Friday, October 18, 2019

Council turns down Hunter Ridge annexation quest; developer heading to county

Developer looking at county instead of Mt. CB

By Cayla Vidmar

The Mt. Crested Butte Town Council denied the proposed annexation of the hotly debated 10.28-acre parcel on the south side of Hunter Hill Road, known as the Hunter Ridge annexation, at its last meeting. The developer, Jamie Watt, has wasted no time speaking with the county to develop the property, and is now considering multifamily units on the site.

Council members raised several concerns on June 19, including the type of soil testing completed by the developer, the lack of need for this type of development in Mt. Crested Butte based on real estate inventory, and if it would truly meet community goals.

The public had raised concerns throughout the process, and had a chance to air those concerns once again at the public hearing before the Town Council vote. Included in the agenda packet was a letter from Crested Butte town manager Dara MacDonald, who stressed, “This development will create additional burdens on the valley’s workforce … from the need for construction workers to install utilities and to construct homes to servers and lift operators to provide services to future residents.” MacDonald implored the council to carefully consider requiring the developer to provide affordable housing within the development, which was not included in the plan.

Other concerns included the slope and soil stability of the parcel, with many in opposition concerned about the unstable nature of the mancos shale present in the building sites. Though the developer stated that no retaining walls would be needed to stabilize the homes, the public was not convinced. Community members mainly cited personal experience and referenced other developments with similar geological features that required significant excavation and retaining walls—a burden typically placed on the homeowner, not the developer.

Pat Mullen, a resident of Hunter Hill Road, recounted her difficulty and the expenses she has incurred for excavation and construction of five retaining walls and soil nails—difficulties she states are not on the radar for typical homeowners. In a letter to the Town Council, Mt. Crested Butte resident Nancy Grindlay echoed that concern, writing, “I am concerned about the potential risk of developing on geologically unstable land. To a large extent, this risk and expense will not be borne by Hunter Ridge, LLC, but passed on to future (unsuspecting?) landowners and ultimately to the Town.”

Longtime Crested Butte real estate professional Jaima Giles spoke, arguing against the need for a development of this kind in the Mt. Crested Butte market. Giles stated there are currently 55 vacant lots for sale in Mt. Crested Butte, with days on the market ranging from three to 3,642. Giles wrote in her letter to the council that “inventory is still incredibly low valley-wide in price points between $200,000 to $500,000 and extremely high in price points of $1 million and above.” Giles continued her argument, writing, “The data tells us that Mt. Crested Butte does not have a demand for, or an economic need for, additional housing projects on the mountain… regardless of the Vail announcement or anyone’s perception of an upcoming market increase.”

Paul Hooge, a resident of Mt. Crested Butte, announced to the council the creation of a documentary short film chronicling the mancos shale issue and development in Mt. Crested Butte. “Because of these arguments and because of these problems, we have started producing a short film about the mancos shale and the history of the town in not dealing with the problems with the abandoned projects and how they affect our view as well as our pocketbooks as taxpayers when a bond is not secured for cleanup, which has happened.”

Jamie Watt, the developer, spoke before the Town Council explaining his desire and addressing concerns from the public, which primarily focused on the soil and the slope of the proposed annexation.

Regarding the slope and need for retaining walls, Watt stated, “The houses are going to sit on the uphill side of the avalanche zone, where there’s only 22 to 24 percent uphill grade.”

Mt. Crested Butte community development director Carlos Velado stated that situation “is not uncommon for homes in Mt. Crested Butte.”

Watt continued, arguing, “The houses themselves will not need retaining walls.”

Watt explained “I more than satisfied the soil testing by digging six test pits and the Planning Commission passed my proposal with the condition that more soils testing be performed by the time we come to the preliminary plan and my engineers will have an updated report by that time.”

Watt will not have the opportunity to furnish an updated report because the council denied his annexation request. The denial was a shock to Watt, who later cited the Planning Commission’s May 16 conditional approval of the sketch plan, and stated, “The council is basically rendering the Planning Commission useless.”

During the discussion among council members, Velado and the developer, questions were raised that ultimately led the council to deny the annexation.

Councilman Nicholas Kempin reiterated the public’s concerns about the slope and soil, stating, “To add on to the overarching theme we’re hearing from the public is, potential buyers come in and do their due diligence and find out it’s going to be prohibitively expensive to keep their houses from moving down the slope. What’s in place to keep this from happening?”

That question sparked a conversation on requiring the developer to put up a letter of credit to cover the expenses for the project.

Councilwoman Lauren Daniel said, “One thing I’ve been looking at is the community plan from 2007. There’s a section in the land use growth and management that states the intent to create a vibrant year-round community, and a community with a strong sense of place in Mt. Crested Butte. I’m not sure the seven lots proposed really fill that plan or goal.”

Councilwoman Janet Farmer added, “I’m not sure how requirements for public space are being met.”

There was much back and forth between Watt and council members regarding retaining walls and if they’d actually be an issue, and who would cover the cost. Ultimately, councilwoman Daniel moved to deny the proposed annexation, with all council members except mayor Todd Barnes voting to deny the proposal.

In a later conversation with Watt this week, he stated his intention to go through the county to develop the parcel, and that he is “probably going to change the configuration on the lot. I’ve been told I can go multifamily.” It is clear that Watt was not expecting the vote to go the way it did, stating, “The town has wanted that property annexed for 30 years and this council fell for fear mongering.”

Watt continued, noting the money and fees the town would be missing out on by denying the annexation. According to the impact report compiled by Velado for the development, those fees collected by the town include: development fees totaling $219,385, ad valorum taxes at either $3,116 or $8,754 annually depending if the lots are developed or undeveloped, and the employee housing mitigation (community housing) fee which totals $206,334.

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