“Unanimously against the proposal as drawn”
By Mark Reaman
The Mt. Crested Butte town council last Friday voiced unanimous opposition to the Brush Creek housing project as currently proposed and that could throw a kink into any transfer of the property from the county to the developer unless changes are made to the proposal. While not yet making an official decision through a vote, the council discussed the issue at a work session on July 27 and made it clear they don’t like the 220-unit project as it stands. Generally, the council members would like to see less density and more parking before they agree to any transfer of the property.
The proposal is currently in the sketch plan phase of the Gunnison County review process. Last week, county staff released a draft document outlining conditions for approval of the sketch plan that the county Planning Commission will review August 3. If approved by the Planning Commission and county commissioners and agreed to by the applicant, the proposal could move into the more detailed preliminary plan review within a year.
The applicant, Gatesco Inc., has stated the development team will not submit a preliminary plan application in the review process until at least three of the four partners in the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) that controls the parcel agree to the sketch plan approval. The county and Crested Butte Mountain Resort have voiced support for the concept of 220 units (140 deed-restricted and 80 free market) on 14 acres at the intersection of Highway 135 and Brush Creek Road. The town of Crested Butte has vehemently spoken out against the proposal, given the density, neighborhood compatibility and expected impacts on the town from more than 500 people potentially living in the development two miles south of town. The Mt. Crested Butte Town Council has a relatively new council make-up since last April’s election and has not taken an official vote on the proposal since last spring when it resulted in a 3-3 tie. But at the July 27 work session, council members made it clear the council was, as mayor Todd Barnes stated, “unanimously opposed to the plan as drawn.”
At Friday’s meeting, Mt. Crested Butte town attorney Kathy Fogo updated the council on the state of the proposal, saying, “The number one condition likely to come back to the Planning Commission August 3 is that the applicant won’t move to preliminary plan without at least three of four of the MOA parties. He can’t go further without that. That is why you are the wild card or the swing vote. We are the last ones who haven’t said yes or no on the sketch plan proposal.”
Fogo reminded the council that the town had agreed to let Gatesco move into the county application process in 2018 after a Request for Proposals, but said those council members had expected some major changes to the original proposal.
“So now you are at the point of having to decide what you can accept for the development to be out there,” she said. “It gives you quite a bit of power. You can affect what moves into the preliminary plan, for example, with density. We have time to perhaps work with the applicant to get the town to a ‘yes.’ I can tell you that as of yesterday there were more than 30 conditions included in the draft from the county staff encompassing the concerns they have heard. It is a major project and every such project normally has a lot of conditions.”
“Can we just say no?” asked councilman Dwayne Lehnertz.
“Can you? Yes. But I’d caution against a blanket no since the town gave its approval for [Gatesco founder and developer Gary] Gates to move into the review process,” responded Fogo.
“I have serious concerns about how this will help the community workforce problem,” said Lehnertz. “There is no master plan out there to address the community workforce housing we need. It is just piecemeal ideas. Personally, I don’t think that’s a good way to go.”
“That wouldn’t be a good reason for a blanket no,” said Fogo. “The applicant has a specific proposal on the table. The council decision should be tied to this proposal. The town participated in the process of getting the train on this track. So now you can see if you can get to a place you can live with.”
Fogo suggested the council review the specific conditions the county Planning Commission impose on the project and see if they cover what the town thinks is needed or if the town wants more. She said it would be productive to keep the Brush Creek discussion on future Town Council agendas for discussion purposes until a resolution is achieved.
“When the train started down the track we picked what we thought would be the best developer for the project,” explained councilman Ken Lodovico. “Since then a lot has happened and we have heard a lot more of the public concerns. The developer hasn’t changed the plan much except to go from 240 total units to 220. We have been asking for somewhere between 80 and 100 units for six months and there has been no change. So there’s my answer and my number.”
“Looking at the bigger picture there are other issues as well. Look 25 or 30 years down the road with Cottonwood Pass being paved and we can expect to be overrun with cars. We already are but it will increase,” said Lehnertz. “Part of the utility of this parcel is that it could provide an intercept parking lot along with housing. The parking element is missing. This project as proposed doesn’t deal with an important problem it can address. It deals with one symptom of our issues.”
“These are the types of things you as a government body need to find consensus to sign off on,” said Fogo.
“Part of the initial council discussion we had included public parking with the transit center,” said councilwoman Janet Farmer.
“We are unanimously opposed to the project as drawn, correct?” asked Barnes. The rest of the council concurred. “What we as a council would do in terms of density, for example, is give the developer a number and if he doesn’t like it, it’s his problem.”
“We can look at all the conditions from the county and then get into further talks or negotiations with Gatesco,” said Farmer, echoing Fogo’s suggestion. “We can talk density and say we want the parking that was part of the original plan.”
Fogo said Gates could be invited to discuss conditions with the council at a council meeting while continuing to let county attorney David Baumgarten speak to parties individually in search of common ground.
Prior to the Brush Creek discussion, the council had spent three hours in a training session on council protocol and issues like how to handle quasi-judicial roles. Councilwoman Lauren Daniel noted it was likely, given the position of the council, they could expect to be lobbied. “I’m assuming we will be contacted by a lot of people on both sides over the next few weeks or months. Should we tell them we can’t talk about it and they should come to public meetings to voice their views?” Daniel asked Fogo.
Fogo emphasized they were not in a quasi-judicial role so they could legally and ethically communicate with the public about the issue. “You can communicate with people but I would steer clear of meeting Gary Gates one-on-one, for example,” she recommended.
Two councilmembers will not be at the August 7 meeting so the council is not likely to make any official decisions about their concerns or requests. They are expected to broach the topic for informational purposes.
But the August 21 meeting is expected to have all seven members present and depending on the situation at that time, the council appeared open to a decision on whether to support a transfer of the property, depending on what conditions and changes Gatesco is willing to make to the proposal.