Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Town and school district to talk through recent zoning dispute

“Let’s bring our minds and hearts together”

by Kendra Walker and Than Acuff 

The storm clouds between the Crested Butte Town Council and Gunnison School District may be clearing— tensions between the two governmental entities rose earlier this month surrounding the district’s obligations to town zoning regulations; however, compromise is on the horizon.

Per an Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) signed between the town and the district in 2009, the school was obligated to go through the formal Board of Zoning and Architectural Review (BOZAR) process for the expansion project on the Town Ranch.

While town believes it was made clear in the original agreement that BOZAR review would apply to any future school expansion, the school district is firm with state law indicating they are not required to comply with local zoning regulations as far as site and property development codes.

“I feel that we honored the requirements of that 2009 agreement and that site development… it was a thorough process,” said superintendent Leslie Nichols at the school board meeting Monday, June 3. “We feel at this point that we met our obligations, and in future development of the site the local zoning regulations that BOZAR brings to the table are not necessary for our school district (in compliance with state law). With the short-term development involving the modular (classroom), that is an issue of immediate concern, and then for longer-term development of that site with potential expansion is also a concern.”

The term of the original 2009 IGA is 30 years. “That’s a really long term for any governmental agency because we operate year-to-year on our budget…” Nichols said. Both groups would now like to resolve these disputed items in the existing IGA.

Town is recommending both town council and the district appoint three members from each party to attempt to negotiate, resolve the disagreement and renew the IGA. If the negotiating group of six cannot come to an agreement, they will then enlist services from a professional mediator.

“We agree that we disagree about BOZAR,” Nichols said. “We want to find some way to compromise in both directions to get everybody feeling OK with the situation…maybe not great, but OK.”

Once the process is initiated, the district and town have 60 days to come to an agreement before a mediator steps in. The school district hopes a compromise can be concluded before their planned construction for a set of modular classrooms in August.

“I believe that we’re pretty close,” Nichols said. “I am very comfortable with where we are with the town right now.”

She also expressed the importance of respecting and maintaining a symbiotic relationship with town.

“Our history with the town of Crested Butte is strong and important,” said Nichols. “We’re the entrance to the town and it’s beautiful. And of course we are committed to keeping it beautiful and that our values align with the town in which our property borders.”

Nichols and school district board member Tyler Martineau then drove to Crested Butte to attend the Crested Butte Town Council meeting that same evening to address any questions they may have.

Mayor Jim Schmidt opened the discussion recounting the storied past between the town and the school district pointing out some of the positive and negative experiences. He added, “the town of Crested Butte holds our historic character in high esteem,” explaining that BOZAR is a vital part of that and expressed that he is “disappointed the district is unwilling to go through the BOZAR process.”

Crested Butte Town Manager Dara MacDonald told the council that, as a result of additional discussions on the topic with the school district, the two entities felt the best way to more forward was a formal discussion complete with a mediator.

“We have a very good relationship between the two entities,” said MacDonald.

“The school board finds the process agreeable,” said Nichols.

Both the school board and the town agreed to bring three representatives each to the table and to meet with a mediator to discuss further. Schmidt and council member Paul Merck stepped up to join MacDonald and take it on for the town and Martineau told the council that he will throw his hat in the ring for the school district.

“Let’s move forward and not focus on what happened in the past,” said council member Laura Mitchell. “The windshield is big and the rearview mirror is small. Keep it positive.”

“Lets bring our minds and hearts together,” added Martineau.

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