Saturday, August 18, 2018
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Keep it simple. Oom pah pah with Brush Creek

As a long-timer said to me over a beer Monday afternoon while polka music Oom pah pahed in the background, “Life is simple if you don’t overcomplicate it.”

True.

Let’s consider that bit of wisdom as we approach what should be the final public hearing for the sketch plan on the proposed Brush Creek affordable housing project. Frankly, the process has not been on the simple side. As I’ve said before, the politics have been atrocious given the choice by the county commissioners to go into the LUR review process immediately rather than have a broad community discussion about the opportunities. The resulting animosity has been a cluster.

After many months of public hearings, studies, charges and countercharges, public relations efforts, numbers manipulations (or interpretation), high roads and low roads, there isn’t much left to say on this sketch plan. The remaining planning commissioners will, in theory, come up with some sort of recommendation to be drawn up by the county planning staff on Friday by noon. That recommendation will then go to the county commissioners, who are the ultimate decision makers and can follow it or do whatever they want.

Taking a step back in what has developed into a sometimes vitriolic atmosphere, the simple truth, believe it or not, is that there is more agreement than not from both sides, if both sides could remove the cataract of ego. The biggest question is agreed upon: Is that parcel appropriate for workforce housing? The answer from just about everyone is a resounding yes.

The issue of contention comes down to one thing: density. The overall question in conflict is about how many people belong on a parcel that size. The developer says he needs the requested density to make the project work financially. That is not normally something considered by a public review body but due to a sort of public-private partnership, there has been no strong objection to the point. The opponents say 220 units of housing bringing in between 500 and 600 people is too much density for 14 acres. They say there are other, better places for that particular density and other, better ways to have workforce housing built on that particular property.

It is simple. Density is the primary conflict because with people come ramifications. More vehicles, more dogs and more cats, more toys like bikes and kayaks, campers, trailers and more snowmobiles, more water to drink, more sewage to flush, more need for more trails (and the chance of losing some current trails as a result of this project), more classroom needs quickly, and more traffic at an increasingly busy intersection are just a few things that come with more people. The two north valley towns will bear the brunt of the ramifications and that is a concern.

The developers contend that “the size, scale, and density of the Project are necessary to make a meaningful impact on the housing shortage given the limited public resources that are available, and while the per unit density is greater than nearby subdivisions, it is nevertheless compatible.”

Not really. It would be compatible in Mt. Crested Butte where similar density already exists, many jobs are located, public transportation is in place, and there is water and sewer potential. Simple common sense sees that this would be out of the norm and out of place for that Brush Creek location so just own that awkward aspect of the equation for what it is.

Look, I appreciate some of the movement on the part of the development team. Adding some for-sale units and reducing the number of projected occupants from the original proposal are good things. Thank you. Still, putting 500 or 600 people in 26 buildings with parking, a sewer plant and a future transit center on that corner acreage is a squeeze. That squeeze will result in consequences. There is not only the consequence of more dogs and more traffic and more sewage as mentioned above but the consequence of developing an island of worker bees in one place that to me feels more like a Breckenridge housing complex than a Crested Butte neighborhood.

That is my long-term concern. If Breck is where we want to head with our decisions, then the decision is simple. Go for the big project at the gateway to Crested Butte that opens the door to other such projects. More is better would be the new precedent! If we want a more unique, Crested Butte-centric project, it will take a new, better process with a fresh, bigger picture discussion. Despite an attitude that north valley elected officials are against a Brush Creek project, they have indicated they would assist a development if given a proposal that works for everyone at both ends of the valley. A proposed tax for workforce housing could help with infrastructure costs also  if approved by voters in the fall. This project has opened new fissures between the two ends of the valley. I don’t believe there are nefarious motives behind the project from the developer but money matters to any developer, which is fair. On the public side of the partnership, widening a community rift doesn’t seem like a great choice for public officials to make.

This Friday a more solid direction should emerge from the planning commissioners. Thank goodness. Kudos to the planners for their resilience and hopefully they have clear enough heads despite the mountains of information thrown their way over the last many months to not overcomplicate the problem: It is simply the density at that location. Fix that and you fix the conflict. Oom pah pah!

—Mark Reaman

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