Wednesday, September 19, 2018
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Council asks county to turn down Brush Creek plan

Town basically wants more public discussion on best use

By Mark Reaman

With the intent to hold substantive public discussions on what is suitable for the 14 acres of land at the corner of Highway 135 and Brush Creek Road, the Crested Butte Town Council is sending a letter to the county commissioners before Friday’s county Planning Commission meeting.

They’re asking for one of three decisions by the county: Deny the current 220-unit Corner at Brush Creek sketch plan proposal; approve the Gatesco proposal with significant changes to density, scale, and water and sewer plans; or further delay the decision to possibly get all four entities that are part of the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) that control the property to discuss a different project.

The MOA includes the county, the town, the town of Mt. Crested Butte and Crested Butte Mountain Resort. The county is set to resume a Planning Commission public hearing on the matter Friday morning, July 20 and a decision on the sketch plan is possible. The council will also send a shorter letter to the Mt. Crested Butte council, basically asking them to join Crested Butte in its request for a meeting of the MOA partners to be held in public.

The Friends of Brush Creek, through attorney David Leinsdorf, requested the town ask for an extension of the county’s public hearing process. The citizens’ group has outlined a series of conditions it would like to see as part of any affordable housing proposal on the property.

The Friends of Brush Creek initial conditions include: building between 80 and 120 units on the site; providing a regional transit center with at least 85 parking spaces located near the highway; and including open space, parks, trails and a softball/soccer field with stands and sufficient parking.

They want the development to hook up to existing utility providers such as the East River Regional Sanitation District and the Skyland Metropolitan District. Their 120-unit outline for a development includes both rental and ownership units, all of which would be deed-restricted to residents earning less than 120 percent of the Area Median Income (AMI), which is about $60,000 for a single person. According to the outline, compatibility with the neighborhood is crucial.

Crested Butte mayor Jim Schmidt said he wasn’t thrilled with the idea of meeting with the MOA partners while an application was under review. But he insisted a more publicly inclusive process be used to determine what goes on the land.

“I’m happy to see the Friends of Brush Creek willing to talk about parameters and willing to work with an acceptable project,” said councilman Chris Haver.

“I think this application needs to be denied so an open discussion can happen,” said Schmidt.

“Positions have changed and developed through the process so a meeting of the MOA partners could be helpful,” said councilman Will Dujardin.

In June, county commissioners approved an endeavor by county attorney David Baumgarten to stimulate dialogue between stakeholders. He has been meeting with various groups in an effort to find common ground and potential compromise. The county Planning Commission’s continuation of the public hearing is scheduled for Friday, July 20 from 10 a.m. to noon at the county courthouse in Gunnison.

Gatesco representative John O’Neal was at the council meeting and said developer Gary Gates has “been sitting down with a lot of folks and listening. I don’t know of any changes to the proposal.”

Schmidt noted that Gates had not reached out to the town for a meeting to discuss the project since Baumgarten began his efforts.

Leinsdorf said his group’s outline was an effort to get away from the charges that the north end of the valley was simply saying “‘no” to a project at that location. “This is a way to get people at this end of the valley to say ‘yes’ to a project,” he said. “We were asking for a delay to give time to the upper valley to come to a consensus.”

Councilmember Paul Merck said discussing details of a project could be productive if stakeholders made it clear what they wanted to see.

“The tough thing is we asked for that type of community public process at the beginning and were told by the county manager that the county does it through the Land Use Resolution [LUR] process,” said Schmidt. “We then responded through the LUR process the way it is set up and the way we thought they wanted and then suddenly they took a 180-degree turn with this non-negotiating negotiating.”

“I appreciate the Friends of Brush Creek coming up with something positive,” said Dujardin. “Some of the initial commentary wasn’t positive. There are some good points on this outline but I personally don’t think it is dense enough. I think Gatesco will laugh at this.”

Schmidt pointed out that the number of deed-restricted units proposed by the Friends served more lower-income residents than the current Gatesco proposal, which includes 80 units of free-market housing.

“Chances are Friday is crunch time with the county Planning Commission,” said Leinsdorf. “If you want to say no, no, no, then say it. But we think strategically it is important to say an opportunity is there for a project at that location with certain parameters.”

“I agree with a lot of this outline but don’t think it is fair for the council to make a quick decision to support it since we received it just today,” said Haver.

“I’m not comfortable with the town citing the Friends of Brush Creek in a letter to the county,” said Dujardin. “There is zero chance Gates will agree to all these conditions. I’m a little nervous tying ourselves too closely with the Friends of Brush Creek.”

“Go through the list and keep what you want and discard what you don’t,” suggested Leinsdorf. “But this proposal targets rentals at below 120 percent AMI where there is a need. We address more of the need than the 220 units on the table.”

“But the context is missing that there is someone willing to put up all the money with the 220 units,” responded Dujardin. “And that’s a big difference.”

“The council letter can be broad,” suggested town manager Dara MacDonald. “It can say if approved it should be done with substantive changes like those proposed by the Friends of Brush Creek.”

“At some point if it is a whole new project, when is the time to start anew,” asked Schmidt.

“This proposal isn’t perfect but we don’t see a downside of asking for these types of conditions,” said Leinsdorf.

The council agreed to send a letter to the county asking they do one of three things: deny the sketch plan outright; approve it with significant changes that are more compatible with the existing neighborhood and addresses town concerns; or delay the decision if all the partners are willing to hold public discussions to better formulate a plan.

“It’s been a long, strange trip,” noted Schmidt to conclude the discussion.

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