Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Two councils drill down on Brush Creek

Slicing off five acres for 345 parking spaces

By Mark Reaman

Most, but not all, of the representatives of the Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte Town Councils appear to be on the same page or at least the same chapter with several issues regarding the proposed Corner at Brush Creek affordable housing proposal.

Basic math would indicate they are seeking a maximum of 135 units and a major parking lot on the property located at the corner of Highway 135 and Brush Creek Road, two miles south of Crested Butte.

During a joint work session of the two councils on Monday, October 1, an informal poll was taken on several issues. Basically, the majority are in favor of slicing a five-acre parcel from the 14-acre property to be used for a future intercept parking lot and possible recreation space like a ball field, allowing a density of up to 15 units per acre on the remaining property; wanting to see a site plan from the developer of possible layouts for the smaller density; and insisting on having two parking spaces per unit.

They also would like to see a financial pro forma on the development; an impact study on what the development will mean to the two towns; and a market study to make sure the project will get filled with appropriate income earners. Who would pay for such studies was not determined. The council members were split on the need for any units to be designated as “For Sale” deed-restricted homes but wanted some outside government oversight of the rental development when completed.

The goal of the work session was to find conditions that both Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte would agree to in order to continue with the project and a transfer of the property from the public sector to the developer. The towns are two of the four stakeholders in the property ownership, along with Gunnison County and Crested Butte Mountain Resort.

Three of the four stakeholders must agree before the land could be transferred to a developer, in this case Gatesco Inc. Gatesco had originally proposed a 240-unit project comprised of deed-restricted and free market apartments. After a lengthy Sketch Plan review process that went through the county’s Land Use Resolution review, the county set several conditions before letting the proposal move to the Preliminary Plan review phase, including setting an upper limit of 180 units.

But the two towns have voiced concerns with the proposal and are trying to find a place they can comfortably get on board with the development.

Crested Butte planner Bob Nevins estimated that slicing off five acres would allow approximately 345 surface parking spaces.

“Especially with what we have heard about the impacts of a Vail sale and more traffic from Epic Pass holders, the parking will be a big need for the community,” said mayor Jim Schmidt. “That was one of the original intents of the land when it was purchased.”

Crested Butte councilmember Will Dujardin said he thought three acres would suffice for parking, while Mt. Crested Butte councilmember Dwayne Lehnertz said he thought half of the property, or seven acres, should be dedicated to parking.

Mt. Crested Butte councilperson Janet Farmer said she wanted fewer restrictions at this point in the planning process to give the developer an opportunity to devise a project he can work with. “I don’t want to restrict him that much at this point,” she said. “I want it to go into the Preliminary Plan review and see what results from the process.” Crested Butte councilmember Paul Merck agreed with that sentiment.

“I think Gary Gates and his team want the feedback now,” said Crested Butte councilman Chris Haver. “Our parking studies show a shortfall in parking spaces already, both on weekdays and especially on weekends. Parking is very much needed. The 345 number is less than I had hoped for.”

“You have to allow for landscaping, places for the buses to turn around and move, so you lose some space,” noted Mt. Crested Butte mayor Todd Barnes.

“We are trying to look at the future and avoid a huge shortfall,” added Crested Butte councilman Kent Cowherd.

The two councils went back and forth over the need for requiring two parking spaces per unit but eventually settled on that number, in part because that was the current requirement from the county. The fact the development was not located in a municipality was also a factor. “The county LUR requires that,” said Cowherd. “It offers a balance across the whole project including having some parking for visitors.”

While the representatives agreed on two parking spaces per unit, there was hesitation to go beyond that, given additional cost to Gatesco.

As for the 15 unit per acre density, the council members came to that number after looking at a number of similar developments and their appearance in photos and renderings. Mt. Crested Butte councilman Ken Lodovico thought 15 units was too high, saying 12 units per acre seemed more appropriate.

“I’m okay with 15 but honestly I have no clue until I see it,” said Haver. “My main concern is that it fits in with the community and neighborhood.”

Mt. Crested Butte councilman Nicholas Kempin said he could go higher or lower as well, depending on what the layout would look like.

When it came to requiring an analysis of the financial numbers, a market study and an impact study, the councils agreed they would be beneficial but generally didn’t want to put the onus of the cost on the developer. But there was concern that a project would be halfway completed and the community would have an eyesore in a prominent location.

“I don’t want [developer Gary Gates] to spend more money if it then gets turned down,” said Crested Butte mayor Jim Schmidt. “But the worst thing would be to have a skeleton of an uncompleted project out there. The second worst thing is going through all of this and not getting it approved, so I believe what we are doing is a valuable exercise.”

“When I hear a requirement for more studies, I feel like it just slows everything down,” said Barnes.

“It is part of the process,” countered Haver, who lobbied strongly for several studies and outside analysis.

On the impact front, the council members said they could foresee the growth coming with or without the Brush Creek project and felt it would be good to have the information. Overall growth would impact the schools while figuring out how to finance a bus route to and from Brush Creek would be an impact more specific to the proposal. They agreed it might be up to the towns to finance an impact study.

The need for “For Sale” units wavered as several people cited that there was an increasingly full pipeline of such deed-restricted units. Dujardin argued that this could be an opportunity to provide some home ownership for those on the lowest rung of the income scale.

“We are not trying to ‘do anything’ to the developer or throw up roadblocks,” stated Schmidt. “We are trying to do what is the best possible project for the community.”

“I am pleased with how both councils seemed to unify around key points,” said Cowherd.

While the work session made it clear what the council representatives desired to see on the property, no formal vote was taken. The staffs of each council will work together to compile a definitive memo stating the updated goals and then each council will have to take a formal vote on the matter. In the meantime, the county attorney’s office is continuing to try to facilitate a resolution and compromise for the project as well. That next such meeting is slated for October 19.

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