Wednesday, February 19, 2020

New deal links Long Lake and housing

$3 million project described as a “win-win-win”

By Mark Reaman

A unique three-way deal that will address land protection in the valley and take a significant step toward addressing affordable housing is in the works through the Crested Butte Land Trust (CBLT).

In conjunction with the U.S. Forest Service and the Gunnison Valley Housing Foundation (GVHF), the CBLT is facilitating a land exchange that will fill the coffers for local housing while protecting land around one of the upper valley’s most beloved recreation spots: Long Lake.

Under the proposed exchange that is somewhat complicated, the CBLT would contribute 15 acres of property it owns on Copley Lake to the Forest Service. In addition, the CBLT will also purchase 613 acres of in-holding land in the Fossil Ridge area and give that land to the USFS as well.

In exchange, the Forest Service will give the CBLT 120 acres of property that surround the south and eastern side of Long Lake up Washington Gulch. That Long Lake acreage is essentially a Forest Service inholding surrounded by private property, so this would allow that property to be owned by the CBLT to protect recreational access, wildlife, habitat, its scenic views, and rangeland connectivity.

The housing component of the deal comes from a 2010 agreement between Butch and Judy Clark, the Gunnison Valley Housing Foundation and the Trust For Public Land (TPL). The Clarks wanted to donate a significant piece of land in the Fossil Ridge area to the Housing Foundation at the time. According to GVHF board president Jim Starr, when the original land donation was taking place in 2010, the foundation had not yet acquired its tax-exempt status. To get the deal done, the Clarks went to the TPL and asked the organization to hold the land, which the TPL agreed to do.

So when this final transaction is complete, the Housing Foundation will receive the sales money from the Fossil Ridge property through the TPL. That will net the GVHF about $2.5 million to be used for workforce housing in the county.

An official appraisal came in last week and valued the Fossil Ridge property at $2.915 million. The Long Lake Forest Service property is valued at $3 million. The CBLT has set a fundraising goal of $3.3 million with the additional money to go toward the necessary transaction fees, trailhead infrastructure and a stewardship management endowment.

CBLT executive director Noel Durant said the transaction will not only result in meeting the primary mission of the CBLT but also address another critical issue in the valley: housing.

Lots of winning!

“It is an exciting project and one that touches on different needs for the valley,” Durant said. “Long Lake is incredibly scenic and a well loved recreation area. It is also a critical wildlife habitat, along with being a key component of the ranching landscape, given its connection to the Allen ranch. It hits on the pillars of our land trust mission. On top of that, the deal will address a community need with the affordable housing component. People of all income levels should be able to live up here and enjoy the benefits of the valley. This will help accomplish that. This deal helps keep Crested Butte, Crested Butte.

“When we started this project we looked at this opportunity as a triple win,” Durant continued. “It protects Long Lake, helps make the local national forest more whole and allows this place to be for everyone.”

USFS Gunnison Ranger District ranger Matt McCombs has the same enthusiasm for the project. “From my perspective, the proposed exchange is a model win, win, win,” he said. “A big challenge in land management can be dealing with inholdings, be they public lands surrounded by private property or vice versa. Just like with your neighbors at home, conflict can mount when access, land use or development issues arise. The proposed Fossil Ridge II exchange reduces the potential for these types of challenges by realigning ownership of the parcels to entities better suited to managing them for the overall benefit of the public, over the long term.”

Housing Foundation board president Jim Starr said this is the quintessential “win-win” project for the community.

“We couldn’t ask for a better exchange to come along,” Starr said. “It is really great, given the fact Long Lake has been used for so long, especially by the young people in the Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte communities. To work with the land trust is great. It has always been my concern that as we worked to conserve more and more open space we take away places for people to live and make land more expensive. This project addresses that conundrum by funding the housing foundation.”

Starr said the board has not talked about how to utilize the housing funds that will be accumulated through the project. He said some general discussion about possibly purchasing land for future workforce housing is one possibility. “Land banking is critical as prices rise,” he said. “We have always worked with other entities to help projects along. We’ve participated in Anthracite Place, the RMBL/CBMR seasonal housing project, the four duplexes being built by the town of Crested Butte, and the Lot 22 project next to Rock Creek in Gunnison. We’ve also assisted with some Habitat for Humanity projects. We will likely continue to follow that practice of helping other entities with their projects. We also need an endowment to make sure the Housing Foundation can continue to work on housing into the future. Our challenge is to balance putting up housing now without running out of funds to continue our work in the next three to five years. But we have not talked specifics at all.”

Long-term stewardship part of the plan

Durant explained that an official parking lot by the Meridian Lake Dam and old tennis courts off Washington Gulch Road will be used as the main public trailhead. Hikers and bikers will be able to access the lake over the dam. Signage will be installed and parking infrastructure constructed. That is where some of the additional funds will be spent.

“Long-term stewardship of the property is important to the project. So is working well with all the neighbors who have felt the impact of increased recreation. The Allen ranching family has been incredibly generous in allowing public access across their property to the lake,” he said.

McCombs said that as a public lands manager, he is confident the CBLT will bring good management practices to Long Lake.

“The Crested Butte Land Trust has a demonstrated track record of sustaining and broadening recreation opportunities on the lands they manage and I’m pleased this approach will be taken for the proposed future management of Long Lake as well,” said McCombs. “Factor the unique nexus with one of the Gunnison Valley’s toughest issues, affordable housing, and again—win, win, win.”

“The land exchange to protect Long Lake is a critical investment to protect our quality of life at this end of the valley,” concluded Durant. “People can continue to enjoy Long Lake and there will be active management to protect recreation, wildlife and grazing … all those things make Crested Butte what it is. The reinvestment for affordable housing is another core challenge the valley is facing where we need people of all income levels to live in our valley. That’s another critical issue addressed with this project.”

Starr encouraged everyone to consider donating to this Crested Butte Land Trust project. The CBLT plans to immediately begin a fundraising campaign to raise the $3.3 million, with the intention of completing the transaction by this time next year.

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