traffic, the school and local infrastructure, the incompatibility with surrounding neighborhoods and with what some see as inconsistency with the county’s Land Use Resolution (LUR).

Representing the Friends of Brush Creek, a group opposed to the proposal, attorney David Leinsdorf argued that the project should be prohibited based on the LUR stipulation that developments must be compatible with the surrounding area and that the Corner at Brush Creek is not.

“We acknowledge that different densities in the … area are allowed and, for affordable housing, even encouraged. The Friends of Brush Creek’s ‘Enclave’ proposal shows densities that are three times Larkspur’s and six times Skyland can be made compatible,” Leinsdorf read from a letter. “Densities that are nine and 18 times as dense cannot be made compatible … major impacts will be thrust upon Skyland, Larkspur and the entire Brush Creek corridor by squeezing 220 units, 341 bedrooms and 500 residents (and their dogs) on this small parcel … that would urbanize a pre-existing suburban area.”

“I’ve lived in the area for a long time and I rarely agree with David Leinsdorf,” stated John Hess, former town planner for Crested Butte. “But in this case I do agree because the density is too much and that is the focus of the sketch plan. I’m surprised by your questions [addressing the planning commissioners] regarding ‘How are they going to get their television,’ when you should be talking about density.”

“I’ve never seen an application like this that has created such overwhelming opposition,” said Crested Butte mayor Jim Schmidt. “This is the first time I’ve ever seen anybody pay for four-color glossy mailings. I’ve never seen anybody hire paid petitioners before. I hope this is not a sign of things to come … Neither Mt. Crested Butte nor Crested Butte town councils have approved the sale of the property, so why are we looking at this proposal at all?”

“We are looking at the proposal because it was selected by both town councils and the county during the request for proposals [RFP] phase,” stated Gatesco attorney Kendell Burgemeister. “It was unanimously approved with 240 units at the RFP stage and when we were later asked to reduce the density, we did that and all we are asking in return is that we are not responsible for paving the transit center parking lot—and all of a sudden that is a deal breaker?”

“This project has become a dense, non-affordable housing development with no operating transit center,” argued Skyland resident Norman Eastwood. “The housing needs assessment says the county needs 116 units for residents with incomes below $35,000 and this project includes only 33 units at that income level—33 out of 220? Is this really your best effort?”

“Technically all of the units are available to low-income folks,” Burgemeister countered. “Even the free-market units because we included a ‘resident preference’ clause for the leases. These will not become time-shares or ski crash pads for Denver residents, as some have stated here. We will lease the units to valley residents. That has been in the proposal since day one.”

“You are talking about adding 500 people to the Brush Creek Road—500 people trying to turn left onto Brush Creek Road. Who is going to improve that road and add turning lanes to accommodate this?” asked Eileen Whitley. “Will road improvements be completed prior to this development? If there is an accident it could shut down the entire road that now serves between 1,500 and 2,000 people.You talk about the ‘overwhelming support’ for this project. If you have that much support, where are your supporters? I don’t see any of them here.”

“I stand in support of this project,” stated former county commissioner Jim Starr. “I suspect that many people in support of this project are working and cannot attend this hearing. I have always been a proponent of placing workers in housing as close to where they work as possible so they don’t have to spend hours every day in a car or bus. You cannot afford to build workforce housing without it being dense and unless the towns of Mt. Crested Butte, Crested Butte or Crested Butte South will stand up and say ‘We will accept the density in our location,’ this is the only place that is close to these workforce centers.”

SGM Engineering part owner Jerry Burgess agreed, stating, “Consider the relative central location of Brush Creek. It is central to Gunnison and Western [State Colorado University] as well as the north valley and Mt. Crested Butte. If not now, when? If not this developer, who? No one is stepping up with the finances. This project makes a dent in the housing crisis and for that the Gatesco team should be applauded,” Burgess concluded, while also noting that his engineering firm is, in fact, working for the Gatesco team.

In the end, acting Planning Commission chair A.J. Cattles suggested that at the next public hearing, citizens should focus their comments solely on new information. “We are starting to get repeated comments from earlier public hearings on this topic,” said Cattles. “I would urge everyone concerned to focus the next hearing on the new information submitted by the town of Crested Butte as well as Gatesco’s upcoming response.”

Cattles was referring to a 20-page double-sided document submitted April 30 from the town of Crested Butte to the county Planning Commission that solidified the town’s opposition to the proposal based on its incompatibility with the LUR.

The public hearing continuation is scheduled for 10 a.m. on June 1 in Gunnison at the county courthouse.

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