Housing is the priority but how much?
by Mark Reaman
A neighborhood meeting held with town officials and residents located near Block 76 in Crested Butte, the strip of land that sits against the Rainbow Park soccer field, elicited various ideas of how to use the property, ranging from making it a part of the current park to discussing how much housing to place there.
Housing carried the day but the neighbors all seemed to agree that the location was not appropriate for high-density units. Instead, building duplexes, tri-plexes or four-plexes appeared to be the dominant opinion.
Led by Crested Butte community development director Michael Yerman, the Tuesday evening meeting held at the Rainbow Park pavilion drew about 40 people. Yerman explained that at the time the property was annexed to town, the property was platted to be either “future development” or a park. That decision was to come after all the lots in blocks 79 and 80 (the Paradise Park subdivision) were completely built out with affordable housing.
Yerman said while that hasn’t happened yet, the town has been discussing with the developer, Bill Lacy, beginning construction on housing units as early as next year. Currently seven lots and eleven units are allocated for the strip. Development of that property would be in conjunction with some other affordable housing tri-plexes in Paradise Park.
“The annexation was controversial at the time and we agreed then that this property decision about whether it would be a park or housing would be made later when the rest of the property was built out. That’s pretty much where we are now,” explained mayor Jim Schmidt, who was on the council when the annexation was approved.
Yerman explained that combining housing on that parcel along with some of the still empty lots in Paradise Park would keep costs down for developers. He said holding such a neighborhood meeting to get input was an effort to get big-picture issues like density solved before the parcel went to the design review process.
“There will be lots of time for people to comment on things like density,” Yerman said. “But the council is adamant that [the parcel] be used for housing. We want to keep the ball rolling, given the housing need, and we have put out a Request for Qualifications [RFQ] seeking developers who can build such housing.”
Yerman said the council would review submittals and choose three finalists to consider leading the $5 million to $7 million project.
“This is not a quick process. Even starting today, it will take a few years to get these units on line,” said town planner Bob Nevins.
Nearby property owner Michael Graeber strongly insisted the land should be kept as a park. “Why are you all jumping the gun?” he asked. “It was meant to be a park. It is used for snow storage, so where are you going to put that snow? Everyone has trouble finding housing when they first get here. I had four jobs and commuted from Gunnison in 1976. It’s the same today.”
Schmidt said the land was always meant to be either a park or a spot for housing. Yerman said the Town Council had been clear it would be used for deed-restricted housing and said every government entity in the valley considered the lack of workforce housing a top priority. Yerman did say the town public works department was looking at developing snow storage on the property across from the Gas Café where the new sledding hill is slated to be relocated to replace the lot.
Yerman pointed out that over the years the town had made decisions to limit its expansion potential and thus the town was limited in the amount of town-owned property it could use for housing. He said the next best opportunity was probably in the proposed Slate River annexation on the town’s north boundary.
“So with the limited land we have left, is it better to develop 500-square-foot studios for single people or 800-square-foot two-bedroom, two-bath apartments? Most of these would be for-sale units and buyers would have to meet the deed-restricted qualifications for year-round locals,” Yerman explained.
Neighbor Bill Quiggle said he thought a series of duplexes on the property was appropriate. “Duplexes create a better neighborhood feel and better living conditions than a big apartment complex,” he said.
“I know two dozen people in the 30 to 40-year-old range who want to be here year-round and want to be part of the community. They aren’t seasonal employees looking for a seasonal lease,” said a self described manager of a business in town.
“We aren’t talking about putting a big Anthracite Place on the land,” said Yerman. “Most would be for sale to year-round locals. We are considering letting some businesses buy some units so they can rent them to employees.”
“We have always looked at the town focusing on for-sale units and the rentals being located on the mountain through Mt. Crested Butte or the ski area,” added Schmidt. “Unfortunately some of the rentals lost their deed restrictions, like the old Marcellina complex. As for duplexes versus four-plexes, I live in Poverty Gulch in a duplex and from the outside it looks like a duplex but houses four single men. It works.”
Former town building and zoning director Bob Gillie provided some history of the property, saying the intent after the annexation was to make that area a place for local workers that felt like the rest of Crested Butte. “We wanted a neighborhood where there was a mix of different units and not just a place where people would think it was an affordable housing neighborhood. The town has been diligent about zoning and it is meant to make compatible uses in a specific area.
“There is a high need for housing and the community needs people to live and work here,” Gillie continued. “Personally, I think high density in block 76 is not the right thing to do. The question everyone needs to answer is whether we are willing to sacrifice livability and neighborhood for density. No matter what, you won’t solve the whole problem.”
Yerman said some density could be accomplished through good planning and good design and it would be up to the three developers chosen by the council after the RFQ submittals to figure out how best to utilize the property.
Schmidt reiterated that the council wanted to provide affordable housing but keep the neighborhood feel of the area. He said the council was considering not just the need for increased density but also the ramifications of development, such as traffic and snow storage.
Former town planner John Hess said one of his concerns was that by hiring a single developer, all the buildings would look the same, so he suggested the lots be built individually. Yerman responded that the economies of scale could make the buildings less expensive, plus the chances of individuals finding subcontractors in the current economic climate were slim.
Gillie advised that the town should slow down. “We originally anticipated this would take 30 to 40 years to build out. You can be patient,” he said. “You don’t have to do everything in one year. There will be a housing issue forever, so do it right, not fast.”
The local business manager said many of his generation were environmentally conscious. They weren’t having children and they didn’t want large homes. “I would love to see reducing the size of the houses from an environmental standpoint,” he said.
Long-time local resident Tracey Smith said he’s been in town 40 years and recently became homeless. “We need 400-square-foot to 500-square-foot units for older senior citizens who have contributed a lot of local equity to the community,” he said.
Hillary French noted that there were plenty of housing needs in town, from older single guys to young families hoping to start a family in Crested Butte. “Diversity is the answer more than density,” she said.
Yerman said the council would select potential developers in early August. Another neighborhood meeting with the developers in attendance will be held August 15. From there, the developers will draw up a proposal and present it to the council in late September.