Council continues toward spring groundbreaking
By Mark Reaman
Despite requests by some neighbors to slow down the affordable housing construction slated for this summer on Block 76 by Rainbow Park, the Crested Butte Town Council passed a resolution approving a minor subdivision for the area. The change basically reduces the number of structures on the half block from seven to six but increases the number of units from 11 to 15.
Plans for the project went through a series of meetings starting last July when a neighborhood meeting to discuss the potential increase in density was held at the Rainbow Park Pavilion. Several questions and some concerns were raised at that meeting. Several meetings and design “charrettes” were held by the town to provide community input into the project and the plans evolved with many changes. Several design teams competed to spearhead the project, and Bywater LLC was ultimately chosen.
The designs of the individual units will now go through the BOZAR (Board of Zoning and Architectural Review) process this winter before starting construction this spring.
Town planner Bob Nevins told the council there had been extensive public outreach to neighbors and the BOZAR had approved the subdivision 7-0, but the review board wanted council to hear neighbors’ concerns.
Leslie Baeder attended the December 17 council meeting and said she and many neighbors had felt disregarded in the public process. “The July meeting ended with confusion and questions. I haven’t felt there was opportunity to comment,” she said. “I felt like it was a done deal. It’s felt wrong to me. I feel like the process is going at a very high speed.”
Baeder said 20 of 23 nearby homeowners signed a letter to council in opposition to the increased density before having more opportunity for education on the process and project. She handed out copies of state statutes she felt applied to the situation that were not followed by town.
Town attorney Barbara Green said the particular statutes did not apply to what was before the council.
“I’m here in the hope you will hit the reset button,” said Baeder. “Let the community get educated and provide input on it. We want to slow down and not push this through at such a high speed that can lead to mistakes.”
Neighbor John Wirsing agreed with that request. “I agree with how fast it has moved. The first meeting in July was contested and now five months later it is ready to be approved. Block 76 is the parking lot for Rainbow Park. It is already congested in that area. I would really encourage you guys to slow down. You are trying to build a lot of units at one of the most expensive times to build. That’s not a great development decision.”
Wirsing said the costs of building affordable housing in Crested Butte were high when compared to nearby Gunnison, where he said homes could be built for $200 a square foot. “I encourage you to hit the brakes,” he told the council.
But Kat Cooke hopes the project keeps moving ahead. “As a 30-year-old young professional, I see it as maybe my only chance to have an opportunity to purchase a home in Crested Butte,” she said. “I personally have felt very informed about the process. I’m not uninformed or uneducated. I don’t think it’s been rushed. It would be disheartening to see the project come to a standstill. I live nearby now and it’s a great neighborhood. I don’t see that changing with these affordable housing units. It’s a positive thing.”
“We’re all for affordable housing,” assured Baeder. “We’re asking for a slow-down. We’d like the opportunity to catch our breath and look at different ways of doing it. We all know affordable housing will eventually be located there.”
Town community development director Michael Yerman said one reason for the big build this coming summer is to get it out of the way. He said if it is not done all at once, the construction could take many years and neighbors would deal with the impacts for a long time instead of just one year. “Slowing this down could push it into 2020,” he told the council.
“I’m always sensitive to the idea of the public not feeling heard,” said councilman Jackson Petito, “I’m not sure what the solution is but if there is any way the neighborhood could feel more heard, that’s our job—to hear the public.”
“Getting public input and thought is important to all of us,” added councilman Chris Haver. “It’s tough.”
“We as a staff have done everything we could to get the neighborhood to these meetings,” said Yerman. “It is disheartening to hear Leslie.”
Councilman Will Dujardin was at the July meeting and said he disagreed with Baeder’s framing of the meeting that she insinuated ended in confusion and some contention. “I disagree with your assessment,” he told her. “And the people I represent on council are very much in favor of this project.”
“I agree with Will and feel the council and town have talked about this project at quite a few meetings,” agreed councilwoman Laura Mitchell.
Councilman Paul Merck also agreed with Dujardin but said until he got on council he was not always in the public information loop. “But we were all elected to build affordable housing and we understand it will impact people.”
Heli Peterson said she was thankful to be in the affordable housing neighborhood. “My concern is the density of it,” she said. “The bottom line is that I know you can’t fight town hall. It’s inevitable, but for it to go through so quickly feels like we haven’t been heard.”
Schmidt also said that the council was elected in large part to address the affordable housing issue. “This is one of the difficult things about being on council,” he said, “to sit up here and have to make a decision when you know your friends disagree with what you might do.”
The council passed the resolution approving the minor subdivision on Block 76 by a vote of 6-1, with Petito voting against the measure.