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Brush Creek sketch plan leans toward an approval

Public hearing on the sketch plan closes

By Kristy Acuff

The Gunnison County Planning Commission heard just over 60 minutes of comments during the final session of the public hearing on the proposed The Corner at Brush Creek affordable housing development sketch plan on Friday, July 20. County staff was instructed to draft an approval document with conditions.

Approximately 100 people attended the hearing concerning the sketch plan of the 220-unit housing development that would sit on the 14 acres of land currently owned by the county at the corner of Brush Creek Road and Highway 135.

In addition, county attorney David Baumgarten and attorney for the developer, Gatesco Inc., Kendall Burgemeister reported the results of recent efforts to bring multiple valley stakeholders to the table to discuss the proposal with the Gatesco team, as directed by the county last month.

In response to a proposed idea that the affordable housing project be moved to Mt. Crested Butte, Burgemeister reported that while the Mt. Crested Butte council has authorized town staff to evaluate the town’s 17-acre parcel near its town hall as a potential site for affordable housing, “If they decide to go that route, they indicated that [developer] Gary Gates would not be given first dibs to that land parcel, nor would that land parcel be connected in any way to the proposed Brush Creek development.”

In addition, Burgemeister addressed a previous suggestion that the housing development tap into the East River Sanitation District’s wastewater treatment plant instead of building its own stand-alone treatment plant.

Proponents of this idea suggest that could drive down costs and allow the density of the development to be reduced without impacting profit.

“The East River Sanitation District directed us to file an official application so they can evaluate whether or not they can serve this project and amend their rules to allow reduced tap fees for workforce housing,” said Burgemeister. “We are submitting an application but we don’t anticipate that connection to drive down development costs significantly. But it would eliminate the need for an additional wastewater treatment plant.

“And we also spoke with Skyland Metro District about tapping into its water and were told that is not an option, so we will proceed with our proposed well,” said Burgemeister.

Jim Schmidt, mayor of Crested Butte, described the meetings between Gatesco and the Town Council that, he said, did not produce substantive results. “The process evoked a good deal of frustration for our citizens,” said Schmidt. “The council discussed this during four separate meetings that the developers attended but never presented substantive adaptations to the proposed project. They presented no alternatives to the current proposal.”

Later in the hearing, planning commissioner Molly Mugglestone asked Schmidt if the town of Crested Butte had ever offered subsidy in the form of tap fees for water and sewer, from the town to the applicant, an idea that surfaced during the previous Planning Commission hearing.

“I am offended by the idea that we, the town, are asked to subsidize this developer. Why are we being asked about this? Why isn’t the county being asked about this?” replied Schmidt. “This person has no property rights to the property. We have very limited actual public water. Coal Creek is a trickle this year and the idea that we are beholden to this particular developer and we would subsidize with town water—I find that offensive.”

David Leinsdorf, attorney representing the Friends of Brush Creek, a group that submitted an alternative housing development proposal last week to the Planning Commission, spoke about the stipulations of the Land Use Resolution (LUR) governing development in the county.

“The LUR states the proposed development must be compatible with the surrounding neighborhood and if you consider this proposal compatible, then, anything must be compatible by that definition,” said Leinsdorf. “The LUR does not authorize modifications to its standards even for a worthy project like affordable housing and this project represents significant modifications of existing standards.”

Following the presentations from the town of Crested Butte and the applicant, the Planning Commission opened the hearing up to the public for comment.

Kyleena Falzone, owner of the Secret Stash and Bonez restaurants in Crested Butte, spoke first. “I employ 150 people on payroll and housing is a critical, a massive issue for our county. It is hard to run a business when you don’t know if your staff will be around for the season because they lose their place to live. I am in support of this project moving from sketch plan to preliminary plan with conditions. One condition I have is that the units have to be governed and regulated by the Gunnison Valley Regional Housing Authority so we make sure to get them occupied by the workers who need the housing. This isn’t just about me. It’s about keeping the community together.”

Eileen Whitley expressed concerns about the density of the project and the traffic and parking problems that will ensue as a result. “This housing proposal is going to put 50 to 60 people per acre in a county where the average density is three people per acre. That is not quality of life,” said Whitley. “In addition, they are proposing 1.1 parking spaces per bedroom. That is inadequate. In the River neighborhood we have 1.5 spaces per bedroom and that is not enough. But in this development, where is the overflow going to park? On Brush Creek Road? On the highway? That is unsafe and illegal. And the traffic is going to be coming out of the development trying to turn left, first onto Brush Creek Road and then onto the highway. You are talking about 500 residents trying to turn left in a space of 450 feet. There will be no room to merge.”

George Gibson raised concerns about increasing construction costs forcing Gatesco to either reduce the quality of the project or increase expenses and threaten bankruptcy with the county. “Gatesco claims a 2 percent profit margin on this project,” said Gibson. “We can be pretty certain that construction costs are going to increase well beyond that 2 percent during the course of this project and you will end up with a slum building or something half-built, while the developer walks away.”

Kevin Hartigan, owner of the Last Steep Bar and Grill in Crested Butte, reiterated many of Falzone’s arguments in favor of the project with conditions. “The need for housing is now. It is incredibly challenging to run a business now, and ideally I would love to see this density spread throughout the valley. I care deeply about this community and I am open 363 days every year. I have workers who could be employed year-round but have to split because they lose their housing,” said Hartigan. “This isn’t the only solution but it is a step in the right direction.”

Lisa Merck, owner of Sopris Women’s Clinic, also spoke in favor of the project with conditions. “I am in support of this project with the condition that it is regulated so we don’t have people coming in from out of county, buying up our housing for our county’s workers,” said Merck.

Sam Lumb spoke in opposition to the project, stating, “I served on the Planning Commission and when I served, we denied an inappropriate development because it did not meet the LUR requirements. I implore you to deny this project. It is inappropriate and does not meet the LUR. That is your job.”

After just over an hour of testimony, the Planning Commission officially closed the public hearing and is now moving in the direction to approve the proposed sketch plan with conditions.

Planning commissioners directed the county staff to write a draft of conditions addressing density, parking, income qualifications for deed restrictions, wastewater treatment and water availability, traffic flow and a transit center. Staff estimates the draft will be prepared in three weeks and presented to the Planning Commission for review.

The Planning Commission must vote on the sketch plan within 60 days of the close of the public hearing on Friday, July 20.

“I can’t think of a sketch plan that has ever been approved without conditions,” said Cathie Pagano, county director of community and economic development. “Our job is now to take what we have heard and gathered from public comments during this hearing and synthesize it into conditions for the Planning Commission to consider.”

If the Planning Commission approves the sketch plan, the applicant would generate a more detailed preliminary plan that would then be subject to further review from both the public and the Planning Commission. Prior to any construction, however, at least thre of the four stakeholders in the 14-acre property under consideration must agree to sell it to Gatesco for $100,000. The stakeholders include the towns of Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte, Gunnison County and Crested Butte Mountain Resort.

“It is our intent to obtain approval from three of the four stakeholders before moving into the preliminary plan phase,” said Gatesco attorney Burgemeister.

“Why not obtain approval from all four?” asked planning commissioner A.J. Cattles.

“Because we only need a majority of stakeholders,” answered Burgemeister.

“But can the Planning Commission require that Gatesco obtain approval from all four as a condition of sketch plan? I want to keep peace in this valley and I think all four parties should approve,” stated Cattles, prompting county attorney David Baumgarten to intervene.

“I would caution you not to conflate your decision on sketch plan with the execution of a real estate contract. I would suggest to you that since there is an offer of three of the four of the stakeholders, you don’t want to exceed that offer with a condition. You keep to the limits set by the applicant,” stated Baumgarten.

“But the town of Crested Butte is closest to this and has the most at stake here and so the three out of four really worries me. I want to keep peace in the valley,” reiterated Cattles.

“Let me say it again more clearly: Limit that condition to that which is offered to you or we get into legal liability,” said Baumgarten.

“I was really hoping for more substantive details to emerge from the recent talks between Gatesco and the towns of Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte and if we keep it to three of the four stakeholders, then the talks might not continue as we hope they will,” said Cattles.

“Remember that approval of the sketch plan shall constitute approval for the general development concept only, not of specifics. Approval of the sketch plan would also authorize the applicant to submit a preliminary plan if he gets three of the four stakeholders to approve,” said Baumgarten.

At which point the planning commissioners generated a list of general conditions that must be addressed in order for the sketch plan to be approved. The list included density, parking, traffic flow, water availability and wastewater treatment, AMI (area median income) requirements for deed restrictions, and trails and public access.

“In addition to this general list, are there specific outlines or details of conditions you want?” asked Pagano.

“Water,” answered planning commissioner Jack Diani. “I would like a condition that states the applicant must test the well during the driest time of the year to ensure there is adequate water for the development.”

“And I would add the condition that the applicant secure the permanency of the deed restrictions so they will not be lifted in the event of economic downturn or other extenuating circumstances,” added planning commissioner Vince Rogalski.

“And make sure the applicant continues to pursue the application for wastewater treatment with the East River Sanitation District,” said planning commissioner Molly Mugglestone.

“In conclusion, I just want to thank the public and ask that they continue to have patience with us and thank you to the parties who have been involved in these conversations for the past six weeks,” said Cattles, addressing the audience at the end.

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