Some optimism, some frustration, lots of work to do
By Mark Reaman
A flurry of meetings about the potential Brush Creek affordable housing proposal are ongoing and the next big one is set for Tuesday afternoon, when the Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte town councils have scheduled a joint work session on the matter.
Stakeholder representatives including those from the two towns, Crested Butte Mountain Resort, Skyland, the East River Sanitation District, Friends of Brush Creek, Kyleena Falzone representing local businesses that support the proposal for workforce housing on that site and developer Gary Gates of Gatesco Inc. met Monday at the county under the guidance and facilitation of county attorney David Baumgarten. Baumgarten described the meeting as ending in “qualified optimism,” as no stakeholder walked away from future discussions.
“We presented a long list of outstanding issues to make sure everyone was on the same page,” Baumgarten explained about the closed meeting. “It was time to not talk in general about affordable housing but about this proposal at this site.”
While the county review process has passed the proposal through its sketch plan review process with several conditions, one main condition is that three of the four partners in the land must sign off on a development concept before the developer can apply to go into the preliminary plan review phase.
The “fulcrum” vote on that issue is Mt. Crested Butte, since the other three have made it clear where they stand. Gunnison County and CBMR are in favor, while Crested Butte is against the proposal as it’s drawn.
Baumgarten reported that Mt. Crested Butte mayor Todd Barnes was candid in his thoughts and threw out a unit density number of 148 for the project.
Baumgarten said Gates confirmed he was willing to continue working to see if a development could be worked out, “but [Gates] demonstrated the problem with financing numbers and the need for free market units.”
During an interview on Tuesday, Gates said he could not responsibly come down from the 180 maximum unit number imposed by the county Planning Commission as one of the sketch plan approval conditions. “I didn’t want to go there but I got whacked,” he said. “No developer would be able to make this work at these numbers. The bank wouldn’t finance it.”
Gates said he had the ability and connections to build the apartments at below-market construction costs that made the development feasible, but with a very thin working margin. His initial reconfiguration of the project would provide deed-restricted units for people making just 30 percent of the AMI up to supplying several free market units. Based on the 261 bedrooms in the 180 units he said the resident count would be dropped to 376.
“We have to cut back a lot of the features we wanted to provide initially,” Gates said. “The underground parking, the transit center parking lot, for example. We will cut out the washer and dryer in each unit and put in a central laundry. We will focus on smaller units.”
Gates said he believed that if he walked away from the project, and a new proposal was started from scratch, it would be another three to five years before anything would get done on that property. He believes in that case, a much smaller project with more public tax subsidies would be the end result. “While some people would be content with that, it would be devastating to the ever growing affordable housing situation,” he commented.
He said that if everyone could start working together on the current proposal, he was optimistic that it would possible to “still have units ready to move into by late next year (2019).”
Barnes said his take on the Monday meeting was positive. “Overall it was very positive to have multiple parties in the room to discuss the matter and air any grievances or ask any questions they might have,” he said. “I believe we are close to a solution that will benefit the valley and its occupants—current and future.”
Barnes said that with the upcoming development of deed restricted “for sale” units in both Mt. Crested Butte and Crested Butte, he would prefer rental units at Brush Creek. He also said transit facilities and a soccer field were important as was the current proportional mix of AMI limits.
Friends of Brush Creek president Bob Pannier said the organization “supports the towns of Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte and encourages their on-going discussion to find consensus in the North Valley for the best use of the land. We also support development of the lot utilizing the existing municipal resources to their fullest extent. The number of units is a function of the sectioning of the parcel for Other Approved Uses (transit and such) and developing the remaining acreage in a reasonable and responsible manner.”
Pannier relayed to the Monday working group that his organization’s concerns weren’t necessarily about the density as much as the impacts.
Crested Butte town manager Dara MacDonald said that while everyone agrees affordable housing should be located on the Brush Creek parcel, the town also believes that an intercept parking lot and a multi-purpose playing field should be components of the development on that site as well.
“There is an opportunity to make a good project here that fits in the community and we have an obligation to get the best project possible on publically owned land,” MacDonald said. “Town is not set on a unit count or bedroom count but rather on a project that fits with the community and uses that meet the needs of the community.” She also said that the town is not asking the developer to build the intercept lot or field, but rather that the land be set aside.
A meeting of the MOA partners was also held Tuesday where no decisions were made but the parties agreed to continue talking.
A joint work session to discuss the project developments with the two town councils is set for Tuesday, September 4 in Mt. Crested Butte. A Mt. Crested Butte work session with Gates is set for September 18. The next Baumgarten facilitation meeting is penciled in for September 25.
“Ultimately the question we are all trying to answer is, ‘Can the project be massaged for this site?’” concluded Baumgarten. “Yes or no? We then will move on, one way or the other. So far, everyone has indicated they will come back and keep talking. So the meeting ended Monday with qualified optimism.”