Friday, December 13, 2019

Two town councils mull over Brush Creek offer

Crested Butte more willing to shift parking stance

By Kristy Acuff and Mark Reaman

With just under two months until Crested Butte or Mt. Crested Butte—or both—must agree to allow Gatesco Inc. to submit a preliminary plan with the county for the proposed Corner at Brush Creek affordable housing project, council members are stuck on the three compromise points the two councils agreed to earlier this year.

The councils spent five months coming up with the requirements that the developer limit units to 156, with two parking spaces per unit and five acres of property set aside for an undetermined future use.

Gatesco indicated they could work with the 156-unit limit but wanted 1.5 parking spaces per unit. Rather than leaving five acres for the future, they suggested a more “modest” set-aside of two or three acres.

Both councils had regular meetings on Tuesday, September 3 during which they discussed Brush Creek at length. In the end, both councils had members willing to move off their negotiated compromise.

Gatesco attorney Kendall Burgemeister told the Crested Butte council that his team wanted specific feedback on the proposal and indications from the council of any room to move on the three primary points. “Determine the things that give you the most heartburn and let us know,” he said. “It is helpful to hear feedback and know what you see as a non-starter.”

In short, the Mt. Crested Butte council members remained firm on the 156-unit limit for the project, while three of the council members indicated they could move a bit on the five-acre set-aside. Only two indicated they would be willing to move at all on the two parking spaces per unit.

Meanwhile, in Crested Butte, the consensus was to hold tight on the 156-unit limit, while four of the six council members at the meeting said they could possibly accept the 1.5 parking spaces per unit. Only two were willing to set aside fewer than five acres for the future.

In order to move forward into the preliminary plan stage of the Gunnison County development review process, Gatesco must acquire the formal support of three of the current four property owners—the towns of Mt. Crested Butte and Crested Butte, Gunnison County, and Crested Butte Mountain Resort—by October 31. Gunnison County and CBMR have already indicated their support for the sketch plan.

The Mt. Crested Butte Town Council discussed the number of units that would be studio apartments and one-, two- and three-bedroom units. At this point the proposed project calls for 30 studios, 60 one-bedroom units, 60 two-bedroom units and six three-bedroom units.

“We know right now there is a wait list of 11 families for the two- and three-bedroom units at Anthracite Place,” in Crested Butte, said Mt. Crested Butte council member Michael Bacani. “Seven of those families are currently living in the one-bedroom units. We know there is a need for two- and three-bedroom units. Does this current configuration at Brush Creek supply that?”

“We gave Gates a goalpost and he took a chainsaw to the proposal and shifted the unit distribution,” said council member Roman Kolodziej. “There was never any explanation for why he dropped the number of two- and three-bedroom units. He also removed storage and washer/dryers. We can’t have 400-plus people sharing a coin-operated laundry on-site. And we can’t expect people who live in a studio to live without storage. We have bikes, skis, boats—and I am not talking about sailboats.”

“The storage is now at four feet by eight feet per unit,” explained mayor Janet Farmer.

Council members also revisited the issue of trust and communication between Gates and the two towns that has come under scrutiny.

“My ultimate goal is go get this project to work. I have workers who commute from Gunnison and if we throw out this project, it is going to be a long time before anything is built out there,” said Kolodziej. “If anyone in this room is opposed to the project because they don’t like Gary Gates as a person, they should just state that instead of arguing about parking spaces, because they are never going to support it and it is disingenuous for them to argue with us about parking spaces when they know they will not support it.”

“I have no issues with Gates as a human being, I have no concerns,” replied council member Dwayne Lehnertz. “but I want to ensure that this project fits our needs. The majority of people I talk to want home ownership and this does not do that. Ownership is the mechanism for building true community, and sticking a bunch of rental units out there in isolation does not build community.”

“But if Gates were to come back and meet these three stipulations, would you support it? Rental versus ownership is not on the table at this point,” asked Farmer.

“I would have no choice,” replied Lehnertz. “There would be nothing I could do to stop it but I would not leave the door open for Gates to build more on that five acres in the future.”

“Depending on the mix of units, I could move on the two parking spaces,” said council member Nicholas Kempin. “But this has always felt like an adversarial relationship and this is taxpayer-owned property. This should have been a different process all along. I agree that the need for rental housing is acute, but even in an emergency it is important to do the right thing. In the work session [on August 27] we were told by county manager Matthew Birnie that if we start over with the process it could take six to 12 years to get something built. That’s astonishing to me. There have been trust issues in this process and when someone says that, I question that.”

“For me, it’s not Gary Gates’ personality as much as it is trust,” said Farmer. “I keep coming back to that—his waiting six months before offering a response to our conditions and then publishing it in the paper before speaking with us. It doesn’t sit right with me. I wonder what he is truly going to build. What kind of quality. If we go back and start over with the RFP [Request for Proposals] I don’t know that it would take that much longer. We have been working on this for two years and we are still hassling with this.”

“But if we do that, does this project then earn the reputation of being a difficult project that no developer is going to touch because you have to satisfy four different entities?” asked Bacani.

“Possibly,” answered council member Lauren Daniel.

“But it would be a different process this time because we have nailed down what we want,” said Kempin. “We have put in hours of work distilling what we as towns want.”

“But this is a privately funded project. And if we go back to the beginning and start over, we may end up with a publicly funded project,” countered Daniel. “I do think it could be a much longer process because a publicly funded project would have to move through the grant cycle, which is going to take a considerable amount of time. It seems to me like we are micromanaging the project because we don’t know what it is going to look like—because we are uncomfortable with the process. But remember this is only the sketch plan. We don’t have to hammer out the details here. Deciding how many units get washer/dryers—that is something we can look at in the preliminary plan.”

The Crested Butte Town Council focused more on the parking issue, although Crested Butte mayor Jim Schmidt did bring up the trust issue.

“I’ve been told I’m making this too personal. I would have an issue doing a private partnership with Gatesco,” Schmidt admitted. “I feel the same with our responsibility for the public trust. But I did agree to the three conditions and I would stick to that if Gatesco got on board with them. The unit number cap, the parking and the acreage set-aside are all important.”

As for the sewer issue, East River Sanitation District board chair Greg Wiggins told the council that the directors feel the development needs to stay in the district and not build its own wastewater treatment plant. He said the state has encouraged such consolidation of wastewater treatment plants in the valley. Crested Butte public works director Shea Earley indicated that state wastewater issues could potentially arise with the town of Crested Butte plant if a separate plant were built for this development, since both would be discharging into the Slate River. That would not be the case if the development tapped into East River, which discharges into the East.

Councilman Chris Haver was not at the meeting but had spoken to several council members about hiring an outside consultant to determine if this new project configuration filled the workforce housing needs of the community. There was some lukewarm support for the idea but timing was an issue, given the October 31 deadline set by county commissioners to reach a conclusion with Gatesco.

“Meeting with Mt. Crested Butte as soon as possible is super-important,” said Crested Butte councilman Will Dujardin. “I don’t really want to add another of level of complexity as time allows.”

“The problem is that the proposal changes quite a bit,” said councilwoman Mallika Magner. “It makes it really hard to evaluate the plan.”

“The plans are changing based on town feedback,” said Gatesco’s Burgemeister. “We’re not changing it willy-nilly to keep everyone on their toes. We’ve been trying to respond to town comments.”

The Crested Butte council was hesitant about Gatesco’s idea of having the go-ahead to perhaps add future housing to the project under certain parameters.

But reducing the parking requirement irked Schmidt. “Speaking from experience at Poverty Gulch [a workforce housing project in town], pretty much everyone uses at least two parking spaces. And when it snows, parking lots shrink. Two seems like a bare minimum.”

Citizen Kent Cowherd pointed out that two parking spaces per unit was the standard county requirement.

Councilman Will Dujardin asked where else two parking spaces were required for essential housing. Town manager Dara MacDonald cited Poverty Gulch and reminded Dujardin that while off-street parking was permitted in town, it would not be in this development located outside of town.

Burgemeister said the bedroom counts indicated that level of parking would not be needed and the county Land Use Resolution allowed reduced parking for essential housing.

“These are things we need to work through,” stated Dujardin to Cowherd. “To me the need for housing is greater than your argument.”

Council members all wanted to see adequate storage spaces provided for residents and also wanted washer and dryer capacity to handle the expected population.

Cowherd urged the council to stay with the three compromise points negotiated in good faith with their Mt. Crested Butte counterparts.

Citizen David Leinsdorf urged the council to do the same, especially since the local governments were essentially allowing the private developer to buy what he said was a $2 million piece of property for $100,000. “You spent months negotiating with Mt. Crested Butte to get to a ‘yes’ and the developer is asking you to make changes without looking at all the other impacts and conditions. Parking is key. It will be a disaster two miles from town to have fewer than two spaces for every unit. I urge you to caucus with Mt. Crested Butte. You forged a sensible compromise. Stay unified at this end of the valley.”

“The more things you require the less affordable the project becomes,” countered citizen Jim Starr. “Work things out and try to get a resolution to this. Affordable housing is more important than ever.”

The councils will consult with each other to find a date for most of the council members to get together and continue the discussion.

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