Thursday, June 4, 2020

Corner at Brush Creek officially rejected by county staff

Gates and councils taking a breath

By Mark Reaman

Gunnison county officials have formally declared that Gatesco Inc.’s Corner at Brush Creek affordable housing plan is dead. The development team will not be allowed to apply for a Preliminary Plan review since it did not get three of the four land owners on board to go to that next step. Official notice was relayed to the development team’s attorney on Friday, November 1.

The decision was a disappointment to developer Gary Gates but he expressed some understanding. “Every once in a while you need to take one step back to take two steps forward,” he said this week. “This has become so emotional and the word trust keeps coming up that I don’t think some people see the hard numbers. It’s a $20 million project and I just want to break even. There won’t be many people willing to take this on at the numbers I’ve proposed. Maybe it’s time to take a breath but the problem will still be there.”

Gates said his local focus would be the 76-unit Rock Creek affordable housing project he is doing in Gunnison. “I have to hit a home run with that project in Gunnison,” he said. “I want to make Rock Creek the showcase to dispel the concerns people bring up. My idea is not to do just one affordable housing project but several so we’ll see where Brush Creek ultimately goes. I will keep offering what I did. I don’t think you’ll find someone else to do it at the numbers I presented. It’s still there.”

While Crested Butte mayor Jim Schmidt is ready to quickly address what sort of new affordable housing project could be placed on the 14.3 acres of land at the corner of Highway 135 and Brush Creek Road, not everyone on the town council or staff is ready to jump back into the deep end of that pool.

Schmidt brought up the issue on Monday, November 4 after the county commissioner–imposed deadline of October 31 to have at least one of the two north end municipalities strike an agreement with Gatesco passed by with no deal. Schmidt asked staff to confirm with the county that the review process was indeed over.

Town manager Dara MacDonald reached out to the Gunnison County community and economic development department on Tuesday and director Cathie Pagano replied with a letter she had sent to Gatesco attorney Kendall Burgemeister.

The letter, dated November 1, cited the October 31 deadline requiring at least three of the four parties to the MOU granting consent for the application to continue in the review process and noted that the department “has not received notice or evidence demonstrating compliance with this condition. Based on this information we have made the determination that the application (LUC-17-00034) has not met the condition of the extension approval set forth above. Accordingly, Application LUC-17-00034 for APT, Brush Creek LLC has expired, per Section 7-202: P. Expiration of the Gunnison County Land Use Resolution.”

Tension inside the council

Schmidt suggested on Monday that he, Mt. Crested Butte mayor Janet Farmer, Crested Butte Mountain Resort general manager Tim Baker and a representative of the county—the four entities with ownership ties to the property—get together to begin “informally discussing what a new process would look like. Should we do a well test to determine water availability? Should we talk to Skyland and the East River Regional Sanitation District about parameters they can handle for water and sewer? We should of course keep the process as transparent and open as possible.”

The council reaction ranged from lukewarm to adamantly against the idea as framed by Schmidt.

“We need to answer two important questions,” suggested council member Mallika Magner. “What number of units can the East River San District handle, and the water availability issue needs to be handled sooner rather than later.”

Councilman Chris Haver said the group should first look at how to obtain some of the state money being made available for workforce housing in Colorado.

Town manager Dara MacDonald said the council might want to take a breath before diving right back into Brush Creek. “I’d go back to the beginning of the Brush Creek process that started with a cold call by Gary Gates wanting to purchase the property,” she said. “We need to be strategic with what projects are out there and what projects we can manage. The North Village in Mt. CB will likely have significant affordable housing and is moving pretty quickly at the moment. The Slate River annexation is coming on line pretty soon as well and has housing potential for Crested Butte. Both are located in towns where things like water, sewer and transit are already available. There might be better options for housing in the short term.”

Town attorney Barbara Green asked if the council wanted to address the agreement governing ownership of the property. She asked if the land owners tied together under the Memorandum of Understanding that proved at times unclear in the last process should meet to see if that agreement could be reworked to be made more clear to everyone.

Council member Will Dujardin had the sharpest rebuke to the idea. “Mallika’s point on water is a good one,” he said, but made clear he was not comfortable with approaching the East River Sanitation District. “But I am really not comfortable with Jim and Janet representing the towns with the MOU partners. I don’t think you represent the interests of the north end of the valley so I think we would need more than one person from the council there.”

“I take great offense at that statement,” said Schmidt.

“I figured you would, but that’s how I feel and that’s why I said it in public. I also don’t think the county has any desire to talk about this right now,” responded Dujardin.

“I’m flabbergasted at that attitude,” reiterated Schmidt. “The fact is the majority of this council and the majority of the Mt. Crested Butte council felt different than you did. I’m not talking about Gates, I’m talking about a whole new project.”

“I didn’t like the split votes and I do not trust the process if you and Janet want to be the ones having the discussions with our other partners for the reasons I said,” said Dujardin.

Haver said he agreed with MacDonald’s analysis that the potential projects located inside one of the two towns had more immediate potential and could be accomplished on a shorter timeline. “We should look closer at those two projects and explore the realities and the timing,” he said. “Let’s have the staff pull together the possibilities of the North Village and the annexation.”

Schmidt suggested scheduling a joint meeting of the two town councils but the rest of the board was not ready to go there yet.

“I think we as a council should have a discussion first before a joint meeting,” Magner said. “Let’s get the information we want so we can get to a better decision on what to discuss.”

The rest of the council agreed and the topic will be added to a future council agenda before pursuing new discussions with other MOU partners.

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