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Brush Creek affordable housing proposal tackled by both towns

Working toward something both towns can buy into

By Alissa Johnson

The Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte town councils met on Tuesday for the first of at least two joint work sessions on the Brush Creek affordable housing project proposal. While the discussion ultimately led to a call for more discussion—the work session will continue in late September or early October—councilmembers did agree that it makes sense to try and get on the same page.

“Whether it’s this applicant or another applicant down the road, they understand that the north end of the valley is extremely interested in housing and solving the problem—putting roofs over people’s heads, primarily the workforce. A 4-0 vote is a much stronger position than 3-1,” said Mt. Crested Butte Mayor Todd Barnes.

The towns represent two of the four entities that have a stake in the property, which lies at the intersection of Brush Creek Road and Highway 135. Their partners are Gunnison County and Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR), both of which are in favor of the current proposal. And although the sketch plan has already passed the county review process, that approval came with many conditions—including a stipulation that three of the four partners sign off on a development concept before the developer can apply for preliminary plan review.

To date, the Crested Butte Town Council has expressed consistent frustration with the project, as proposed, and Mt. Crested Butte has received a lot of attention for having the deciding vote. The two councils came together to discuss whether they could find some common ground and what uses of the property might be acceptable.

“I think the major discussion the 14 of us can have is use of the property… so really, with that, I’ll open it up to you,” Barnes said to both councils at the start of the meeting.

“We have an hour and a half,” Crested Butte mayor Jim Schmidt pointed out, urging people to be succinct. “There’s 16 or 17 of us at the table [including staff]; at five minutes a piece that puts us at an hour and a half.”

That said, the discussion rather quickly centered around a few familiar points: whether or not the proposed development of the Brush Creek parcel ought to include a ballpark; the inclusion of what’s called “intercept parking” or a park and ride lot, and how bus routes might serve the location; and the much-debated question of density and what number of units would be acceptable to council members from both towns (the county stipulated that density could not exceed 180 units).

While Schmidt reiterated that the priority is affordable housing, he also pointed out that the need for parking will only grow now that Vail is purchasing CBMR. Meetings with other communities impacted by similar Vail purchases have confirmed as much—some estimates suggest that drive traffic has increased by 40 percent in other communities.

“The other thing is, we’re very concerned about the impacts, especially to our athletic fields. They’re certainly being used to the max now,” Schmidt said. “I’d like to see a piece of the property act like a playing field.

It is possible, however, that Mt. Crested Butte could provide another ball field. Mt. Crested Butte town manager Joe Fitzpatrick confirmed that an annexation to the town during the early 2000s included a stipulation that CBMR provide a ballpark. While the councils did discuss whether that alleviated the need for recreational space in the Brush Creek proposal, they reached no conclusion. Mt. Crested Butte councilmember Lauren Daniels said she would rather see parking than a ball field, for example, yet Mt. Crested Butte councilmember Dwayne Lehnertz felt it was too soon to take the item off the table.

Crested Butte councilmember Kent Cowherd felt that the property could fit all the needs in question: up to five acres to accommodate parking and a ball field and the remaining nine to 10 acres for affordable housing. That ran counter to the perspectives of councilmembers like Mt. Crested Butte councilwoman Janet Farmer who felt the parcel is simply too small.

What remained even further out of reach, as it has for many months, was an acceptable project density, and how many of those units should be rentals versus be available for ownership. Councilmembers also expressed their desire to see site plans and a pro forma, or financial projections, sooner than later.

While the two councils were unable to arrive at consensus within the allotted time frame, members of both were open to coming up with conditions that could be added to those stipulated by the county. Crested Butte councilmembers, in particular, emphasized that the town is not an automatic no vote.

“I truly believe we can work toward something both towns could buy into,” Crested Butte councilmember Chris Haver said.

“I think that’s the ideal situation, to have all four parties in agreement,” added fellow councilmember Jackson Petito. “I don’t want it to pass with three, I want the two of us bodies to come together for the remaining two votes… Wouldn’t that be great, wouldn’t we be doing our jobs really well, finding a way to say yes?”

In that spirit, the councils agreed to continue the work session, though the delay did concern Crested Butte councilmember Will Dujardin.

“For me the crisis is personal. I go to work… and kind of get hammered by my coworkers about this kind of stuff. Let’s remember that this crisis is getting worse every week here,” he said.

Lehnertz responded, “I would say this is a problem that has been accumulating and accumulating over decades and to take a couple months to get it right [is okay], if that helps you put it in perspective. I hope it does.”

“Welcome to public service,” quipped Barnes.

The councils directed staff to set up the next joint meeting in late September or early October. Later that evening, at the regular town council meeting in Crested Butte, members of that counsel agreed to individually compile conditions they’d like to see added to the Brush Creek proposal. They’ll submit those conditions to staff prior to the next joint session.

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