Can town use open space money in transaction?
by Mark Reaman
After receiving some pushback by neighbors in the Slate River Valley, the Crested Butte Town Council will gather more detailed options and continue to discuss the placement of a new conservation easement (CE) on the so-called “Kikel property” at the Slate River Trailhead.
The council agreed this spring to purchase one of the two 35-acre Kikel parcels owned by the Crested Butte Land Trust (CBLT) in an effort to get the CBLT out from under a $530,000 loan the land trust has on the property.
That parcel comes with a five-acre “trade parcel” that includes a home site that the CBLT had planned to possibly sell to help fund future open space projects.
The home site, located adjacent to the Alpine Meadows subdivision, limited construction of a house to 5,000 square feet. With this new transaction, the town and land trust have agreed to limit any construction on the property to a total of 2,000 square feet. The structure would have to be used for stewardship purposes but could house an employee, or be used as a backcountry visitor information center to communicate responsible use of conserved lands and include public restrooms.
Crested Butte community development director Michael Yerman told the council at the July 2 meeting it was a good idea to retain some development potential to use that property for such purposes in the future even though “The town right now has zero interest in developing that. But as a planner, it provides opportunity in the future. It provides a possible tool to help manage that area. The idea is to go from a second-home potential to something that can be used to protect conservation values.”
Crested Butte Land Trust executive director Noel Durant said as the Slate River Valley sees more use by recreationists it is important to manage the resources and protect all the conservation values in the area, including wildlife, agriculture and open space.
“It provides an opportunity for conservation management at the gateway to the Slate River Valley,” Durant said. “It is one possible puzzle piece that provides the opportunity for recreation management with the possible presence of a human manager in the valley. But we are creating a new conservation easement on that property that further limits what can be built on the parcel.”
Yerman reminded the council that money used to purchase the parcel would come from the town open space fund and would go toward the Long Lake land exchange.
Alpine Meadows Homeowners Association president Jerry Clark, who also happens to be the CBLT treasurer, spent about 20 minutes telling the council the CE “could be better optimized.”
“We all see the conservation of the Slate River Valley as an important point,” Clark said. “But from the standpoint of the homeowners association, some things included in the new CE could be better. We would like to see more guidance in things like the absolute size of the cabin, the number of parking spaces allowed, more definitive restrictions on the number of campers allowed on the parcel, the number of people who could live in the cabin. The less that’s put in the CE the more flexible things are in the future.”
Former Crested Butte town planner John Hess said that while he appreciated some of the revisions in the proposed CE, since the town was paying for the property with open space funds he doubted any development would be allowed there.
Crested Butte mayor Jim Schmidt said that might be a concern and asked the staff and town attorney to investigate whether the town could use those funds generated from the real estate transfer tax (RETT) and still construct a building. Yerman said if that was the case, a portion of the purchase funds might have to come from another town fund. Town manager Dara MacDonald said staff would look into the details.
Wildbird subdivision resident Tim Szurgot said that while he concurred that perhaps the CE needed to be tightened up, he was supportive of having something like a stewardship cabin on the property. “It is important to take bold steps now or we will feel like we missed opportunities later,” he said.
Alpine Meadows resident Honeydew Murray suggested that a stewardship cabin might be too much and instead a smaller informational kiosk station might be more appropriate. “It makes sense to start small,” she said.
Yerman said the intention of the new CE was to reduce and limit any impacts on the parcel, “but ultimately a future town council will have the authority for what goes out there.”
The council agreed to continue discussion of the matter at the July 15 council meeting.