Town, RMBL and Alvarez family to develop 160-acre parcel
By Kendra Walker
The Mt. Crested Butte Town Council has agreed to begin the process of entering a three-way partnership with North Village owners—the Alvarez family—and Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL) to develop the 160-acre North Village parcel between Town Hall and the Snodgrass trailhead.
Mt. Crested Butte owns 17 acres adjacent to the parcel, called Common Area F, and the North Village owners have considered using it for an affordable housing site. Alvarez would need formal support from council to allow the property to be included in the overall design.
Over the next four months in a due diligence period, council will determine how to incorporate their land into the site plan, along with other community objectives they wish to include, such as affordable housing, town amenities and recreational opportunities. A series of open houses will also be held for public input on the project, with the first one slated for as early as February.
If town decides after the four-month due diligence period that it would like to enter into the partnership, the three groups will then jointly develop a financial model and site plan for a layout to serve all parties’ needs and goals as best as possible. The development team has estimated this part of the process to take six months.
The Alvarez family and RMBL will then manage the formal Planned Unit Development (PUD) application, a process estimated to take another six months. Town will be separated from the application, as the review authority determining whether the PUD meets town code compliance standards.
“The idea and objective behind this offering from the Alvarez family is to help enable the town to take advantage of what I think everybody sees as a once in a lifetime opportunity to master plan this community,” said North Village project manager Crockett Farnell during a January 7 Town Council work session. “As council and staff, that’s your driving mandate, to direct the development and establishment and standards of town and to define its future.”
“In regards to a courtship, we’re talking about dating now,” said council member Nicholas Kempin.
“If you want to eat Italian and I want to eat Mexican, what happens there?” asked council member Michael Bacani, continuing the dating analogy. “The Alvarezes are very generously allowing this partnership. What happens if town and RMBL have a different vision?”
“At the end of the four-month period, that’s when we want to have worked through those types of concerns,” said Farnell. “We’ve spent a lot of time thinking what makes sense from both sides. That’s what we’re trying to work toward.”
He continued, “I’ve never had a client like this. They’re not looking to have 100,000 feet of commercial space. They’re more concerned that it’s a beautiful place, it’s well developed and it keeps the quality of the valley as is.”
“It sounds like we’re all good with trying to make this work,” said mayor Janet Farmer. “There’s obviously going to be lots of questions about the finances and what’s expected of us. To have a non-profit, a private developer and the local government all working together will really look good for funding on an application.”
Farnell stressed the importance of determining the realities of finances from the town’s perspective, as well as making sure things move forward in the process. “It just can’t be a never-ending floating experience,” he said.
Alvarez and RMBL goals
Owner Claudio Alvarez has reiterated in discussions with council that he wants a low-density development that focuses on community values rather than financial returns, which includes affordable housing and recreational opportunities while maintaining open spaces and views.
RMBL hopes to address its employee housing needs and create infrastructure for public education and additional research and lab space. RMBL executive director Ian Billick also said RMBL is interested in establishing more K-12 programs, which would be more feasible at the North Village location.
“We really see this as a unique property strategically located between an urban area and the Gothic townsite,” Billick told council.
“I would love to say Mt. Crested Butte is the home of RMBL as well as Crested Butte Mountain Resort,” said Farmer.
Several members of council agreed that rental housing is the number one priority while looking at their 17 acres and the North Village. Other possibilities include town facilities, commercial space, postal annex, a boutique hotel and parking, all while keeping in mind transportation, parking and public access to the Snodgrass trailhead.
“As a council we need to think about our piece of land and allowing that land to be planned with the whole parcel in mind,” said council member Lauren Koelliker. “Maybe our affordable housing might not be on that whole 17 acres—maybe it’s spread throughout the whole development.”
“The first question we really need to ask is where our commercial center is,” said council member Roman Kolodziej. “Once we decide what that is then these decisions will be a lot easier. We already have a base area that could use some work.”
“I think it’s a nice idea to have a big commercial center up at Snodgrass, but if we can’t get people to stay in Mountaineer Square already I think that trying to create a second commercial district in Mt. Crested Butte might not go as well as we hope,” said Koelliker. “We already have the issue of people leaving Mt. Crested Butte every night to go into [Crested Butte] for the nightlife and not staying up here, so to further spread people out across Mt. Crested Butte between the base and Snodgrass, I just don’t know if we have the population base to make that a reality.”
When the topic of a postal annex came up, Kolodziej added, “I’d like to caution having everybody drive through the entire town of Mt. Crested Butte to North Village to get their mail. Perhaps the best place for an annex would be the base area.”
The Alvarez party has also presented the idea of a lake reservoir, which CBMR has reserved water rights for storage and snow making. Farmer said town staff is looking into the legalities involved and the potential of building a dam. “Hopefully we can get enough people involved so it’s not an overwhelming burden for any one group,” said Farmer.
“I’d like to get as much public input as early on as possible,” said Kempin, speaking to town’s four-month due diligence period. “The way these things tend to go is public input comes very late in the game when it’s least useful.”
“The best luck I’ve had is the open house process,” said Farnell, who was involved with the open house process for the Center for the Arts.
“I think we also want to make sure that everyone knows it’s not public land,” added Koelliker.
“That’s the benefit of doing those open houses—getting that information out ahead of time,” said community development director Carlos Velado.
“I’m all in,” said council member Steve Morris, a sentiment voiced by all of council throughout the work session. Council member Dwayne Lehnertz was not in attendance.
“It’s deep and it’s a lot of hard work,” said Farnell on next steps. “We appreciate your attitude towards it.”
The three entities will finalize a memorandum of understanding (MOU) under a working group of representatives from each partner, which includes council members Kolodziej and Kempin on behalf of the town. Council will look over the MOU during their next council meeting on January 21.