United with Mt. Crested Butte
By Mark Reaman
The Crested Butte council last week dispersed a letter to the county and the public explaining the reasoning behind the three conditions the town agreed to with Mt. Crested Butte over the proposed Corner at Brush Creek affordable housing project.
The Crested Butte council originally wanted more conditions in place than their Mt. Crested Butte counterparts before the proposal moved from the county Sketch Plan review stage to the Preliminary Plan review.
As part of the conditional Sketch Plan approval, the Gunnison County planners and commissioners required that three of the four property owners (Crested Butte, Mt. Crested Butte, Gunnison County and Crested Butte Mountain Resort) sign off on the plan moving forward. The two town councils spent months discussing ideas before coming to a consensus on three conditions: Setting aside five acres of the 14.3-acre parcel for future uses; requiring two parking spaces per unit in the development; and limiting the remainder of the project to no more than 156 units.
Now former councilman Kent Cowherd, who has been deeply involved in the Brush Creek process, was the primary author of the letter.
“I think the letter is critical to explain why the three conditions are important,” he said. “I would like to see it in the papers in its entirety so the public can directly hear the reasoning.”
Councilmember Laura Mitchell said she’d prefer the rationale for the conditions “to be made crystal clear,” especially concerning what to do in the future with the five acres.
Mt. Crested Butte councilman Dwayne Lehnertz asked the Crested Butte council if, based on a recent interview article with developer Gary Gates in the Crested Butte News, the council members were willing to shift their position. He indicated that Gates’ comments seemed an attempt to get council members to allow more units and stray away from the consensus reached between the two bodies.
“This letter is not in response to the article,” said councilman Chris Haver. “It is laying out the reasoning for the conditions we all came up with.”
“We have all made the decision with your council so we are beyond the point of more negotiating,” added Cowherd.
“[Gates] is free to try but as it stands, the 156 units was higher than I wanted to go,” said Haver. “Is it possible to design 180 units better than 156? Yes. But with the information we have been presented with, it is what we made our decision on.”
Councilman Will Dujardin expressed frustration with the process and time it was taking. “To Dwayne’s point about further negotiations, if they showed us a great design at 180 I would hope we would be open to them,” he said. “My concern is the time it will take and it is keeping people that want to be part of this community from moving into homes.”
Friends of Brush Creek attorney David Leinsdorf said while he understood the letter he advised the council to be careful. “It is important for the council to not create any daylight between you and Mt. Crested Butte. Your influence on this project comes from being aligned with Mt. Crested Butte,” he said. “Make sure those that are pushing back against the elected officials at the north end of the valley understand you reached a compromise. It’s a compromise not everyone is happy with.” He indicated the power of the councils comes from “being perfectly aligned with Mt. Crested Butte,” even as some proponents of the project try to separate the two councils.
“I agree,” added Lehnertz.
Skyland resident George Gibson reminded the council that the two towns were asked to define the conditions of consent before an application could be submitted for the Preliminary Plan, “and you have done that as requested.”
Gibson also pointed out that contrary to county manager Matthew Birnie’s comment in the Gates story that, “A majority of the partners had rejected setting aside a large portion of the property for uses other than housing,” Gates himself asked that a segment of land be broken off from the 14.3 acres so the four owners could take on the responsibility of a transit center. Gibson said the size of the parcel to be divided from the main lot was not specified and the county agreed to the idea.
“That is in the official decision document from the Board of County Commissioners and their approval of the sketch plan, so why would this idea be getting pushback from the county?” Gibson asked.
“We definitely do not want to open ourselves up to division,” agreed Haver. “We are on board with Mt. Crested Butte. This letter is from the town of Crested Butte on why the one town as a group stood by these three things.”
Dujardin again expressed his frustration and said as an individual councilman he had not supported the conditions. “The people most affected by this taking so much time are the people leaving here,” he said. “They are moving down valley or leaving the area completely. I understand we made a decision and we’ll stick together as a council, but I don’t support the conditions so I’ll be abstaining from voting on this letter.”
Haver responded that his goal was to get through the hard hurdles of the project now, “so it can rocket out and have it happen fast once in the Preliminary Plan. I hope we can move forward and get it done. I think taking this time now will ultimately make the project go faster.”
Dujardin said imposing the conditions had almost made him quit the Town Council. “I feel like all of this is deliberately meant by some to slow the whole thing down. I feel like some people aren’t doing what we were all elected to do and what our constituents want us to do. I feel like we’re going backwards.”
Dujardin abstained from voting to approve the letter but the other five council members at the meeting voted to approve its release.
To read a copy of the letter in its entirety, see last week’s issue of the Crested Butte News.