Friday, August 7, 2020

Mt. CB debates financial ability to support North Village project

Discussion continued to August 4 executive session and work session

By Kendra Walker

It’s not a question of whether Mt. Crested Butte wants to enter into a partnership to develop the 150-acre North Village parcel, but rather if they have the financials to back up the initial Planned Unit Development (PUD) application and subsequent building and infrastructure costs.

The Mt. Crested Butte Town Council’s debate was apparent during their July 21 meeting to determine if they would enter into a pre-development agreement with the North Village Associates LLC and Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL), ultimately determining they need more time to dive into the town’s financial situation before moving forward.

Mt. Crested Butte has identified its priorities for the town’s potential portion of the development, including affordable housing, parking and transit at the Snodgrass trailhead and a ballfield. The North Village Associates and RMBL are now asking the town to make a decision to continue into a pre-development agreement to work toward a PUD. The town’s share for covering the costs of the PUD is estimated at approximately $200,000, which could likely be spread across a six-month to eight-month process, said North Village project manager Crockett Farnell. However, the town’s share of the actual development costs are still unknown.

“It’s understandable that these are difficult times and the town may or may not be able to participate,” said Farnell. “All members of the community understand what a huge opportunity this is. Whether you are able and or willing to proceed or not, North Village [Associates] are at a stage where they need to move forward with a PUD. It would be a shame to have to pass this up, I think, on everybody’s part.”

“From the beginning I’ve loved this project and I think it’s an important project for this community,” said mayor Janet Farmer. “Right now we have no idea with what’s going to happen with the virus over the next year and I do have some concerns about our financial part to this because we might not flat-out have the money.”

“The next step, assuming we did get that far, is you would have the opportunity during the entire PUD process to work on funding resources and grant research while we continue the PUD process,” said Farnell. “When the PUD gets approved and if you decide it’s not feasible for the town to get funding to help facilitate the cost of the infrastructure, you have the opportunity to withdraw from the project,” he said, explaining that any agreement would still be non-binding.

However, in light of COVID-19 impacts so far this year, the town does not have 2020 funds to cover the initial $200,000 for the PUD. “As far as this year goes we don’t have anything right now,” said town finance director Karl Trujillo. “We’ll have a better idea in October,” when staff looks at the 2021 budget. The town also has two potential funding sources that could be used in the development stage: its affordable housing fund, and its admission tax can be used toward transportation, in this case toward Snodgrass parking and transit.

“The unfortunate thing is obviously how COVID has affected our finances,” said council member and North Village subcommittee member Roman Kolodziej. “There’s this initial hump to get over with finances to get to the point where there actually is grant funding out there. If there’s a way we can work with other interested partners in the valley, the state… that could help us get over the first hump. Then there’s other funding out there and there’s other opportunities to collaborate.”

Farnell agreed, saying, “There is opportunity and time to develop those additional resources and those external resources. I think none of us would have entered into this thinking, regardless of COVID, that the town was going to have to write a check for $2 million or $3 million. There’s time in that process to go after those funds.” But he also reiterated that North Village needs a decision to be made as soon as possible, and will move forward with the planning stage with or without the town’s partnership. “If it’s too hard or too complex or too expensive, we understand that as well.”

“We also have to consider, what are the impacts to town finances if we don’t have access to this?” noted Kolodziej. “Snodgrass parking is going to go away. Are we going to build a parking lot, which costs money somewhere else? There will be other expenses that crop up if we are unable to do this project.”

“The opportunity that we have here is, in my opinion, once in a lifetime,” said council member Dwayne Lehnertz. “It sounds like finding the money is the biggest hurdle on everybody’s mind.”

“This is in a lot of ways an opportunity that we can’t pass up,” said council member and North Village subcommittee member Nicholas Kempin. “I realize that there are bigger sums down the road but in order to even see if we can take advantage of this opportunity… let’s see if we can get creative to try to come up with this planning money and continue to the next step to see if we can get other funds.”

Council member Lauren Koelliker agreed, saying, “I think that this is an incredible opportunity and I’d be really disappointed if we had to pass it up if we didn’t have money for planning. I’m not sure how to find the money right now—I think the town’s in a really difficult spot. Maybe there’s a way to come up with an agreement where we don’t have the cash right now. I think it’s really important to our town and the community and an opportunity that we will probably never see again.”

“I was never really on board with paying for the planning of the PUD portion,” countered council member Michael Bacani. “Right now we’re getting lots of positive feedback on this development. I think we need to find the money for the Phase 2 or whatever is after Phase 1 but I’m still struggling with paying for something that we’re basically going to approve ourselves.”

Council asked the North Village team if there could be any flexibility in offsetting the town’s initial PUD cost with higher infrastructure costs down the road, so that the town could still enter into an agreement with less of a financial burden under current conditions.

“It’s important for you guys to discuss the willingness to try to negotiate something about that first step of money,” said Farmer. “We’ve all said tonight we do want to do this project, we just don’t know how to do that right now with our finances.”

“We’re certainly willing to listen and try to make something work,” said Farnell, but he noted that he couldn’t speak for the property’s owner Claudio Alvarez, who was not in attendance.

The Town Council and town staff agreed they needed more time to dive into the town’s financials and to vet potential funding sources and partners in order discuss with North Village about what is actually feasible from the town’s perspective. An executive session regarding North Village financial negotiations will take place on Tuesday, August 4 at 4 p.m., followed by further discussion during a 5 p.m. work session and regular town council meeting at 6 p.m.

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