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Brush Creek sketch plan approved by the county

180 units, land for parking lot, well testing for neighbors

By Kristy Acuff

The Gunnison Board of County Commissioners approved the sketch plan for The Corner at Brush Creek housing proposal on August 7, with conditions. The applicant, Gatesco Inc., now has one year to prepare a more detailed preliminary plan to submit for review by the Planning Commission. One condition imposed by the county is that the applicant must first obtain the approval of the sketch plan from three of the four parties needed to transfer the 14-acre property before moving ahead with a preliminary plan. Those parties include the towns of Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte, Gunnison County and Crested Butte Mountain Resort.

In the sketch plan, Gatesco Inc. proposed building 220 housing units on the site, but commissioners approved a maximum of 180 units, including 16 “for sale” deed-restricted units. With a proportional reduction of units, of the remaining 164 units, 65 would be free-market rentals, while the rest would be deed-restricted based on the area median income (AMI) for Gunnison Valley workers. Twenty-seven units would be reserved for those earning less than 50 percent of the AMI; 40 units would be for those earning less than 80 percent of the AMI; 21 units would be reserved for those earning less than 120 percent of the AMI; and 10 units would be for those earning less than 180 percent of the AMI.

For reference, in 2015, the AMI was $50,200 per year for a single person and $71,700 per year for a family of four. Overall, 63 percent of the 180 units would be deed-restricted in some way. In addition, the deed restrictions stipulate that each unit would be priced at no more than 30 percent (including utilities) of an individual’s or family’s income.

As part of the approval, commissioner John Messner suggested that the number of units available for those earning 120 percent or less than the AMI be kept the same as the original 220-unit sketch plan proposed. Under the 220-unit proposal, 108 units were restricted to those earning 120 percent or less of the AMI. Under the 180-unit plan, 88 units would be deed-restricted for the same income bracket.

“I am concerned that by reducing the density of the project from 220 to 180 units we are losing some of those units reserved for those earning 120 percent and less. We are looking at decreasing from 108 down to 88 units at that income level,” said Messner. “I would like to encourage the applicant to try to preserve that 108 number if it is economically feasible to do so.”

“We can include language to that effect,” said county attorney David Baumgarten.

“I want to make sure that generating the maximum number of units for those earning 120 percent or less of the AMI remains paramount, even with this reduction in density,” said Messner.

To accommodate the concern, language was added to the sketch plan conditions stating, “… as economically feasible, the number of units at 120 percent AMI and below remain the same for the proposed 180 units  [as it was for the 220 units].”

In addition, commissioners added to the condition that the lease terms for all rentals be a minimum of six months with a statement specifically prohibiting “short-term rentals,” which they defined as any rental for a period of less than six months.

To address concerns about the impacts of the housing development on surrounding water supplies, audience member George Gibson suggested the commissioners require the applicant install “pressure transducers” on neighboring wells to identify the impacts from the applicant’s well. Commissioners agreed and included the condition in their approval. In addition, the applicant must test the site well for the development during the driest periods and install a pressure transducer to monitor ground water on the well on a regular basis.

To prevent the lifting of deed restrictions in the event of economic downturn or foreclosure, the commissioners also stipulated, “The applicant shall, to the maximum extent feasible, adopt deed restrictions on the proposed units that shall be maintained in perpetuity, even in the case of foreclosure.” However, county manager Matthew Birnie clarified that the condition could apply only to the rental units, because buyers for the for-sale units would not be able to obtain financing if the deed restriction was listed as a primary term.

The conditions also stated that an unspecified number of the 14 acres be dedicated for an intercept parking lot along Highway 135, but that the applicant would not be responsible for the cost of construction, maintenance or operation of the lot. The applicant may dedicate a portion of the 14 acres for the parking lot through conveyance of the land back to the county, or through a long-term lease.

Before opening the meeting to members of the audience, commissioner Messner addressed the crowd, saying, “There really is no easy solution to this housing crisis that is affecting all of Colorado. At its root, this project is designed to address some of the housing problems we face. But this is just a sliver of the housing that needs to be developed to ensure and maintain a vibrant, working community in Gunnison County. I would like to extend thanks to the previous commissioners who, in 1998, had the foresight to purchase this parcel of land and built incentives into the Land Use Resolution [LUR] to encourage development of affordable housing projects like this one. I appreciate their efforts and I appreciate very much the public input and the amount of time and consideration that people have put into this process.”

Commissioner Phil Chamberland then opened up the meeting to comment from the capacity crowd. Grant Bremer from Skyland Metro District and the East River Sanitation District asked what the county could do to make the project more feasible than its current iteration. “I have attended all of the public hearings and I have heard you ask, ‘What can Skyland do? What can the town of Crested Butte do to make this project happen?’” said Bremer. “Never has anyone asked, ‘What can the county do?’ Never have I seen the county offer anything. One thing that needs addressing is the road itself. Brush Creek Road is a county road that is basically a ranch road with chip seal. There are no shoulders, no turning lanes, no striping and it serves multiple subdivisions and multiple users including pedestrians and cyclists. And now it is potentially going to serve an additional 180-unit housing development. It needs attention.”

“Whether or not this project moves forward, that road is a high priority for the county,” replied Chamberland. “We will work diligently with the state to find funding to build out that road.”

Skyland resident Bob Pannier expressed frustration with the year-long process that is now concluding. Pannier stated, “We are a year into this process and things have barely evolved. Now we’re talking a minimum of two to four years—not including the time for lawsuits—before anything is built. We are better off starting from scratch.” Pannier then interrupted his train of thought to address county manager Matthew Birnie directly, saying, “Are you smirking at me? You are a public employee and I am a citizen speaking at a meeting and you are smirking at me?”

To which Birnie replied, “I am not smirking. I am laughing at your threats of lawsuits.”

At which point Chamberland intervened to address Pannier’s concerns about the time line. “From my perspective, the process doesn’t happen overnight,” said Chamberland. “No matter what is being proposed, there will always be an audience. The audience looks different depending on what is proposed, but it is always there. I remember when Skyland was proposed and the controversy generated. I remember when Trapper’s was proposed and the audience it generated. In my opinion, taking this off the table and starting over is a minimum of two years to get us back to this place.”

“But you don’t have buy-in from the north end of the valley,” replied Pannier. “You’ve taken comment, but you don’t have buy-in and this project has barely evolved.”

“How can you say that?” countered Messner. “This project has gone from 240 units, to 220, and now 180 units. It has gone from all-rental units to having for-sale units. How can you say that it hasn’t evolved? That is simply untrue.”

“No matter what we do, we are not going to have buy-in from everybody,” concluded Chamberland.

Skyland resident Nan Lumb then said she was disappointed in the process from the beginning, saying, “I feel like the public has spoken and then been asked to sit in the corner and shut up. The public has not been a part of this, not really. In the beginning, I remember when we were told that Gatesco would pay $100,000 for the property but would be reimbursed if it didn’t make it through sketch plan. First he was promised he would get $200,000 back; that didn’t sit well with the public, so then it dropped to $125,000—using taxpayer money to pay the developer when it doesn’t make it through planning.”

“The reimbursement of $25,000 to the applicant in light of how much he has spent already in the process is fair to me,” said Chamberland. “The developer is proposing to spend his own money on this development, not taxpayer money. According to the One Valley Prosperity Project, it is estimated that we need to spend $80 million to address the housing needs in the valley and taxpayers don’t want to pay that. We can’t tax ourselves out of this problem.”

To end the meeting, Chamberland addressed the public in attendance. “Thank you for your input in the process. I know, it’s like making sausage.”

The three county commissioners unanimously voted to approve the sketch plan with conditions.

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