Lower density could have negative impact on lowest income earners
By Mark Reaman
The Crested Butte Town Council passed a “memorandum of consent” on Tuesday that mirrored a Mt. Crested Butte memo approved a week ago detailing three conditions both councils felt necessary for the Corner at Brush Creek housing proposal to move into the county’s preliminary plan review process.
The two councils have been working together for several months to come to consensus on issues they felt were important enough to put on record as needed to move the project along to the next stage of the county review.
The Gunnison County commissioners had conditionally approved the sketch plan from the developer, Gatesco, for the Brush Creek proposal last August. The first condition stated that, “prior to the submittal of the Preliminary Plan… the applicant shall obtain the consent of three of the four parties (Gunnison County, Town of Crested Butte, Town of Mt. Crested Butte and Crested Butte Mountain Resort).”
The county and CBMR have always been comfortable with the project as proposed. The two towns have argued consistently against the size of the development, so with these two memos, the municipalities have basically given their conditional consent to move the project along.
While members of the Crested Butte council had at least eight conditions they wanted as part of a joint memo, the Mt. Crested Butte council whittled it down to three: setting aside five acres of the 14.3-acre property for future uses; requiring the developer to provide two parking spaces for every unit constructed; and limiting the number of units on the remaining property to no more than 156 units.
The Crested Butte council found itself in a bit of a conundrum Tuesday as circumstances dictated that only four councilmembers attended the meeting. To approve the memo, all four would have to vote in favor and one councilmember, Paul Merck, had previously indicated his displeasure with the conditions being placed on the developer.
“I am pleased with the three conditions we all settled on,” said councilman Kent Cowherd. “There has been a lot of compromise to get to this. It is the best possible solution for the community. While this memo coincides with Mt. Crested Butte, I might suggest we write another letter for the newspapers that gives more clarification on how we got to these three conditions.”
Merck asked the council if the 156-unit figure was set in stone no matter what configuration the units came in from the developer. He noted the units had been altered quite a bit from the original 240-unit proposal.
“I am comfortable as it is,” said councilman Jackson Petito. “At this point I admire this council and the work by the Mt. Crested Butte council on this. I want to get this project moving. There are other issues I’m personally in favor of addressing but I respect the joint council meeting process enough to vote for this.”
“I agree this is the result of a compromise,” added Crested Butte mayor Jim Schmidt. “I wanted a lower number of units and Paul wanted more. I think we can present our other five issues in a separate letter to the county commissioners. But it is important to approve this letter and get the project moving along.”
Citizen Jim Starr supported that the project should move ahead as quickly as possible. “If Gatesco can’t do it, then I would encourage the parties to put out a Request for Proposals [RFP] with these conditions to see if it can be done by anyone without taxpayer money,” said Starr.
Gatesco representative John O’Neal said the three conditions, “to be honest, could cause significant concern about the quality and even the feasibility of this project. The bottom line would impact the units dedicated to the lower AMIs [Area Median Incomes], especially the units designated for those making less than 80 percent AMI. No one is saying this or no one believes this, but the reality of the situation says to lower income workers that you can work here but you can’t live here. The 74 units we have for the people under the 80 percent AMI will take the biggest hit.”
Developer Gary Gates has stated the conditions could cause issues not being discussed. One example he cited would be the setting aside of five acres. “Where is this five acres?” he asked in an email. “Do they want the level part? Are you forcing me to the back on the side of the hill? I would have to be building on all the uneven areas. This property barely had five acres that was flat to begin with. That would significantly increase the infrastructure costs.” Gates said the larger issue is, “are these “conditions” significant enough changes beyond the scope of the conditions that have been currently approved in the LUR process that it would probably require having to start all over in the public process. These are conditions that should have been brought up in the year of public process.”
Skyland area resident George Gibson said the process showed a solid unified position by Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte. “It’s not the 74 units for people making less than 80 percent AMI that is a problem; it’s the 72 free market units and the fact the project was just too big. In the preliminary plan we’ll see if there is enough water for a project this size to work outside of a town.”
Friends of Brush Creek attorney David Leinsdorf said the idea that the proposal didn’t involve public subsidies or taxpayer money “is a fantasy. We had an independent appraisal done and the property is worth north of a million dollars and the county is selling it for $100,000. There will be impacts on the nearby roads, the schools, recreational facilities, the towns and other areas that will all need to be upgraded as a result of this project and it will done at taxpayer expense. I am glad you agreed with Mt. Crested Butte. This has been a long, hard process and we applaud the efforts.”
Cowherd noted that at 156 units, “The development would still be the largest such housing project in the county. You can’t satisfy all the needs with one project,” he said.
“I understand the impacts of this project at that location,” said Merck. “But I think 156 is an arbitrary number. With or without this, we need to figure out more housing. But I feel I can support this letter.”
With that, the council voted 4-0 to approve the memorandum of consent. Councilman Will Dujardin came to the meeting later in the evening and he said he appreciated the council approving the memo so that the project could proceed forward.
“It’s been a very long process,” concluded Schmidt. “Now I guess it goes back to the developer and the county.”
CBMR’s Tim Baker and Gunnison County commission chair Jonathan Houck did not respond by press time to an email request for comment about their position on the new conditions.