No definite answers yet and a split in opinions
By Katherine Nettles
“Do we trust the process?” is the question with which Mt. Crested Butte town attorney Kathleen Fogo began Mt. Crested Butte Town Council’s first solo work session on the proposed Brush Creek affordable housing development .
The council had met previously in a joint council meeting with the town of Crested Butte, and intended to get an idea of its own council’s overall leanings before proceeding with any further joint efforts to approve, deny, or tack on additional conditions to the 40-plus conditions provided by the Gunnison County Commissioners as a basis for sketch plan approval.
A range of opinions came from the councilmembers, however, indicating not all are yet on the same page. Councilmembers Dwayne Lehnertz and Janet Farmer had significantly differing thoughts on whether to move the project forward with a third vote of approval among the four ownership stakeholders, which could result in a nod to transfer the property to potential developer Gary Gates.
Three out of four stakeholders, namely Gunnison County, Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR), the town of Crested Butte and the town of Mt. Crested Butte, must approve the concept for the developer to move forward with a preliminary plan. CBMR and Gunnison County have given approval, and the remaining two stakeholders continue to grapple with their decision.
Lehnertz discussed at length that the sketch plan “does not anywhere near reflect the ownership/rental ratio according to our needs.” He said he would need to see that better matched to be compatible with previous housing needs assessments for the towns of Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte.
Farmer disagreed. “I think this project does a good job of meeting a lot of our needs. It doesn’t meet all of them, but we don’t want the density, so it can’t really meet all our needs there.” She went on to say that if as a council they are not comfortable with the original density plans, beginning with 240 units and now capped at 180 units, then only so much can be offered to relieve housing shortages.
Lehnertz said that specifically regarding rentals, ”We don’t need that many units right there.” He also stated his concern with water use.
Fogo said many of those concerns have already been addressed in the county conditions, and such resource limitations would constrain the project as part of the process.
Councilmember Steve Morris asked how everyone felt about the number of 180 maximum units for the project. Lehnertz said he would prefer 85, particularly in order to get support from neighbors in the area.
Councilmember Lauren Daniel would be more comfortable with 150 to 160 units, and Morris would be more comfortable with 180 if they could add in more ownership with it. Farmer explained that she had initially come up with 175, but determined the county’s cap of 180 was close enough to work. Her concern was also about water affecting that number.
Councilmember Ken Lodovico said his preference was between 80 and 100 for overall safety, water and sanitation considerations, but he felt these would all be addressed in the county’s conditions. He said he would consider up to 120 units if the conditions worked out.
Councilmember Nicholas Kempin was reticent regarding any hard numbers, and said he wanted to wait. “I am not prepared to give a number. I want more information. I am still wanting to narrow down the details of ball fields, parking. I guess I view it a little differently. The decision before us is whether to sell the property. At this moment I would prefer to keep the leverage that we have to sell the property—seems like we’re putting the cart before the horse,” he said.
Mayor Todd Barnes said he would be in favor of 100 percent rentals, and said 54 for-sale units in the works at this point certainly meets the need to qualified individuals and families at this end of the valley. He also felt a ball field was unnecessary, as the town of Mt. Crested Butte already has a field paid for (but not constructed) up on the mountain.
Morris wondered about what ratios of open space might be required according to density of a new development. With 10.5 acres for 160 units, said Barnes, “If you throw out the ball field, you have three acres for parking. Very nice.”
Lehnertz felt that the details should be pinpointed now, before it is too late and the land has been developed. He felt that getting sufficient parking will be a significant hurdle. “The Epic pass is coming. Cottonwood is being paved. The hoards are on their way,” he said. Fogo responded to Lehnertz that that the town just purchased a lot for 150 parking spaces.
A discussion among several council members of the below-market sales price to the developer, Gatesco Inc., followed.
“We should not sell it, we should lease it. Or have some type of termination date on the agreement so that at some point in the future it reverts back to the housing authority … for the benefit of our constituents,” said Lehnertz. Lodovico agreed that the sale price was very low, but that it was acceptable as an incentive and that there was good reasoning behind it.
Several other councilmembers agreed that it is not unusual to make a low purchase price incentive available to developers. Fogo also clarified that the development cannot be done as a lease.
The council reviewed that water sustainability for the project will be evaluated in February, and that traffic controls and a number of other items in the conditions will dictate the final unit numbers.
“I have gotten to the point where, no—I don’t trust the process … because I don’t know what the end result is going to look like,” said Lehnertz. He said he felt the council is “hamstrung” by a developer who is not willing to give them enough details, and that he has concerns about a number of things.
Fogo responded, “You don’t know exactly what the layout is going to look like, you don’t know if the number is truly going to be 180, but you do know the max out there. I think you actually do have a pretty good idea of what the process is going to allow … I think you have more than a guess, and I think you have more than ‘no idea.’”
Farmer said she absolutely wants to see the process move forward. “I have a problem with us saying that no, we don’t want to see this project go through to the next steps. We have such a critical need for housing. Anything else on the table would be another two years at least. I hope we can figure out a way to let the process be what it will.”
Mt. Crested Butte town manager Joe Fitzpatrick said, “It’s important to note that today there is an application. This council has to decide number one, do we have a housing need in this community? Number two, are we willing to move forward with the application that is in our hands … that has to take the next step and go through a huge list of expensive questions … But we need to be willing to say if we want to move into the preliminary plan– that if 180 units fit based on all the other needs, that we are willing to accept it. And that we are willing to sell the land if it makes it through to the preliminary plan.”
Fogo added that to be historically correct, Mr. Gates had responded to the request for proposals and was selected because people [and this council] liked it at the time.
Lodovico stated that while everyone agrees there is a housing shortage, “This council is not sure 100 percent yet if we are ready to go into that process. That is my take-away from the last hour.” He later encouraged the council to listen to the Crested Butte council as well and take into serious consideration its opinions.
Barnes closed the work session by asking if everyone agreed the work was productive, which they did. He then encouraged everyone to go over county recommendations again, and to “listen to the public that is giving you comment.”
Another joint work session on the project is set with the town of Crested Butte for October 1.