Thursday, April 9, 2020

Council candidates lay out positions – Part 1

Housing and marketing

by Mark Reaman

(Editor’s Note: The Crested Butte News Candidates Forum on October 20 lasted nearly two hours and involved a lot of discussion. We will break up the comments in two parts. This week we focus on candidates’ responses concerning affordable housing and public marketing spending. You can listen to the forum by going to the KBUT home page.)

There weren’t many new big issues or concrete solutions discussed but there were a few new faces at the annual Crested Butte News Candidates Forum, held Sunday night, October 20 at the Crested Butte Center for the Arts and broadcast by KBUT. The seven candidates for Crested Butte Town Council discussed in more depth their views concerning affordable, workforce and senior housing; marketing of the area; short-term rentals; possible luxury taxes on second homes in town; parking in the business district; and the idea of closing Elk Avenue part of the year.

All seven expressed a passion for and love of the community and, while there were nuanced differences between policies, for the most part they all want to focus on ways to keep locals living in a more sustainable town.

Moderator Denis B. Hall kicked off the questions by expressing his opinion that perhaps the local governments were spending too much money marketing the sometimes-overrun valley. He wanted to know how they as council representatives could “ride herd” over excesses in marketing spending.

“Now that Vail has purchased [Crested Butte Mountain Resort], I feel they will market the mountain for us,” said candidate Mona Merrill, who moved to Crested Butte after Vail purchased Breckenridge. “It seems the [public] marketing money should go to more grassroots projects like trail maintenance and things like the [Crested Butte Conservation Corps]. I don’t think we need to market much anymore. People know us and how to get here and they are coming.”

“Vail has the money and expertise and will bring people. We don’t need to bring any more people,” agreed Mallika Magner. “We need to support local businesses but we don’t need to spend more money to market Crested Butte.”

“I respect that sentiment but there needs to be a balance,” said Will Dujardin. “To say we should stop marketing is unrealistic. 

Dujardin continued “Saying we don’t need to add more money to that direction is very realistic and I totally support trying to redirect some of that funding… but we have to be realistic in balancing marketing and trying to sustain economic progress in this valley. We may feel overrun in the summer but people really hurt in the offseason still. We all need to make money to live here and ride our bikes. It’s a balance.”

“We need to as a valley fund what works for everyone and brings in sales tax revenue and keeps our businesses alive but doesn’t overwhelm us in this valley,” said Bradley.

“The problem isn’t too many guests but maybe too many of the wrong kind of guests,” said Anne Moore. “Don’t we want the best guests? The best skiers? The best tippers? The people who love nature and appreciate this place? Maybe take some of the tourism money and research how we get better guests. We need to get the right people here. I don’t want to take the money away but look at how that money is spent.”

“Four years ago we were still traumatized by the recession. Now October is busy,” noted Laura Mitchell. “The Tourism Association [now the Tourism and Prosperity Partnership] budget is giant. There might be a need for a community discussion on how they spend the money.”

How to help housing locals

Locally based housing consultant Willa Williford asked how they would enhance housing for year-round locals in the north end of the valley.

Magner said there needed to be stronger partnerships between the town and other entities throughout the valley. “We can pool our money, get grants and create a unified plan,” she said. “If we work together, make a plan, we can make great strides to house our local workforce.”

“We also need to make sure everything being built is affordable. It’s important to hit the right people. Some people fall through the cracks,” said Merrill. “The land owned by the town will be built out soon so we need to look at more property in town for such housing in the future.”

“Affordable housing is definitely my life on council,” said Dujardin. “I feel sometimes like I’ve been banging my head against the wall because it takes so much time. The Brush Creek project seems to have hit a wall. We need to start planning for the annexation land north of town. Density is key. We need to keep doing what we’ve been doing because we are doing some awesome stuff. I like the Vail InDeed program that pays people to put a deed restriction on their house to ensure locals live there. I want more people in town.”

“I think we need to promote long-term rentals to people who currently short-term their places,” said Bradley. “I’m not sure how to make that more appealing. I also like the idea of buying deed restrictions on free market houses like Vail’s InDeed program.”

“This is the time to commit to getting more housing,” suggested Moore. “Crested Butte gets taken by surprise all the time so we need to address it now. The needs are growing. We create our own destiny. It will take a full commitment.”

“We need affordable and workforce housing,” said Mitchell. “We worked hard to get Paradise Park and it is working. We also need to engage Vail and Western [Colorado University] and all the large employers to participate. We can maybe work with Mt. Crested Butte on a project on the North Village parcel that is coming up. We need to do more land banking and collaborate with the Valley Housing Fund that has a lot of money for such purposes. We’re going to keep trying.”

Angie Hornbrook asked the candidates to be more specific with their ideas on housing and asked if they saw a difference between people who live here and sometimes short-term rent their homes and those who buy investment properties for short-term renting.

Magner said in her travels campaigning door-to-door, she spent some quality time at Anthracite Place, the 30-unit rental complex that houses low-income locals. “It seems awesome,” she said. “The apartments are great and there is a range of people. I would like to see another project like Anthracite Place that has rents restricted by income. Maybe it goes in the upcoming Slate River annexation… As for short-term rentals, there are two categories of licensing meant to help locals who don’t rent their places as often.” 

Magner said she has talked to the town attorney about ways to further increase the number of long-term rental units in town. 

“We need to incentivize people with units to rent them long-term instead of using them as short-term rentals,” said Moore. “Maybe if someone long-term rents their place for 10 years we waive the real estate transfer tax when they go to sell the place. We can waive taxes and fees to people who long-term rent. We need to look into that. We’re going to barter and trade for every bit of space we can get right now.”

“The InDeed program is something to consider,” said Merrill. “That incentivizes homeowners. Programs like that are important. How can we make short-term rentals less attractive? Increase taxes and fees? It’s complicated because I know some locals can stay here by short-terming their units. I don’t want to lose locals who do it in an effort to stay here.”

“The InDeed program could work,” agreed Mitchell, “we could maybe partner with Mt. Crested Butte and ultimately we need to build rentals and dorms. We need places for the ski bums. We also need to close the ADU [Accessory Dwelling Units] loopholes.”

“In conjunction with our Climate Action Plan, we should require all short-term rentals to be energy-efficient or else they can go into the long-term rental market,” suggested Bradley. 

Dujardin said he heard about the InDeed program on a council trip and pushed to have it considered here. “It is a good idea,” he said. “It will take funding but it is a tool in the tool box to increase the number of deed-restricted properties in town. Maybe we mess with the licensing of short-term rentals so that you can short-term rent for two years but then have to rent the unit long-term for six months. It’s something to investigate. We have to keep building rentals specifically.”

Short-term rentals

Priscilla Palhava reminded the candidates that short-term renting allows some locals to afford living in Crested Butte. She said another benefit of STRs is that tourists then stay in Crested Butte and not on the mountain and that helps support businesses. “So short-term rentals bring a balance to town,” she said.

Moore agreed, saying, “We aren’t looking to punish short-term rentals. We need to look at balance and look at every opportunity.”

Mitchell said she has rented her home short-term to bring in needed cash. Magner said she has done the same and feels it is time for the town to revisit the short-term rental regulations and tax structure.

“My concern with short-term rentals isn’t people living in town who do it for extra income; it’s the houses that are vacant year-round,” said Merrill. “I want more locals living in town. I want more bodies, more of a community in town. My concern is with the vacant houses that take community away.”

Susan Kearns said being able to short-term rent her place in town during the 2008 recession “helped save [her] bacon.” She did ask if the council would approach the county about revising or eliminating the lodging tax used by TAPP to market the area. 

Merrill said she thought it a good idea to request that of the county commissioners and revisit the policy. ”Getting together regularly with the county to collaborate with them more is a good idea in general.”

Magner said she too struggled in 2008 and lost her long-term renters, “and I agree that spending the lodging tax money on marketing is not what we need to be doing. Let’s take those tax monies and use them for a better purpose.”

Mitchell said the lodging tax money was also used for more than marketing and has been used for airline ticket buy-downs to make tickets cheaper that helped with winter visits, currently the soft season. “Keeping our ski resort viable is important to me. But we can take a closer look at how the TA spends its money,” she said.

Dujardin said he was not in favor of eliminating the lodging tax and the marketing efforts. He noted that the TA was rebranded to TAPP and the money goes toward more things than marketing. But he agreed that the council needs to look at how the county and TAPP are spending the money. 

Mayor Jim Schmidt, who is running unopposed, said the lodging tax can be spent only within tight boundaries, so cannot be used, for example, to build trails. 

Next week we report on the candidates’ thoughts over a potential luxury tax on second homes, how to take care of the aging population, parking issues and closing Elk Avenue for part of the summer. Ballots are due back to the county by November 5. 

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