Desire for year-round housing and unparalleled research facility
By Cayla Vidmar
The Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL) held an open house on Wednesday, July 25 to field feedback and comments for the proposed Snodgrass campus project that is in the works. As might be expected, feedback centered on design elements such as parking, building profile and traffic flow. The potential sale of the Crested Butte Mountain Resort ski area to Vail Resorts is also having an impact on the plan.
The goal of the project is to build a campus that will include a visitors center, employee and scientist housing, lab buildings and administrative offices, and will allow for year-round research. RMBL received feedback from the public and is looking to submit an application for the project to Mt. Crested Butte in September.
The project includes a minimum of 17 housing units, but RMBL director Ian Billick writes, “We might do more, we’re thinking seriously in the 20 to 25 unit range.”
The Mueller family, of Crested Butte Mountain Resort, has donated six acres near the Snodgrass trailhead, and in exchange, RMBL will build at least 17 units of affordable housing that the Muellers are on the hook for with the town of Mt. Crested Butte.
Billick estimates that the total project, including site work, housing, visitors center space, research and office space will cost around $8 million. It is unknown when the project will break ground, and much depends on fundraising and permitting from the town.
“Having year-round facilities will enable us to more fully support year-round research on water and snow,” says Billick.
In 1928, RMBL was officially founded, and has since brought thousands of students and scientists to the area, making the surrounding environment some of the most intensively studied in the world. “We are out of research space in Gothic and given the expensive and sensitive nature of some of our equipment, we would like to add space in Mt. Crested Butte where it will be available year-round,” says Billick.
RMBL hasn’t escaped the housing difficulties in Crested Butte, and Billick notes that as an employer, RMBL needs to be proactive with housing. “We worry that if we do not address the housing situation we will lose an important part of our community,” he says, while noting he does not want to put more housing in Gothic due to the limit of what the location can sustain, and the impracticality of Gothic for year-round employees. The Gothic valley is one of the valley’s only “quiet corridors,” meaning generally there is no motorized transportation, such as snowmobiles, allowed during the winter months. This limits how employees and scientists can access Gothic year-round.
The housing struggle was brought into focus for Billick this summer season, when two scientists and their families secured housing in the Timbers Condominiums for the season. In June the Timbers Condos flooded, leaving occupants of the 44-unit building without housing on the cusp of Crested Butte’s busiest tourist season. It was a stressful situation for all involved to find housing among the many other locals in the same housing search.
“The lack of housing is making it more difficult to recruit nationally for staff in our Youth Science Programs,” which Billick says is “unlike anything elsewhere in the country.” Billick is concerned that if the housing situation isn’t dealt with, “the program will suffer, or we will be unable to continue it.”
Michael Kraatz, vice president and general manager of CBMR, wrote via email, “The Mueller family’s various real estate development companies have obligations to create 15 units of affordable housing from the Prospect development and one unit each from two other developments.”
Kraatz continues, “We recognize there is an existing need for these units; by working with RMBL in a creative way, we will be able to get these units built sooner than required to meet today’s need for workforce housing and also assist RMBL to move forward with a new campus.
“This particular project helps the community and the resort out by providing 17 units of workforce housing at a time when there is such a great need for it, and it also helps support RMBL by providing land for a year-round campus in what it considers a strategic location,” writes Kraatz.
Erica Mueller, vice president of CBMR, wrote via email, “RMBL is looking for a year-round campus, and they have summer seasonal need for housing. CBMR has a need to help house employees as well, so this project would help support all of these entities, obligations and community needs. For us it is truly a win-win-win.”
Finally, Billick is hoping the Snodgrass campus will take some pressure off of Gothic by moving some of the RMBL outreach activities to Mt. Crested Butte. Billick stresses that the project will not change recreation access to Snodgrass, or vehicular access to Gothic, but “by having an outreach center in Mt. Crested Butte, we hope we can provide high quality activities that reduce pressures on Gothic.”
On July 25, Billick heard feedback from members of the community, which included minimizing light pollution, working with Mt. Crested Butte to improve traffic flow and parking, and having buildings that fit the area in terms of profile, location and color. Billick writes, “We will incorporate this feedback later in design, once the project progresses.”
RMBL initially intended to submit an application for the development to the town of Mt. Crested Butte by May, but Billick says, “The potential sale of CBMR to Vail has slowed things a bit. We’d like to see the dust settle on that before moving too fast. We would like the opportunity to talk with Vail about the project, and we think that is unlikely before the sale closes.” Billick now hopes to submit an application to the town by September.
There is significant fundraising ahead of the RMBL team for the project, but Billick is excited about a large gift that has jumpstarted their efforts. Billick says this project “would transform RMBL and bring education, research and recreation together in a uniquely Crested Butte way.”
Next steps for the project include a formal application with the town of Mt. Crested Butte.