Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Council chomping at the bit to act on affordable housing annexation

But will advocate first for the North Village housing project

By Mark Reaman

While town staff is recommending the Crested Butte Town Council shift its affordable housing focus to supporting the upcoming North Village development in Mt. Crested Butte, the council in general wants to keep taking steps toward at least a preliminary plan to get housing on the upcoming Slate River annexation property north of town.

Council members made it clear they want to do whatever they can to stand behind affordable housing in the North Village but they want to be prepared if that project at the base of Snodgrass Mountain hits roadblocks.

Crested Butte community development director Michael Yerman outlined concepts and potential timelines for the Slate River annexation parcel. They ranged from constructing some dormitory-style housing for rentals, to apartment rentals, to for-sale condominiums.

The town would use approximately two acres of land located basically on the southwest corner of the property at Gothic Road and Butte Avenue across from the Gas Café with the higher density development bordering Gothic Road. That acre of property would entail some further cleanup of a portion of the old town dump that lies beneath the land. That cleanup could cost between $800,000 and $1.2 million but that cleanup could possibly provide an avenue for some underground parking.

Yerman said the longest part of the development would be a thorough public process to create a vision for the site that addresses density and amenities. He said the most dense development could result in 40 to 60 rental units, depending on the type of project the community green-lights. He said a dormitory-style project constructed in Telluride has been very successful.

Yerman projected that it would take about four years from planning to finish for the first phase of the rental development. “It will be an impactful project given the density and the location,” he told the council at the November 18 meeting. “The timeline is aggressive but doable.”

Yerman then told the council that the feeling of the staff was to first support the possible affordable housing project being proposed as part of the North Village development in Mt. Crested Butte. That development is in its early stages but is initially contemplating a relatively low-density development at the base of Snodgrass.

Part of the parcel includes 17 acres owned by the town of Mt. Crested Butte. That council is determining what sort of affordable housing density would be appropriate on that land and if it could be incorporated into the overall development being proposed by Claudio Alvarez.

“There are three sites in the north end of the valley for big affordable housing projects,” Yerman said. “The North Village is big, especially given that a new lodging tax passed in Mt. Crested Butte to fund housing. The annexation to Crested Butte is another, as is Brush Creek. The Slate River annexation site is probably the most ready to go but a year is needed for public planning.”

Local affordable housing consultant Willa Williford agreed saying, “The North Village wants to move quickly but they have a lot of pieces to put together.”

“My recommendation is to focus on the North Village,” said Yerman. “Going after the state money being set aside for affordable housing in Colorado, we should prioritize one project and the North Village makes sense.”

Councilman Will Dujardin said he foresaw problems with the North Village project coming from neighbors living near the potential development. “It is frustrating that we all have to wait,” he said. “I would rather see us move forward as well.”

Mayor Jim Schmidt agreed with Dujardin. “I would like to move forward to at least get the planning started,” he said.

“We don’t want to take the wind out of Mt. Crested Butte’s sails,” said Yerman. “We are talking two major projects and we don’t want to split the public. We don’t want to send mixed signals to the state. It is important to come together with one project. The North Village should be our priority and we should put our support behind that.”

Town manager Dara MacDonald said the council should also consider the appropriate number of units to put on the market. In a discussion earlier that evening, Valley Housing Fund executive director Darin Higgins said the valley needed hundreds of workforce housing units. “We are so far away from a ‘saturate the market’ problem,” he said. “We are in a deep hole.”

“I disagree with Darin’s statement. We should be worried about the absorption rates,” MacDonald said, citing fewer people than expected who applied for affordable housing units with the town and about 50 people currently on the Gunnison Valley Housing Authority waiting list.

“Overall, we see the need for possibly 150 rental units and there are a lot being built in Gunnison,” said Yerman. “Typically with that need you would build maybe 50 in a market this size. Lenders would be uncomfortable putting more than that on at once. All the potential projects are awesome but they need to be phased. We need to be mindful of the absorption rate.”

“If for some reason the North Village falters you can get to a place where you can start one up,” added Williford.

Yerman told the council his staff was also stretched pretty thin with other major projects such as the upcoming Climate Action Plan and potential “Community Compass” project, meant to draw a big vision picture for the community.

“I am concerned our constituents will think we’re doing nothing. It’s frustrating,” said Dujardin. “We need rental housing now.”

“The town is completing the biggest housing project ever done here. You’re not doing nothing,” responded Yerman. “Have them come look at what is going up.”

But Schmidt said he was in the same boat as Dujardin. “I would at least like to see the plan go forward,” he said. “The state money is available for three years. I would at least like to revisit the topic in three months. But I do want to support the North Village and our friends in Mt. Crested Butte.”

“I would like to see how the annexation plan fits in with the Mt. Crested Butte plan,” said councilman Chris Haver. “What’s the process to put in place to make the best decision for the future?”

Councilwoman Mona Merrill suggested a meeting with Mt. Crested Butte council. MacDonald said organizing such joint meetings could be difficult and suggested a subcommittee be formed of the housing authority representatives from both towns along with county commissioner Roland Mason. The idea would be share to information and updates about progress primarily with the North Village and other potential housing projects.

“It will make a difference to the state funders to show such regional collaboration,” said Yerman. “We don’t want to seem like there are two competing projects wanting the same money that are located three miles away.”

The council agreed to form the subcommittee to stay abreast of the housing project in Mt. Crested Butte.

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