Looking for a sales contract before Preliminary Plan
By Mark Reaman
Developer Gary Gates is not on board with the three conditions agreed to by the town councils of Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte concerning his affordable housing proposal, The Corner at Brush Creek.
Gates said the three conditions—a 156-unit density cap; setting aside five acres of the 14.3-acre parcel; and a requirement for two parking spaces for every unit—make the project unworkable and do not uphold the integrity of the county’s Land Use Resolution review process.
“We’re not walking away and we want to do a project out there but the conditions basically put us back at square one,” Gates said this week. “These are major changes and they won’t work. They impact the entire plan that has gone through the county sketch plan review. It just won’t work economically.”
Gates said he has shared financials of the project with the towns at the 180-unit number capped by the county. He said that limit made the project extremely tight.
“They haven’t given us a basis on why they picked the 156 number other than it feels good. It is based on emotion,” said Gates. “Until we see some of the other costs, such as water and wastewater, we don’t know if the project works at 180. We are still configuring the 180 to try to make it work. Things are still in flux. Lowering it to 156 makes it that much harder.”
Gates explained that some costs, such as road infrastructure, wouldn’t change much whether there are 240 or 156 units. That means that the size of the buildings and the number of deed-restricted units might have to change to make the development work.
“I have a year to work with the councils and make them understand the reality of the numbers and the feasibility of the project,” Gates said. “We’ll talk to the councils together and individually. If they put a new Request for Proposals [RFP] for a project with the new conditions, you are probably another three years out and I’ve been at it for two years already. The way they are going, it is killing another building season.”
Gates emphasized that the conditions agreed to between the two councils are contrary to what the county planning commission and county commissioners approved at the end of the sketch plan. He said, “Putting these in before going to Preliminary Plan review would require a whole do-over. This makes a mockery of the LUR process. It skips over it. You can’t do that. These are significant changes and the public has a right to weigh in on these changes. The opposition could legitimately argue the need to start completely over so the public can comment. You can’t just change all of it. I don’t think I even have the legal option to go forward with this.”
Gates did say before he moves forward with a Preliminary Plan application, he wants a sales contract in hand approved by three of the four ownership entities (Crested Butte, Mt. Crested Butte, Gunnison County and Crested Butte Mountain Resort) clearly defining conditions and allowing the land to be sold to him.
“We don’t want another and another do-over. It is obvious the opposition is not slowing down and doing what they can to make it more expensive. But in the end I think they are bluffing and know we are on the right side [of the county rules] with this,” Gates said.
The Friends of Brush Creek have hired water lawyers and submitted a request to both Gates’ firm, Gatesco, and the county to require conditions that no damage to neighboring wells occur with Gatesco test wells or permanent wells that eventually would provide water for the project. The report submitted by the Friends of Brush Creek states that the nature of the geology with that parcel raises significant water storage questions.
Gates said his team is evaluating public data from the nearby wells and using the one well already drilled on the property for testing. They have not drilled additional test wells on the site, “but we feel good about how it is looking,” Gates commented.
He also feels that an agreement can be worked out with the East River Regional Sanitation District to perhaps provide a pump-back system to treat wastewater. “We understand it will cost some money but the ability is there and we wouldn’t then have to have our own wastewater treatment plant.”
Returning to his contention that when Gatesco was selected out of the initial RFP process, the four property owners had a certain obligation to work toward a successful project with the selected applicant.
“There are consequences to them selecting us for this project,” Gates reiterated. “For the towns to bring up new changes even after the sketch plan review doesn’t work. If they wanted five acres set aside for some future use, that’s when it should have been brought up and discussed. It wasn’t. There are lots of unintended consequences with things like that. Which five acres do they want, the flat section? If they leave us with the hill, that just adds to the cost of the units. They don’t include details and they haven’t thought it through. That condition impacts parking and things like green space. Do they still want me to do the 100-space intercept lot we’d talked about? What about the proportion of low-income units versus free market units? That will have to change based on the new numbers. The public has a right to be able to comment on all of that. It is important for the public to be able to address any changes. We came out of the sketch plan with an approval that included lots of conditions.”
Gates also pointed out there have been significant reductions in the size of the building footprint, the bedroom count and the ultimate population allowed. So Gates said his motivation is to continue moving forward with a 180-unit project and said, “I’ve got to convince the council to enter a contract with three out of four of them to go to the Preliminary Plan with a 180 units minimum.
“At this point it is time to do something,” Gates continued. “Every time I give into something, something else comes up like that request for five acres. We still are willing to work with Skyland over any visual impacts but the longer this takes, the worse the housing problem gets.”
Crested Butte mayor Jim Schmidt said it is not the duty of the local governments to make sure the developer makes money, but rather to work toward the best overall project for the entire community.
“It is the responsibility of the town and our partners to work toward the best possible solution for affordable housing on the Brush Creek parcel,” Schmidt said. “The two councils at the north end of the valley have presented a reasonable compromise to the application. If Mr. Gates does not think the number suggested works for him, I would hope he would withdraw his application so the community can go forward with planning housing on this parcel. I would also hope any persuading by the Gates team [to councilmembers] be open and in public so that no implication of undue pressure occurs.”
Mt. Crested Butte mayor Todd Barnes agreed it is time to grind forward. “I feel as though quite a bit of time was spent to this point, reaching what seemed to be an amicable and reasonable use of the property based on the input of multiple affected groups,” Barnes stated. “Some people came down from their initial numbers and some folks came up, but a compromise was reached. Our council voted for the consensus 6-1. If Gates can’t make it work then the applicant should withdraw and let someone else take a stab at the development. I have strong feelings our council won’t budge and come up. I am sure with Gates’ group, 24 units is not a deal breaker, but it sure seemed to fit the two councils.”
Crested Butte Mountain Resort general manager Tim Baker has stayed mainly clear of the fray. He has consistently stated that CBMR continues to believe that “Workforce housing is a critical need in the Gunnison Valley, much like other communities in which we operate. We fundamentally support moving the project forward and look forward to the county and the towns coming to an agreement on next steps.”
And county manager Matthew Birnie explained that if Gatesco indicates that they can make a project viable with the towns’ conditions and they intend to submit an amendment to their proposal as required by the letter from Mt. Crested Butte, “the next step is for the representatives of the four ownership entities to get together, discuss, and ultimately take a vote on whether they accept those conditions as well,” Birnie said. “A majority of the partners previously rejected setting aside a large portion of the property for uses other than housing, so that condition will need to be reconsidered by the group.”