Sunday, August 25, 2019

Neighbors insist Kikel deal keep conservation values; sellers agree

Stakeholders laud idea of stewardship cabin, human presence

by Mark Reaman

A public hearing for the Crested Butte Town Council to receive more comments on the proposal for the town to purchase the so-called Kikel property from the Crested Butte Land Trust at the Slate River trailhead by Nicholson Lake will be held on August 19.

The council has already heard concerns from neighbors in the Alpine Meadows subdivision, who indicate they believe the revised conservation easement (CE) as part of the deal isn’t strong enough and could lead to unwanted development on a portion of the parcel.

The crux of the issue is that the original CE allowed for a five-acre development parcel that could be sold to raise money for more open space. It limited the development to a 5,000-square-foot single-family house adjacent to Alpine Meadows. The CE proposed by the town and CBLT would allow for a so-called stewardship cabin, which could provide a human presence that could include public restrooms and a visitors center. Any building would be capped at an aggregate 2,000 square feet.

Long public discussion was held over the matter at the July 2 council meeting. Since then the town and CBLT talked with the U.S. Forest Service about perhaps using the five-acre parcel as a designated campground since the USFS was moving toward disallowing dispersed camping in the Slate River area. Ultimately the town and land trust agreed the topography of the parcel didn’t lend itself to an efficient campground.

That didn’t stop Alpine Meadows residents from emphasizing that such a use would be totally inappropriate. “We believe the idea of public camping should be completely taken off the table,” said Alpine Meadows resident Jim Martin after that point was already made by both Crested Butte community development director Michael Yerman and CBLT executive director Noel Durant. “We want to make sure the conservation values associated with that parcel are fully protected and believe the CE is too broadly written and leaves uncertainty in the future about what is allowed on the property.”

Martin said the neighbors didn’t feel they were being heard. “Sadly, it appears none of the suggestions from the July 2 meeting were incorporated into the new CE,” he said.

Yerman disputed that by again saying public camping was eliminated as a potential future use and the town and CBLT agreed to cap the stewardship cabin at a total of 2,000 square feet.

“From a land trust perspective, we can’t think of a more long-term beneficial project for the Slate River Valley,” said Durant.

“The site works well for a small cabin,” said Yerman. “It is low impact for the site when you factor in things like a parking lot that would be needed for a campground.”

“Practically speaking, nothing will happen out there for a long time,” added Crested Butte mayor Jim Schmidt.

“We applaud the town and the land trust for looking to the future and creating this opportunity,” said Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association executive director Dave Ochs. “Having a human presence and a place to distribute information on Slate River Road is essential. We are seeing a lot of negative issues right now and this is an opportunity to look ahead and address those issues. We give it a thumbs-up.”

“How many information centers do we need up here?” asked former town planner and former CBLT board member John Hess. “There’s one at the Four-Way, one in Mt. Crested Butte, one in Gothic. We need a bigger discussion about what we are going to do with the whole Slate River Valley.”

CBLT stewardship coordinator Brian Lieberman told the council that people are now pulling out signage and boulders intended to discourage camping in the area. “The only consistent success we are seeing is when there is a human presence. So something like this has a lot of value. The main intent is to have a person help people out and let them know what they can do in the Slate River Valley,” Lieberman said.

Alpine Meadows resident Bert Phillips said if a human living on the site has a “ranger” role, he or she should have authority to enforce the rules that are being broken. “We need the equivalent of a nature cop out there,” he suggested. “We need the enforcement arm. If you are going to do this, there ought be some muscle attached to this.”

“We are certainly under–law-enforced up there, if you will,” agreed Ochs. “But there is no doubt that when a human presence is in front of people, better behavior is realized.”

Christie Hicks, a member of the county’s STOR (Sustainable Tourism and Outdoor Recreation) committee, said the idea of the stewardship cabin “supports what STOR has been talking about. This sounds like a great plan,” she said.

The purchase price is $530,000 and will pay off the debt the CBLT has associated with the property. That money will then be earmarked for the Long Lake land transfer project that ultimately ends up going to affordable housing in the valley. If in the future the town decided to build a stewardship cabin on the property, it will have to reimburse its open space fund $80,000.

The public discussion will continue on August 19.

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