“At some point we just have to trust each other”
By Kendra Walker
After approximately five hours of negotiations under their belt, the town of Crested Butte and Gunnison Watershed School District are nearing final revisions and understandings to a disputed Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) that brought out tensions between the two parties earlier this spring.
As previously reported by the Crested Butte News, Re1J school superintendent Leslie Nichols and the Crested Butte Town Council disagreed about the terms of an IGA formed in 2009, mostly surrounding the terms of the review process through the Board of Zoning and Architectural Review (BOZAR) for future school site redevelopment and expansion.
“It’s the heart of probably what our biggest area of the disagreement was with the town,” said Nichols. “The disagreement was that we, the school board and the district, felt that the existing IGA was for the 2009 expansion of the school, and we’d already gone through the BOZAR process in good faith and done a good job of that,” she said. “The town felt that the agreement to go through the BOZAR process extended for as long as the agreement exists [through 2024 in the original IGA].”
In order to move past the disparity, the town and school district recently agreed to form a negotiation committee of members from each board to review and make amendments to the agreement as needed.
Nichols shared the proposed revisions with the school board on July 15, and while they recognized some compromises had to be made, the group is happy moving forward with the proposed changes in order to solidify their relationship with Crested Butte.
“I guess I would say the interest or the goal that our team was maybe hoping for, but I think we’re okay, was to not have to go through BOZAR process at all, based on the state law that states that school districts are not subject to local zoning and other reviews,” said Nichols. “But in our listening to each other carefully … we really came to understand the town’s position that this review process of BOZAR is essential to how the town operates, and with the school being in the town and at the entrance to the town they feel it’s an important process for our property to participate in.”
Later that evening, Nichols told the Crested Butte Town Council she is confident the town and school district have reached a good compromise with having a design review process for planned expansions on the current school campus. “The board felt really good where we have landed,” she told the council. “And I just participated in my first design review meeting with the BOZAR over the proposed modular and it was a positive meeting.”
Among the revisions to the IGA, town and school district agreed to update the language from appearing so town-centric, and instead show more of a balance between town and school district cooperation when addressing traffic mitigation and parking lot maintenance. Additionally, the IGA terms will now run through 2029, with both parties jointly reviewing every five years to address concerns and make modifications if necessary.
The heaviest focus fell on school site development—both parties have agreed to go through the architectural and design review and approval process of BOZAR, specifying that review applies only to design, not zoning.
“We are agreeing to go through this local process,” said Nichols. “The school district says ‘Town we get it, BOZAR is really important for you for the historic and development character elements of the town.’ And then it also says the town acknowledges ‘Hey, school district, we get it, you have to protect your taxpayer dollars and you have a job to educate kids and that you have the right to redevelop your property in accordance with state laws.’
“So I like it that they acknowledge the existing state law,” continued Nichols. “I like that there’s acknowledgment in both directions, and it tips the hat to say BOZAR will not be obstructionists to your needs to develop your site.”
However, town would not agree to the school district’s desire to include language stating the district “shall have no obligation to incorporate recommendations that might impair the district’s ability to meet the needs of the students.”
“The town felt very uncomfortable with that because they thought it could be interpreted that we’ll go through the process but we’re not obligated to anything,” explained Nichols. “Their concern was that it would make the BOZAR process feel empty, that we could go through it and say ‘Thanks for the input.’”
Nichols continued, “The town acknowledges they don’t have zoning authority over our authority, they just want to help be part of what it looks like. At some point we just have to trust each other. That’s what our relationship is about.”
Board member Tyler Martineau, who was also a representative of the negotiating committee, added, “In terms of design review process, it does commit us to a negotiation process where both parties will have to be satisfied.”
Another member of the negotiating committee, LeeAnn Mick, chimed in, saying, “They just wanted assurance that we wouldn’t put a five-story addition on one end of the building or the other, and it wouldn’t look like a cracker box.”
Another result Nichols is pleased with is the town agreeing not to charge any BOZAR application fees to the school district, and that BOZAR will expedite the review process.
The agreement also acknowledges the school district currently meets their affordable housing requirements per the 10-year term with a duplex in town but, if they expand in the future, would have to provide the required number of units per square feet expanded. The district must cover approximately 13 percent of one unit for every 4,500 square feet of school building property.
“So it could be that if we expanded so many square feet, they could say you have to provide more units of affordable housing, build something or buy something,” said Nichols.
School board members recommended a few minor language updates to the IGA, including adding a statement that the school district has the right to redevelop in accordance with any state or federal laws enacted that they would have to comply with in the future. “What if we get a really Democratic president who wants to crack down on gun control and mandates that schools have to put up fences or surveillance?” asked board member Courtney Fullmer hypothetically. “There may be things that we need to comply with that aren’t necessarily negotiable.”
Nichols plans to put forward the board’s recommended updates to the negotiations committee. “What we’re doing tonight is not the final approval of the IGA. It’s just giving me more direction to get to the finish line,” said Nichols. “I think the next time you put eyes on any of this it will be the entire agreement.”
Martineau closed the discussion, saying, “I think it’s great that we’re so close to getting this resolved with the town of Crested Butte, I think we’re in a position to have everybody be happy. It’s great, it’s a great place to be.”