Thursday, June 4, 2020

Council continues building demolition regulations discussion

“I believe this is one of the most significant ordinances because this is going to shape the look and feel of town”

by Than Acuff 

The Crested Butte Town Council spent every minute, and then some, of the allotted hour of a work session Monday, June 3 on the topic of demolition regulations and barely scratched the surface. While the emergency ordinance prohibiting the town from accepting applications from property owners wanting to demolish a building remains in place until October 8, the council asked the town staff for additional information on the topic. Both the council and staff agreed to dedicate another work session, and possibly more, to the subject.

It became immediately apparent that an ordinance on demolitions could resonate with the town for decades and the council and staff want to make sure every potential outcome is vetted before drawing up an ordinance regarding the demolition of buildings within the town limits.

Town Planner Bob Nevins opened with an informative presentation pointing out the differences between teardowns and demolitions and the possible ramifications of such. He cited a statistic that teardowns follow the “Rule of Three.” Houses built to replace the teardown are typically three times the size and cost three times as much as the original structure. As a result, he pointed out that allowing rampant teardowns and demolitions can lead to “mono-cultures,” or blocks of houses that are rarely occupied and built out to capacity. For reference he reminded the council that their goal was to reach 75 percent owner-occupied or long-term rental units in town limits. Currently, 65 percent of units in Crested Butte are either owner-occupied or long-term rentals and an ordinance regarding demolitions could have an effect on that.

Nevins went on to point out the environmental impact of teardowns, demolitions and new construction and informed the council that “25 percent of solid waste at landfills is construction material.”

“Philosophically, what is your concern and what should we be focusing on?” concluded Nevins.

Council member Laura Mitchell spoke first, explaining that there are some buildings in town that would be better off torn down and replaced.

“A lot of the houses are in such disrepair, why wouldn’t we want more sustainable houses?” asked Mitchell.

Mayor Jim Schmidt agreed and they both used two A-frame homes currently in town as examples.

Town community development director Michael Yerman wanted to make sure that whatever direction the council sends the town staff with the moratorium and subsequent ordinances regarding demolitions, they remember one thing: “I believe this is one of the most significant ordinances because this is going to shape the look and feel of town,” said Yerman. “The bigger picture is smaller houses are being torn down and bigger houses are going up. If you go to any community in Colorado, you see it.”

While affordability seemed to be on the minds of the town council, Yerman wanted to make sure they understood that it was not an affordable housing issue.

“There’s no chance of keeping affordability when the house is already selling for $800,000 plus,” said Yerman. “So I want to make sure you understand, I’m not preaching keeping energy inefficient housing to keep affordability.”

His concern echoed the point Nevins brought up that as smaller homes are demolished and bigger homes built to replace them, the town’s look and feel starts to get lost.

They also discussed some ideas of how to attach, amend and/or maintain affordable housing requirements to demolitions. If a house is demolished, can it be replaced by something bigger that still falls within town’s building codes? Or, must the new building be the same size as the previous one? If the new house can be bigger, how should it be assessed for affordable housing fees and deed-restricted accessory dwelling unit requirements?

In the end, the council asked for more information regarding the topic and agreed that additional work sessions were needed.

“This is one of the toughest things we have to consider,” said Schmidt.

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