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Brush Creek takes a timeout to attempt new negotiations

Public hearing to reconvene June 29

By Kristy Acuff

In the end, valley residents will have to continue to wait before learning the outcome of the Corner at Brush Creek housing development sketch plan proposal. The Gunnison County Planning Commission opted to postpone any vote at its June 1 public hearing and decided instead to wait and see if the proposed development team, Gatesco, can negotiate an agreement with the town of Crested Butte to tap into the town’s water and sewer systems in exchange for reducing the density of the proposed housing development.

The density of the proposed development has been an area of great contention among opponents who argue that it is not compatible with the surrounding neighborhoods. They say the development would stretch the valley’s capacities beyond their limits. In addition, opponents argue that if the county approves the project with a density of 15.4 units/acre, it will set a precedent for future development in the corridor.

The proposal would house more than 500 residents in 220 units 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 the area median income (AMI). Thirty-eight apartments would be deed-restricted for residents earning between 81 percent and 180 percent of AMI.

In exchange for building affordable housing, the developer would purchase the 14-acre parcel of land for $100,000 from the county. The sale of the land must be approved by three of the four ownership partners.

At issue now is the question of water and sewer for the proposed development. Currently, the plan calls for the developer to build wells and a wastewater treatment plant to service the occupants. At the June 1 hearing, however, the question surfaced from county commissioner John Messner about whether the developers could tap into the town of Crested Butte’s water and sewer, one and a half miles away. In theory, this could decrease the cost of the development and allow the Gatesco team to reduce the number of free-market apartments while still staying afloat financially.

“Is there willingness from the town to offer infrastructure concessions to eliminate the need for free-market units in order to bring the cost and the density down?” asked Messner. “With some infrastructure support, the town could evolve the project and minimize density issues.”

“We did meet with the applicant and offered assistance initially at a work session back in October, but that didn’t seem to be of great interest to the applicant, so we did not pursue it,” responded town planner Dara MacDonald.

“Really? Why is this the first time I’ve heard this? Everything I’ve heard from the town has been ‘no’ to this project,” said planning commissioner Molly Mugglestone. “What would the town come to the table with in terms of density, in order to be willing to help with infrastructure?”

“It depends on design and the balance between affordable versus free-market units. It’s not a hard number and we haven’t discussed this as a council,” replied MacDonald. “And I would add that the town is not the only party to this. I’m not sure the burden should be solely on the town.”

“The applicant [Gatesco] stated that the reason for the free-market units is to pay for infrastructure costs. I would presume the applicant would be open to reduction in free-market units if the town was willing to provide infrastructure,” said Messner.

“Even if the town was willing to provide water and sewer, we would still have to tap in to the closest place, which is near the school,” replied Gatesco attorney Kendell Burgemeister. “So then we absorb that fixed cost of building one and a half miles of water and sewer lines and we have to spread it over fewer units. It is unlikely that will be feasible or any better financially than having water and sewer on site.”

“But is Gatesco willing to negotiate with the town?” asked planning commissioner AJ Cattles.

“Since Gary Gates isn’t present today, it’s impossible for me to give a definitive answer about that,” answered Burgemeister. “But I’m not sure that connecting to the town water and sewer without financial incentives to cover tap fees would move the needle much in terms of density.”

“That sounds like a ‘no,’” replied Cattles.

“But there are different entities that could offer financial assistance,” countered Messner.

“I recommend that the parties involved have this conversation,” added planning commissioner Jack Diani. “I’m sorry that it has taken this long.”

County attorney David Baumgarten then explained the details of continuing the public hearing for an additional 30 days.

“First, let me say that resolutions that are obtained by people coming to agreement rather than those mandated or imposed are always superior,” said Baumgarten. “If there is opportunity for discussion, I suggest we take advantage of that. However, the county cannot direct people to speak to each other, nor can we force them. But the county can keep the public hearing open for another 30 days and give them the window of time. Then, after the window of time closes, you hear back from the parties to see if any agreement was reached.”

The next session of the ongoing public hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. on June 29 at the county courthouse.

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