Sunday, July 12, 2020

Council candidates lay out positions – Part 2

Luxury taxes, seniors and parking

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. This is the second story on the candidates’ positions. Last week focused on housing and marketing. This week covers candidate discussions on parking, seniors, a luxury tax on second homes and closing Elk Avenue to traffic. You can listen to the entire forum by going to the KBUT home page.

The Crested Butte Town Council fielded questions from the audience on a variety of topics at the October 20 Candidates Forum. While affordable housing dominated the discussion (see the October 25 issue), the candidates were also asked about their views on topics ranging from protecting the backcountry to closing Elk Avenue.

Citizen Jeremy Rubingh said he has seen success in Vancouver, where a specific 1 percent luxury tax is placed on the valuation of second homes. He suggested a similar tax could be implemented here through a vote of the people, with revenues going toward climate initiatives and affordable housing land purchases.

Town attorney Barbara Green said after the forum she didn’t believe the town could tax similarly classified properties at different rates in Colorado. She was investigating the idea of an excise tax on property that is vacant more than X-number of months. She emphasized too that any tax proposal would require a vote of the citizens.

“I don’t want to sound like a hyper-liberal but I’m all for that, Jeremy,” said Will Dujardin. “We should have that public conversation and take it to the voters.”

Mallika Magner said Utah has a similar tax structure, where second homes are taxed differently from local residences. “I’d be very interested to see what we could do with that,” she said. “The biggest issue restricting affordable housing is lack of funds. I’m not sure how the specifics would work but I’m definitely in favor of looking into that.”

“They do something similar in Vermont but when I’ve mentioned it I’ve been told you can’t tax property differently like that in Colorado,” said Mona Merrill. “I’m not positive but being on council means taking the effort to research things like that idea.”

“The idea is great and I’d like to learn more about it,” said Candice Bradley.

“The council has done a lot of stuff with short-term rentals like adding an excise tax where the money goes toward affordable housing,” said Laura Mitchell. “I love the idea but we need to investigate the legality of it. Not sure it will hold in Colorado.”

“It comes down to our commitment to ourselves,” said Anne Moore. “Are we going to ask for what we’re worth? We decide what our priorities are. This is a luxury resort with luxury houses and a luxury tax goes hand-in-hand.”

As the mid-timers become senior citizens…

Sue Navy asked the candidates to share thoughts on the future of senior housing in town to help keep the town multi-generational.

“It is definitely something to include in our planning and we can include it in the annexation land,” suggested Dujardin. “Again, we need to look at density with new projects. There are potential funds at the state level for seniors.”

“We value our seniors because of what they offer the community,” said Magner. “The annexation would be a great place to offer a multi-generational use.”

“We need to always be thoughtful about who we are building affordable housing for,” said Merrill. “I would like to see smaller units with maybe even communal rooms that could be used for seniors. We need to keep revisiting how we build out and for whom as the needs change.”

“We are missing the mark on senior housing,” said Mitchell. “When the Slate River annexation comes on we should consider that and leverage grants and have a place for seniors to go.”

Backcountry respect

Andi Burnite said Vail has several programs that can be used by the community and she has noticed a lack of awareness with environmental and outdoor etiquette matters with many of the new tourists coming to the area.

Magner said the community is lucky to have the Crested Butte Conservation Corps to help educate visitors. “It is a great, vibrant organization,” she said.

“The CBCC and [Crested Butte Mountain Bike Association executive director] Dave Ochs have been great,” seconded Merrill. “We need more of that. If we had four or five of those groups, one for every drainage, it could make an even bigger difference. We can be spending less money on marketing and more to keep the place beautiful. That will speak for itself.”

“Both the Vail and the backcountry concerns deserve tons of conversation,” said Dujardin.

“We need to better educate the guests and need to look at the relationship between the local STOR [Sustainable Tourism and Outdoor Recreation] committee and the CBCC,” suggested Mitchell.

Elk Avenue ideas

Keitha Kostyk brought up the idea of closing part of Elk Avenue during July and August or making it one-way during that time.

“It is worth looking at,” said Moore. “But what are the impacts? We’ve never looked at the whole problem. Pedestrian areas work but we would need to look at all the things that come from it to do it the right way.”

“The idea of closing, say, two blocks of Elk Avenue for a piazza-style experience is intriguing,” said Magner. “It sounded cool to me. I would love to see that idea studied. It’s an awesome idea to look at.”

“It’s an interesting idea,” said Bradley. “But we’d have to develop a parking plan to deal with the cars that park there now and would find someplace else in the nearby neighborhoods. We need to think about the impacts to the side streets and alleys.”

“Parts of Elk Avenue are closed a lot throughout the year,” said Mitchell. “It is a great idea but we have to navigate parking issues and work with the businesses. It’s also important to deal with Mountain Express. The bus drivers don’t like it when Elk Avenue is closed. Maybe we do it in the summer on Fridays through Sundays. This would be a big community discussion.”

“The idea comes up a lot,” said Dujardin. “We are a bike and pedestrian community. But it takes a real public process and discussion to do things and this is a big discussion. I’m in favor of looking at it, considering a hybrid plan that allows maybe pedestrians, bikes and buses.”

“I was surprised when I heard that a lot of locals I’ve talked to had concerns with the idea and weren’t in favor of it,” said Merrill. “I think paid parking should happen first and foremost. Closing Elk will take time and need a lot of discussion.”

Paid parking

Kent Cowherd pushed the parking idea and asked what the tipping point would be to implement a stringent parking plan.

“I would like to see the current parking regulations enforced before we implement paid parking,” said Magner. “The two-hour parking limits are ignored and it’s frustrating. We just hired an eighth marshal. Let’s enforce the regulations we have before going to big-city paid parking.”

“We can try implementing paid parking in July and August before the tipping point,” said Merrill. “[I] don’t see why we wouldn’t try to implement it for a few months and see what works and get some revenue for the town. It is hard to reel it in when it goes too far.”

“We hired a parking consultant and have a plan collecting dust on the shelf,” said Dujardin. “We didn’t have great public participation over this parking plan. It’s not on the front burner. It will hit a tipping point but not sure when and then we’ll revisit it. I see the benefits of the plan.”

“The council asked the marshals to take the two-hour limit on Elk more seriously,” said Bradley. “I asked how many tickets they wrote and while they said a lot, I haven’t gotten a number. That will give us an idea of how many people are parking over the limit so we can make an informed decision.”

“For me, the problem is here, all the time,” said Moore. “We have to start the dialogue right now. Parking plans are designed to protect local spaces. There are parking plans everywhere on earth. You pay for parking everywhere. It’s simple. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We need to regulate these things and take it seriously, look at it and plan for it as soon as possible.”

“We need to enforce the rules we have. We just hired an eighth marshal,” said Mitchell. “I think paid parking will push more people to the bus, which is a good thing. But the community input we’ve had did not support the idea and that’s why we backed off.”

Ballots should be in your hands. They are due back to the county by November 5.

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