Gates expresses frustration with process
By Katherine Nettles
The Corner at Brush Creek continues to draw the spotlight for affordable housing projects in the county, and the Mt. Crested Butte town council plans to spend a lot of time in the next few weeks discussing the matter. A lengthy back and forth with project developer Gary Gates of Gatesco Inc. on Tuesday led the council to set up several more work sessions to sift through the issues. The first meeting will come on Monday, August 27 at a county sponsored gathering facilitated by county attorney David Baumgarten involving several “stakeholders” in the project. That will be followed by a joint work session with the Crested Butte council and then a Mt. Crested Butte work session to which Gates was invited.
As part of the county’s sketch plan approval for the proposal Gates must get approval of the concept from three of the four original owners in the property. Those include the towns of Mt. Crested Butte and Crested Butte, the county, and Crested Butte Mountain Resort. Crested Butte has opposed the concept to this point, while the county and CBMR are in favor. This has put Mt. Crested Butte in the position of being the deciding vote on whether Gates can proceed to the county’s preliminary plan stage of the review process.
Mt. Crested Butte councilmembers had several comments on Tuesday regarding its unique position as the linchpin in the decision, and what exactly it can or cannot ask of the applicant, Gatesco Inc., as it makes its decision on how to vote.
Mayor Todd Barnes began by encouraging, “for my sake, a proposed rendering of the 180 units and what that would look like if you are still intending to go forward with the 180 number,”
Gates responded that yes, he was going to go forward, but he would not be able to have drawings.
“You can’t give me anything, just some kind of rough sketch of what 180 would look like?” asked Barnes.
Gates expressed frustration at that request, as well as others regarding specific numbers of the newly proposed reduction in units. “I spent a year doing that, I really can’t continue to spend money and time and effort if I can’t even know if I can go forward with the next phase. You know, I really want to get Mt. CB on board so that I can go into the next phase because whatever I have done before has basically been tossed aside, had to start all over. So when you ask, ‘sketch,’ you know that can cost me a lot of money and there’s a lot of things that have to go into that. I can’t just snap my finger and do that. And I don’t even know what the LUR (Land Use Resolution) process is going to approve. I really need to have the contract voted on so that I can then go through and start drawing the plans, working with the LUR process, and going forward on that. “
Barnes countered that the majority of the council was still soaking it in, trying to understand what was in front of them, and that no decision was coming from them tonight. He then opened the discussion up for questions and concerns.
Councilmember Janet Farmer asked for clarification about how the space for both a parking lot and transit center would be managed and maintained. Gatesco attorney, Kendall Burgemeister, clarified that his client would be paying to build the transit center, “which we envisioned being a combination community center for the residents of the project as well as a place for people to sit inside and wait for the bus,” and that the county would retain the parcel for the parking lot space.
Other council members had specific questions about how the plan would change to accommodate the county’s 41 conditions. Councilmember Dwayne Lehnertz asked how the plan would be impacted if it had to comply with the housing assessment percentages of for sale and rental units, and councilmembers Lauren Daniel and Steve Morris asked about how the applicant would manage the changes to bedroom counts, adding fewer three-bedrooms and more one bedrooms.
“It would be nice if we could see some of those numbers, get an understanding of that,” commented Morris.
Town attorney Kathleen Fogo stated several times that approval of the plan would mean the conditions set forth by the county would dictate these changes be accounted for in the next phase, the preliminary plan. “It’s a condition of getting to the preliminary plan. These are the conditions that Mr. Gates must meet… to get into and through the preliminary plan stage,” she said. “Most of them are not yet addressed, because they’re new conditions. They’re just as new to him as they are to all of us. But each one of them has to be addressed and or met…and if he determines that the conditions are such that he is not wishing to proceed, then there wouldn’t be a land sale. The question is, are you guys at this level or at some level that we work with, willing to say yes, and enter into a contract to sell the land after the approval process is complete? That’s the question,” said Fogo.
In that vein, Gates pushed back on doing any further work or plans to get approval, citing the expense and work he had done for various other hypothetical numbers in the past and the likelihood that it might end up being a lower number of housing units in the end based on requirements for water, sewage, and other density issues.
“I spent a lot of time coming up with numbers based on a lot of things that people wanted. And now, there’s just so many things that you can’t really quantify right now,” he said. He fielded additional inquiries about hard numbers by stating, “The problem with that is it would require me to come up with a whole new set of plans, and then that is a very costly endeavor. “
Barnes reiterated, “We are just inviting you to come and participate…I’m not asking you to spend a lot of money. I’m giving you the opportunity to come and talk to us. Because we’re your linchpin. If you can sell what you want to do to us, we will in return sign off. We’re not here to beat up on your team. We’ve been at this ten months. The point that we’re at now seems to have been preceded by some pretty firm statements of your team not going any further. To some respect, it’s been dragged out more than I thought it would have been.”
“So, we’re trying to help,” Barnes continued. “We’re trying to get housing for our community. This is one piece of property. That’s all there is. We want to be sure we get it right. That it’s something that represents our community, that it’s something that’s valuable to the entrance to our valley. And frankly, what was drawn at the 240 for me personally was not. I didn’t want it. The first thing that I did was I crossed off all the big units… That dropped 92 units off the project right away—down to a 148 number. And that’s where I’m comfortable. I could go a little bit higher, if you could redraw it and show me a neighborhood. Instead of you know, Highlands Ranch at the entrance to my valley. And that’s where I think a lot of this council resides as well. “
Barnes ended with one last request that Gates come to a public hearing and give a new presentation for the reduced number of units now being discussed.
“I’m still very happy being the representative of Mt. Crested Butte and meeting with Mr. Baumgarten and CB and seeing if this is our one chance to have you help us with housing. And good on you for coming forward and trying it. But as drawn, it just ruffled the feathers. The county says these 41 points are what we need you to do to go forward. And it may be that based on water, sanitation, density, those big three, that your numbers are going to be reduced even further and you’re going to say you know what, I can’t make it work. Let somebody else try. And, okay. You’re getting a heck of a deal on the land, and it’s the only piece we’ve got. We’re going to make sure that it’s correct to suit the needs of now and down the road,” said Barnes.
Fogo said again that, “There’s been an expression of a willingness to discuss, but I don’t think you can expect more out of him than you have right now.”
Gates responded to the numerous requests for more concrete ideas with an emotional outcry. “What bothers me is to walk away and those people who have no voice, that you never see at these meetings, I never see them, and you know why, because they’re at work, you know, they’re riding the bus. No one is speaking for those people, and that’s why I said, you know what, I‘m not going to let these people who are secure in their own house sit there and dictate where people who don’t have a voice, where they’re going to live. It’s not right…so that’s why I decided I’m not gonna quit. I’m going to stay at it. I want to try to make it work. And if it goes to 180, I didn’t want it at 180.”
“We were supposed to have two to three months for all the parties/stakeholders to get together, put something on the table,” Gates continued. “You know what everyone put on the table? Nothing. And you know what they did, they whacked me. Whacked me from 240 to 180 and expected me to still do it. But you know, I’m still here. I want to try to make it work, because I believe in the project. The other thing is, about the density. You gotta stop this thing about the density. Allow the process to work. I fought hard to keep it at 240 and 220. I still got whacked and the other people offered nothing. Now I’m still going to have to deal with them at 180. And I’m gonna fight like the dickens to keep it at 180. And you know what, they’ll probably…sit there and still continue to try to whack me. But I’m not going to propose a smaller project…don’t ask me to bid against myself,” said Gates.
The need for three out of four MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) parties to sign off clearly made an impression on councilmembers to make the proposal a priority for consideration in the coming weeks. At the end of the council meeting, Crested Butte’s town manager Dara MacDonald invited the group to explore the Brush Creek project in a joint council session. “We are treating this interim as a time out,” said MacDonald, emphasizing, “We want the robust discussion.”
The Mt. CB council then penciled in a joint work session for September 4 between Mt. Crested Butte and Crested Butte. The overall agreement was that participating in a combined session with the Crested Butte council would follow with a solo work session for the Mt. Crested Butte council to make its decision on how to vote. In the meantime, the mediation group among all stakeholders is set for August 27 in Gunnison might further the process.