Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Brush Creek continues down rabbit hole with no resolution

“It’s the bottom of the ninth with two outs”

By Kendra Walker

The developer of the proposed Corner at Brush Creek housing project, Gatesco Inc., met with both the Crested Butte Town Council and the Mt. Crested Butte Town Council on Monday, September 23 to discuss changes to the proposal and the potential for proceeding into a preliminary plan with the county.

Both towns are part owners of the 14-acre property located south of Crested Butte on Highway 135 and Brush Creek Road.

Two of the four property owners of the land, Crested Butte Mountain Resort and Gunnison County, have agreed to let the project proceed and Gatesco needs approval from one or both of the remaining two by October 31.

Monday’s work session started off a bit rocky, after councils received revisions to the plan from Gatesco a few hours prior to the meeting.

“It would have been helpful to have had the information sooner,” said Mt. Crested Butte mayor Janet Farmer. “Sending this at the last minute so we don’t have adequate time to consider it is a negotiation tactic I find unacceptable.”

Crested Butte mayor Jim Schmidt echoed Farmer’s sentiment. “It’s the bottom of the ninth with two outs. I don’t know if you want this to happen or not because you keep waiting until the last minute,” he said. “After six months, we’ve spent a lot of time together and came up with those numbers … and none of those were met,” he said, referring to the councils’ conditions that the project should have no more than 156 units, with two parking spaces per unit and five acres set aside for future use.

Gatesco attorney Kendall Burgemeister addressed the mayors’ concerns, stating that there wasn’t a clear direction on the response from the last joint meeting on August 27. “Crested Butte went one way and Mt. Crested Butte went another way,” he said, referencing the flexibility the councils showed on the set-aside acreage and parking spaces. “We tried to revise the plan to reach a compromise that could be adequate to both, as well as the developer, and the county … We’re trying to find a creative solution and sometimes it takes time.

“If you collectively look at this plan and say absolutely it doesn’t work, then we’ll try to make something work by the end of October,” Burgemeister concluded.

The most recent plan accepts the councils’ condition for 156 units, but originally had a caveat that an undefined number of units could potentially be added on the site in the future. However, Burgemeister addressed the concerns raised during the meeting about the future additions. “We heard that and that’s off the table,” he said. “It’s a 156 plan.”

Another condition was the number of parking spaces, which was updated from 1.5 per unit to 1.65 spaces per unit in the Gatesco proposal.

During public comment, David Leinsdorf voiced issues with this number, saying, “Gary Gates missed the mark on transportation when he wrote in his sketch plan, ‘The property is close enough to walk, bike or ski to Crested Butte.’ Seriously? There’s no way to limit the number of people who reside in units. You’re going to have to assume that you’re going to have two or more adults per unit, even in studios. Each will have a vehicle.”

Leinsdorf added, “Many will have jeeps or trailers or dirt bikes, some will have a dedicated work pick-up or trailer. Mr. Gates really has no understanding of the needs in the county.”

The updated plan increased the previous two-acre set-aside proposed by Gatesco to 3.5 acres, divided into two different locations on the property. “Which is problematic, I would say, at best,” said town manager Dara MacDonald.

“Our mindset in terms of splitting that set-aside was two-fold,” explained Burgemeister. “One, we did want to get some of that set-aside down by the highway where some folks think is the ideal location… At the same time, if you were to put 3.5 acres there, or even five acres, we’re really starting to chew into the land that really is more feasible, productive, adaptable to having residential units built on it. And if you take the entire low flat line and turn it into a parking lot and you push all the buildings onto the highest spot of the property, it’s also counterproductive.”

Other revisions proposed by the Gatesco team include a reduced number of larger units; reduced building size to a maximum 12,500 square feet; and the elimination of a bus stop and for-sale units.

Burgemeister stressed that other debated items that have come up over the last few months are not set in stone, and that Gatesco is willing to work with the councils to make adjustments, such as including washer/dryers in the units, outdoor vs. indoor storage, bus stop/transportation logistics and how to allocate the parking spots.

“We do need feedback on what does and doesn’t work,” he said.

“I’m hearing a conversation about trying to make this happen, which is positive,” said councilmember Roman Kolodziej. “What I’ve heard tonight is something more than ‘We can’t do that,’ ‘It’s not possible.’”

During public comment, George Gibson also brought up concerns about Gatesco’s delay in applying for sewage treatment. “The Brush Creek parcel is within the East River Regional Sanitation District service area. Gates seems to want to be excluded by that. I think it’s important that we make clear to Gates and the county that he should join East River as a way to make clear that we’re going to follow the rules.”

Both mayor Farmer and mayor Schmidt were disappointed with the current plan and remain firm with the original conditions laid out by the two councils.

“I have found it to be my least favorite plan yet,” said Farmer. “I do have a problem with what’s happened to the project to cut it down to the 156 units… We felt that was putting us negotiating with ourselves rather than negotiating with Gatesco. I would hope the two towns would stick together on this,” she stressed. “I can’t support anything less than the three conditions put forth. I would like to see a new RFP that reflects the wants and needs of the community.”

Mayor Schmidt agreed, saying, “I cannot say in good faith that I would go below that 156/2/5.”

The rest of the combined council members appeared split on the current plan, but at least four members from each council also remained firm in the original conditions.

“I think that the three conditions that were previously agreed upon by Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte were exhaustibly and completely discussed, addressed, considered,” said councilmember Mallika Magner. “I stand with my mayor and say we stick to the three conditions … for the good of the people who are going to live there and for the good of the towns.”

Dwayne Lehnertz agreed, adding, “To come back and make an allowance to change them doesn’t show much respect for ourselves for the process we engaged in, for however long it was. If we’re going to do what’s best at solving our problem … we’ve got to get it right the first time. The land is the people’s asset.”

Others were more open to compromise. “I don’t see this as a hard no,” said councilmember Lauren Daniel. “I think we’re making progress and that to me is what negotiating means. We don’t have a plan that’s exactly what we wanted and Gatesco doesn’t have exactly what they wanted.”

“How will we ever find a developer that we like that’s going to fund this kind of project?” asked councilmember Will Dujardin. “I’m concerned about our capability to make good economic decisions for our constituents… If it were up to me, I would allow this version of the plan with getting close to meeting our conditions to go to preliminary plan and then we can kind of regroup and hit on the transportation, hit on the washer/dryers, …[etc.].”

“At this meeting they’ve asked for some guidance on the design,” said Kolodziej. “I think it’s important for us to have input to let them know what we want and they can see if they can accommodate that.”

Councils asked Gatesco to continue the conversation and be vocal about any other areas they are willing to move around on the plan. “Come talk to us at our first council meetings of the month,” said Farmer. She also stressed that any updates or decisions be resolved in time for Mt. Crested Butte’s October 15 meeting, their last meeting before the October 31 deadline.

There are no plans for another joint council meeting before the deadline, and each town council will plan to discuss the project at their October meetings.

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