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Living the Resort Town Life: Part IV

by Adam Broderick

Editor’s Note: There is more to living in a resort town than the difficulty of finding a place or the long political discussion over how to provide so-called affordable housing. Reporter Adam Broderick looks at different angles of the issue in this summer series that explores what it’s actually like to live in deed-restricted affordable housing in Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte.

Last week we discussed the future of affordable housing at this end of the Gunnison Valley and explored some of the deed-restricted options that will be available in coming years. This week we revisit the current housing situation and its effect on local business; get to the bottom of rumors about deed restrictions and why they may have been lifted in the past; discuss loan potentials and requirements with a local banking expert; and wrap up this four-part affordable housing series with open minds, open hearts, half-empty wallets, and hopes for a future in paradise as we know it—er, envision it. And if you haven’t quite picked up what I’ve been laying down this past month, catch up with the series by following the link at the end of this story.

As we have seen in Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte, as well as other mountain resort towns also feeling the housing crunch, deed-restricted affordable housing is enjoyed by some and would be greatly appreciated by many more. As one deed-restricted homeowner said, “I’m able to live in this amazing community and pay all my bills and not struggle to live here like some other people who aren’t as fortunate.”

Blocks 79 and 80, the site of a new affordable housing project in Crested Butte.   photo by Adam Broderick
Blocks 79 and 80, the site of a new affordable housing project in Crested Butte. photo by Adam Broderick

As for the future of affordable housing at this end of the valley, town planner Michael Yerman says that lies in collaboration with the county. And according to Russ Forrest, assistant county manager for community and economic development, unlike many other mountain resort communities, we still have land opportunities in much of Gunnison County. A needs assessment study is being conducted to determine exactly who in the county needs exactly what, and so far the only real conclusion is that the Rural Transportation Authority connects the county and creates infrastructure to strategically place more housing.

In the meantime, some local businesses are doing what they can to help their staff afford housing, and others are beginning to explore the concept.

Local businesses feel the pain

Crested Butte Lodging has gone a step above to offer affordable housing to their employees. Alex Summerfelt works the front desk and says he and his roommate each pay $500 per month, the same as he paid while going to school in Colorado Springs, only now he’s right at the base area of the ski resort.

“Employees are required to put in at least 32 hours per week, whether that be at the office or doing maintenance or housekeeping,” Summerfelt says. Crested Butte Lodging rents various long-term condos on the mountain, which are held on retainer for employees only. Summerfelt says five employees currently use the service.

Jeff Graceffa, co-owner of The Secret Stash, firmly believes the town of Crested Butte has lost something without having beds for the “local, true community” and that the lack of affordable housing has a direct effect on customer service in town as well as on quality of life. “We’re really diluting the local culture here. The locals are just getting swept aside,” he said. “We need quality of life to get people to stay for more than just one season so we don’t get this turnover every year. It gets expensive.”

The Secret Stash employs more staff than most restaurants in town, if not all of them. Manager Taylor Cone says housing is definitely an issue the restaurant has been dealing with lately and he thinks that problems they’ve had with hiring could be directly related to the housing shortage. As for whether The Stash has considered helping their staff better afford local housing, he said that for now they’re just trying to stick it out through summer. “But maybe that’s something we do need to talk about because it doesn’t seem the hiring situation is getting much better.”

Graceffa sees signs that The Stash isn’t the only one to feel the pinch. The Avalanche restaurant at the ski resort’s base area has offered breakfast, lunch and dinner for as long as he can remember, but is now offering only lunch.

“When I first moved to Crested Butte, my friends lived across the street and my employees lived here. There are fewer and fewer locals in the neighborhood these days and it makes this a less appealing place. I love Crested Butte. My whole life is vested in this place. But it’s really lost something to the short-term rental market, and it’s sad to see,” Graceffa said.

Avalanche owner Todd Barnes says his restaurant has not been open for dinners this summer because not enough staff can be hired. He also thinks the hiring problem is directly related to the lack of affordable housing in the area.

“We’re doing lunch from 11 to 4 and Wednesday night dinners when there’s music on the mountain and people up here,” Barnes said. “I left it up to the employees who would be around and who wanted to work, and the majority had days free. So that’s why we’re doing lunch instead of dinners. That way staff is out by 5:30 or 5:45 and can get to another job or go play outside. Also, there are more people up here during the day than at night. On Wednesdays, we all work doubles.”

Barnes said this summer he didn’t have one person come in saying the old phrase, “I just moved here and I’m looking for a job,” whereas normally 15 to 20 people say that and some people get turned away.

 

He let an employee go this summer because other staff didn’t like working with her. “We’re still offering the same quality of service. And I’m still on par for lunches from last year, even up just a little, but I don’t have the staff to be open any longer. I just hope this doesn’t continue through winter. Then what will we do? I hope all the skunk cabbage and century plants foretell a big snow year and that everybody forgets about this. I want to sell people food and booze and have a good time. It’ll be interesting to see what CBMR does. They employ the most people.”

Do deed restrictions last?

There has been some recent talk around town and in social media threads about the lifting of deed restrictions—why it occurs, how often, and how many more will be lifted in the future. This is what officials from different entities say has happened:

Karl Fulmer, executive director of the Gunnison Valley Regional Housing Authority (GVRHA), explained that in the event of foreclosure the deed restriction goes away, and most lenders require that. “As long as you’re credit-worthy and the deed restriction has a specific component saying the deed restriction goes away in the event of foreclosure, most lenders will go with that. We have a right of first refusal to save it from foreclosure,” he said.

As a home goes into foreclosure the deed restriction goes away, but the housing authority, the county or a municipality in the county gets first dibs to buy it out of foreclosure and not lose the deed-restricted unit.

Yerman says the long-term goal is to keep housing affordable for the future, so if you deviate from that you lose that affordability factor. He said the town of Crested Butte has never lifted a deed restriction.

In Mt. Crested Butte, Clayton says on a few occasions decisions have been made when affordable units went into foreclosure to not buy the units from the lender and save them. On each occasion, he said, the council looked at the unit and determined if it was a good or bad property to try to acquire and then resell.

“In one case, the unit was refinanced for more than the cap on the property. In another case, the unit was deed restricted for local ownership but there was no cap on pricing. A couple more were units where identical free market units were selling at lower prices than the deed-restricted units.”

Clayton says the town of Mt. Crested Butte has had several individuals come before the Town Council asking that they remove the deed restriction from a unit so that the unit would have a wider audience. In each case, he said, the council decided not to remove the restriction since that would set a precedent that they would remove deed restrictions in the future.

Forrest said there are a variety of deed restrictions within Gunnison County and that it’s not uncommon to lift them. “There are a lot of lessons learned with deed restrictions due to price appreciation, value caps, different definitions of locals… Through a foreclosure it can go to a bank and then that deed restriction can get stripped away. Deed restrictions are complicated and there are really good ones, and really bad ones. If they’re too convoluted, you can’t get a loan on them. It’s just too complicated and a lending institution won’t touch it.”

In 2009, county commissioners lifted deed restrictions on approximately 40 lots in the River Neighborhood of Skyland. When the restrictions were written, there was some language that left questions about whether the restrictions went with the property or ended with the first qualified buyer. There was no cap set on income earned by potential buyers, nor was there a cap on the sale price of the home. The only effect of the deed restriction put in place on those homes was that a full year had to go by before the houses could be resold.

“There was nothing about those deed restrictions that maintained affordability in any way or was in line with the county’s affordable housing goals. It was a local’s deed restriction but not an affordable housing restriction,” county manager Matthew Birnie said. “When those homes went to resell with no price control, they were much more valuable than the original price. They were no longer affordable as commissioners saw them.”

Commissioners did not think the covenants could be revived since they were not upheld from the beginning, which the commissioners believed left homeowners unaware of the details of the deed restrictions on their homes, so the board decided to lift the restrictions and allow homeowners in the River Neighborhood to sell their homes on the free market. Several of those homeowners claimed to be in serious financial danger, and although Jim Starr, then a commissioner and currently the chairman of the Gunnison Valley Housing Foundation, said it wouldn’t have been fair to hold the owners to restrictions they were supposedly not informed of, he was not happy with the decision.

“We didn’t have enough deed-restricted housing then and we still don’t. It was tough to get rid of those,” Starr said.

So yes, some deed restrictions have been lifted in both ends of the valley. Not in the town of Crested Butte or in Mt. Crested Butte, but elsewhere and for different reasons that seem to be justified by the decision makers.

Bank loans for deed-restricted homes

I spoke with Craig Bryant, the executive vice president of Gunnison Savings & Loan, to get a better feel for requesting a loan and purchasing a deed-restricted home. He says loan requirements for deed-restricted home purchases are no different from other home purchases. Having a decent credit history plus the income sources to be in a reasonable financial position to support the home and make the payments should do it.

Bryant says Gunnison Savings & Loan doesn’t put any requirements on their loans (such as requiring income to be earned locally) and that they often use co-borrowers to add financial strength and credit history to help get people qualified. That would be similar to a co-signer on a rental agreement, only co-borrowers are more deeply committed. As for the difficulty getting a loan, Bryant says that varies.

“There are more lenders out there in the “big world” that do not include deed restricted homes as being acceptable collateral. Exactly why that is, I’m not sure, but the services don’t want to deal with the deed restrictions, in the foreclosure process specifically,” Bryant said. “If everyone made their payments there wouldn’t be a problem. We at Gunnison Savings & Loan have always supported that process and have made several loans for deed-restricted homes. The loans have performed as expected, and people have an appreciation for the opportunities they’re given in a deed-restricted marketplace.”

There is not a typical interest rate for deed-restricted home loans. Those will vary, and Bryant said borrowers can get both long-term fixed-rate loans and adjustable rate loans, depending on their preference.

 

For potential buyers, Gunnison Savings & Loan gives free consultations. According to Bryant, “Everybody has to cross the line where they’re both mentally and financially in a position to buy a home because it is a long-term commitment, and we help people determine whether or not they’re ready at this time. If they’re not quite ready, we help them analyze their situation and decide what they need to do to get ready to buy a home. We don’t charge for an inquiry.”

That’s what Gunnison Savings & Loan could do for potential buyers. But GVRHA’s Fulmer says Wells Fargo is also good option. “Wells Fargo certainly lends fairly frequently on deed-restricted units throughout the state,” he said.

Anyone considering a deed-restricted home purchase in the town of Crested Butte should contact Michael Yerman at myerman@crestedbutte-co.gov, since he is compiling a master list of interested buyers for potential housing on the town’s blocks 79 and 80. Eligibility requirements will be available in October or November of this year. Yerman says staff is investigating qualifying buyers who earn up to 160 percent AMI (average median income), which for a single person in 2015 would mean $80,320 per year, but will be discussing the income qualifications with the Town Council in October. Applications are estimated to be accepted beginning January 2016.

So there you have it. The county, the municipalities within, and some local organizations are making efforts to create more affordable housing for the local workforce. Affordable housing is a valley-wide issue that rides the economical tides, and is a challenge facing most mountain communities, not just this one. It requires a community working together to address such an issue, and as we’ve learned throughout this series, this valley is beginning to unite and work toward solutions. Other mountain towns are doing the same, often taking notes from one another’s efforts and experiences—from years past, from current projects and from goals for the future. A future that, as we’ve learned, looks quite grim if the effort does not occur community wide. Thanks for caring enough about the community we live in to stick with me through this four-part series. It’s a cold world out there, and it’s been rather wet lately. Let’s help each other stay warm.

To read this feature series in its entirety, visit crestedbuttenews.com/?s=living+the+resort+town+life

Living the Resort Town Life — Part III —

by Adam Broderick

Editor’s Note: There is more to living in a resort town than the difficulty of finding a place to live or the long political discussion over how to provide so-called affordable housing. Reporter Adam Broderick looks at different angles of the issue in this summer series that explores what it’s actually like to live in deed-restricted affordable housing in Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte.

Last week we spoke with elected officials and housing authorities in other mountain resort towns—Park City, Telluride, Jackson Hole and Aspen—about their efforts to house their local workforce and how they each plan to offer housing for employees in the future. Well before the most recent economic recession, resort towns faced a housing “crisis,” and it’s on the table again. Finding and providing affordable housing is a challenge, particularly where a high quality of life is the area’s main attraction. This week we discuss opportunities for local organizations in this region and future plans to help house the local workforces.

A little background

Homes that used to be listed under $500,000 on the free market are no longer available in this valley.

“Or, the quality of those homes is a bit more questionable,” said Russ Forrest, assistant county manager for community and economic development. Forrest explained that there is a lot of competition for anything that’s available for rent in both the upper and the lower Gunnison Valley. But he thinks the private market in the lower valley hasn’t yet had a chance to respond. Even though affordability is greater in the lower valley, Forrest said there aren’t a lot of built homes available for purchase.

“A report from 2014 showed 25 percent of people renting in Gunnison County spent 50 percent of their income on rent,” Forrest said. “In April 2015, the median price of a 1,500-square-foot home north of Almont was $683,750. That’s the median price. The average price would be more than $1 million. In terms of income to afford that, that’s approximately $130,000—and 9 percent of the population makes that sort of money.”

As for Crested Butte, town planner Michael Yerman said the town is making a huge difference in affordable housing. “We currently have 204 units. We’re going to add 91. If over a quarter of our housing stock in town is deed restricted for affordable housing, we’re doing a pretty good job,” he said. “I see our future is with regional collaboration with the county. This is a countywide issue, not just a Crested Butte issue.”

On the horizon

In Gunnison County, Forrest said there are still opportunities to do something about affordable housing. “Unlike the I-70 corridor or the Roaring Fork corridor, we still have land opportunities. Through the One Valley Prosperity Project [OVPP] we see that as a tool and a forum to deal with regional issues like this. We don’t know all the issues yet, but by connecting mass transportation, like the Rural Transportation Authority connecting Crested Butte South where a lot of employees are, and with the connection it has to Gunnison, you have the infrastructure to be strategic about where to put housing,” he said.

According to Forrest, from a regional standpoint, the idea is to connect transportation to housing opportunities and create the maximum bang for the buck. “A needs assessment study [a near-future project of the GVRHA] could tell us how many employees are out there and need housing,” he said. “There are land opportunities in and around Gunnison. There are approximately one million square feet between Camp 4 Coffee and Tully’s in Crested Butte South that have been approved in the context of mixed-use development. So there are land opportunities, but the next step is figuring out how to do it.

“It’s a tough problem to deal with. I’ve always said I had a full head of hair before I dealt with housing problems in the mountains. You don’t change it overnight,” Forrest said.

Yerman said the new deed-restricted rental development in the town of Crested Butte called Anthracite Place, which will be located at Sixth and Belleview and offer 30 deed-restricted units, is anticipated to be done next July. There is a five-year build out expected for Blocks 79, 80 and 76. The town broke ground on Blocks 79 and 80 on July 8. Roads and utilities are being installed and affordable housing options should be first available for the local workforce in the spring of 2016. Block 76 probably won’t begin for about five years, due to budgeting constraints.

“Right now our biggest goal is to have anything we do with affordable housing be successful for the applicant or the person living in it,” Yerman said. “Too often we overregulate or devise things that look good on paper, but when it comes down to the person actually building and paying off the loan, they could potentially be in a situation that is not successful for them. So we work to create—whether it be through ownership or rentals, we’ll get there.”

The town of Mt. Crested Butte also wants to maximize the availability of affordable housing, but David Clayton, mayor of Mt. Crested Butte, said there is limited vacant land for new affordable housing projects. He also said Mt. Crested Butte does not have a sustainable mechanism to generate funds the town can spend on housing.

“We have quite a few lots available in the Homestead project in Prospect and the town has architectural plans developed for the next building that will be constructed but we do not have sufficient funds in the affordable housing fund to start the next building,” Clayton said. “Income to that fund comes from affordable housing fees charged to new commercial projects, which have not happened lately in Mt. Crested Butte.”

Erica Mueller, director of innovations and relations at Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR), told the News that the Homestead project at Prospect was put together in conjunction with CBMR and the town of Mt. Crested Butte.

“CBMR constructed all of the basic infrastructure, roads and utilities, etc. Also, as per the annexation agreement, we deeded 16 lots to the town and we own/owned 25 lots. We built and sold six units in 2007/2008 and then we all know what happened with the economy, so we haven’t built anything up there since then. Currently both CBMR and the town have lots that can be built on as part of this affordable housing neighborhood,” Mueller said.

Mt. Crested Butte town manager Joe Fitzpatrick provided some facts concerning workforce housing in Mt. Crested Butte:

—There are 63 rental or owner-occupied units with some type of deed restriction.

—A triplex has been designed in the Homestead (Prospect) subdivision and is ready for construction; however, the funds are not available to construct the building.

Local officials held a ceremonial groundbreaking last week in Crested Butte’s latest affordable housing project, installing infrastructure on blocks 79 and 80.   photo by Lydia Stern
Local officials held a ceremonial groundbreaking last week in Crested Butte’s latest affordable housing project, installing infrastructure on blocks 79 and 80. photo by Lydia Stern

—The Timbers Apartments (old Marcellina Apartments) are currently going through a major remodel; seven of the units are deed restricted and will once again be available for occupancy when the building remodel is complete.

—There are multiple “free market” multiple family lots in Mt. Crested Butte that could be used for the construction of “workforce housing;” however, considering today’s market and the cost of construction, the economics for rental housing have not been attractive to developers.

—The town owns only one other piece of vacant land, Inn Site II, and it currently serves as a parking lot. [Locals know it as the “Rasta Lot,” at the corner of Gothic and Treasury.]

According to Clayton, “It takes so much money to build a unit, over a million dollars for a triplex to be built. We really lose about 50 percent of construction costs.”

Clayton believes the town of Mt. Crested Butte would be willing to look at creative ways to build new units, but they don’t even have a good statistical handle on what the true need is. “That’s one of the things that the county, the GVRHA and the municipalities are looking at—updating our housing studies,” he said.

Local businesses chipping in

Some of the larger businesses in the area have been providing affordable employee housing for years, and some are just starting to make moves in that direction. CBMR, Irwin/Eleven, and RMBL offered some insight.

At CBMR, Mueller explained that the resort manages units they rent to employees in the Lodge at Mountaineer Square, Crested Mountain Condos and The Plaza. For winter housing, they work with some properties in Almont and Gunnison to house some international employees and other employees. As for the future, Mueller said CBMR is exploring options for more development but nothing is set in stone.

“Anything we would or could do is at least a few years out, as it would require a lot of financing, permitting, planning, constructing, etc.,” Mueller said.

At Irwin, Jake Jones, director of North American operations for Irwin Guides, said Irwin/Eleven has four suites located within the town of Crested Butte. Two of the suites come with employment and two of the suites rent to employees at 50 percent below market rate. All the suites are furnished and include utilities.

“We often use housing as an incentive for our internship program or for traveling staff that may be working in Crested Butte from overseas or out of state,” Jones said.

At the moment there are no future plans for more employee housing at Irwin/Eleven.

Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory isn’t immune to the challenge either. “Housing is a real problem for us. RMBL’s future opportunities are currently limited by the ability of scientists and permanent employees to find offsite housing,” said RMBL executive director Ian Billick.

Approximately 11 full-time employees live on-site for free. Billick said the staff gets meals and RMBL handles utilities. “RMBL will have approximately 70 people on payroll this summer, about half of whom are working full-time or close to full-time. There is also growing demand by scientists to use RMBL’s services. The ability to find housing offsite has been important to accommodating this demand. This summer has been a real wake-up call, however. We’re actively exploring options and looking for other employers who might want to collaborate with us,” Billick said.

So far, the consensus is that life ain’t easy for the majority of residents in mountain resort towns. Tune in next week for Part IV of Living the Resort Town Life. We’ll dive into the history and future of deed restrictions in this region and hear what other local stakeholders and decision makers think of the direction we’re headed with housing for locals.

Living the Resort Town Life — Part II

by Adam Broderick

Editor’s Note: There is more to living in a resort town than the difficulty of finding a place or the long political discussion over how to provide so-called affordable housing. Reporter Adam Broderick looks at different angles of the issue in this summer series that explores deed-restricted affordable housing in resort towns like Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte.

Last week we heard stories from real Buttians about what it’s like to live in affordable housing in Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte. This week we speak with government officials and housing authorities in other resort towns, exploring what has been done to address similar local housing issues.

But first, what does “deed-restricted” mean? Deed restrictions determine who can and cannot purchase a property. The goal of deed restrictions in regard to affordable housing is to keep homes affordable for years to come by restricting the amount of value one can add to a home with improvements or remodels. When deed restrictions are upheld and work as planned, the housing market may change drastically from the time of purchase but the property value remains the same, or very close to it.

Criteria for ownership in deed-restricted homes differs from one affordable housing project to the next, but for the most part, to qualify one must make a minimum income (to guarantee payments will be made on time) but not too much, and usually most income must be earned locally. Also, one must reside locally for a certain number of years. When a deed-restricted homeowner decides to sell, only a small percentage can be made for profit.

Snow Creek Cottages in Park City.  photo by Elliott Workgroup
Snow Creek Cottages in Park City. photo by Elliott Workgroup

Crested Butte town planner Michael Yerman explained that the typical deed restriction is for 3 percent of the purchase price, or the consumer price index, whichever is less. “The long-term goal is to keep housing units affordable for the future, so if you deviate from that you lose that affordability,” Yerman says. “What makes these properties attractive to homeowners is that the land is dealt at a much lower rate, making the build more affordable. In exchange for that, you agree to a three percent increase.”

For example, a home that cost $100,000 will always be worth $100,000, plus 3 percent per year, or $3,000 per year. Thirty years down the line that $100,000 home would be worth no more than $190,000. However, improvements which increase energy efficiency or create additional liveable space could be included in the home’s future price.

Other covenants imposed by homeowner associations often limit developments, like determining which styles of homes can be built and which materials can be used to construct them; proximity to the street or neighboring properties; size of buildings and additional structures; pet allowances; lot storage prohibitions; road maintenance and landscaping guidelines; and even paint colors or fencing materials.

In discussions with other communities about how their efforts to implement affordable housing for locals, it has become clear that Crested Butte is not alone in dealing with the so-called “housing crisis.” I spoke with housing authorities and elected officials in ski towns around the west—Telluride, Aspen, Jackson and Park City—and all face similar housing issues.

Aspen, Colorado

“It’s not just an Aspen problem. It’s a Roaring Fork Valley-wide problem,” says Mike Krosdrosky, executive director of the Aspen Pitkin County Housing Authority (APCHA). He says Aspen has faced a housing crisis as long as he can remember; the difference is that now there is more affordable housing.

Aspen has 2,166 units currently for sale or rent with deed restrictions of some sort, and another 765 affordable homes and rentals in the surrounding Pitkin County. Somewhere around 45 percent of the total workforce in Pitkin County lives in affordable housing built by the city. Twenty-one percent of those residents are at the low-to-moderate income level and 79 percent are at the moderate-to-high income level.

“The goal from the early 1990s was to house about 60 percent [of the local workforce], so we’re below that stated goal, if that’s any indication of the ongoing way of life here,” Krosdrosky says.

In 1990, the city of Aspen passed a real estate transfer tax for employee housing and Krosdrosky says that has brought in a lot of funds to build affordable housing. “It’s a 1 percent transfer tax on the purchase price of any residential real estate over $100,000 that changes hands. A percentage of that goes into a fund for housing development. Last year the city collected $8 million to $8.5 million and we’re on track to exceed that this year.”

Cindy Christensen, head of operations for APCHA, has been with the city of Aspen for 25 years and has worked on local housing issues since 1992. She says the city went to the voters to extend the 1 percent transfer tax. “The last time we asked the voters for an extension of 40 years, it was approved no problem.”

Part of the desire is to keep workers in the community. “We have workers commuting from as far as Rifle and Eagle,” Krosdrosky says. “It’s cheaper to live in those towns than in Aspen. Rifle is probably an hour and a half from Aspen. Our bus service goes that far, but during the winter you’re adding probably an hour on that.”

This summer, the APCHA is collecting data to inform an update of its affordable housing guidelines. On July 1, the organization sent a survey to all residents and is working to distribute it to 750 businesses. “The study will help us update our affordable housing guidelines by allowing us to analyze affordability, qualifications for renting or purchasing, and other best practices for the mountain community,” Krosdrosky says. “We feel we’re overdue for getting our guidelines updated so we’re collecting new data to analyze. Once we start aggregating data we can start having conversations around these issues and make decisions based on facts instead of speculations.”

Park City, Utah

According to Outside Magazine’s “Best Towns Ever” (September 2013), “The trick to being a Park City local is finding a way to stay. There’s a tricky balance between attracting wealthy tourists and second home owners without expelling the middle class.”

There are more than 325 units of deed-restricted, low-income rental housing in Park City, one of only two communities in Utah that have an affordable housing resolution. Park City’s communications and public affairs manager Phyllis Robinson says the ratio of primary to secondary homes today is 31 percent primary residents and 69 percent second homes/part-time residents. That number has fluctuated over time but it generally hovers around 35 percent primary and 65 percent second homes/part-time residents.

Robinson says the city’s population is getting older and the community is at risk of losing economic and age diversity in the community. In a presentation to the Park City Board of Realtors last June, Robinson said the city saw a decrease in younger households and an increase in older households between 2000 and 2010. The surrounding county has become more attractive to younger households as well because of the diversity and greater affordability of housing.

To fund affordable housing, Park City has a property tax code that incentivizes renting long term versus nightly rentals or leaving a home empty. Robinson says that primary residents (long-term rentals) are taxed at 55 percent of their assessed value versus 100 percent for second homes. In 2013, Park City received the Robert Larson Public Policy Award for its ongoing commitment to affordable housing.

The city has a goal of 10 percent of its housing stock being some form of deed-restricted affordable housing. By 2020, it aims to reach or exceed 7 percent, and as of this year is at 5.5 percent. The city is looking at older condo properties to see if there is a level of redevelopment they can bring to the units, and has the funding available if such opportunities become available.

Past projects included the preservation of the Holiday Village Apartments in 2001 under the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) where each of the 80 units was awarded rental assistance, so no household pays more than 30 percent of its annual income for rent. A similar project was done a few years later, but in 2005 the City Council shifted its focus to homeownership projects, including a 13-unit project in 2008 and a seasonal housing project for homeowners.

“We are currently developing another small affordable homeownership project on city-owned land, and evaluating city parking lots for further housing development opportunities,” says Robinson.

The real challenge for Park City, as worded in last month’s Board of Realtors presentation, is this: “Keeping and attracting moderate and middle-income residents is crucial if we want to remain a real life town and have a light carbon footprint.”

 

Telluride, Colorado

“The term Draconian has been used to describe us. We are supplying housing for workers. Once you make that decision, you know what you are building and who you are building for,” says Telluride mayor Stu Fraser. “People cry when they sign the contract, and it’s from joy. We have a really overjoyed group of people that have housing, and a frustrated group that want it. They’re not cookie-cutter places. They win architectural awards. It’s the most gratifying part of my job, building housing and building it the best that we can.”

A recent survey reported that 60 percent of workers in San Miguel County want to live in Telluride, and 30 percent of the local workforce lives in Ridgway or neighboring towns and commutes to work in Telluride.

Approximately 56 percent of all homes in the town of Telluride are owner-occupied. Fraser says the goal is 60 percent, so they’re close, but it still takes time. In all, 310 homes in Telluride are deed-restricted. The town spent $25 million on 100 deed-restricted affordable homes between 2004 and 2012.

“We’re not in a rush to solve the problem in three years,” Fraser says. “And we cannot solve the problem by ourselves. Myself and the mayor of Mountain Village met with all the HR directors from all the large businesses. We said, ‘You’re telling us you don’t have places for your employees? You have a responsibility, too. Government is not set up to be a sole provider of deed-restricted housing. Everybody needs to participate.’”

Fraser and his colleagues even talked to Telluride Ski and Golf Club and they’re now looking at purchasing properties for employee housing. Lance McDonald, program director for the town of Telluride, compares the idea to the old mining model. “When the mines came in, they built housing for their employees. Then if you lost your job, you lost your place to live.”

Telluride has a half-cent asset sales tax that generates the affordable housing fund. There’s also a sliding scale fee that contributes to the fund, which is based on square footage of new houses being built in town. McDonald says larger homes pay a larger fee percentage-wise than smaller homes. But the half-cent asset sales tax is where the real money comes from and generates roughly $600,000 per year.

Of the 310 deed-restricted units in Telluride, 31 are employee dwelling units, which they call their accessory dwellings, and Fraser says the town had to do a lot to make sure homeowners were compliant with town regulations.

“We sent letters out, then followed up with phone calls to property owners to find out if they were renting. It took a while, but we got responses from virtually everybody. We had to stay on their tails to get the information back to us, but now they report annually,” says Fraser.

According McDonald, “We definitely have affordability issues, and they get hotter and colder with the economy. As our region continues to build out, it becomes exponentially harder to create meaningful, affordable housing in these resort communities. A lot of the low-hanging fruit has already been picked.”

Jackson, Wyoming

The housing crisis has really never gone away in Jackson. “It continually gets worse; however, it does take on different characteristics,” says Stacy Stoker, executive director of the Teton County Housing Authority. “During the economic crisis, we didn’t have as many people living out of cars, and the vacancy rate in rentals was higher. Now it’s almost zero.”

Of the 13,273 housing units in Jackson in 2013, 9,295 (70 percent) remained occupied; 4,139 were occupied by renters, 5,516 by owners. Roughly 36 percent of households have an income less than $50,000 and approximately 38 to 40 percent of the local workforce lives in Driggs, Idaho or another neighboring town and commutes to work in Jackson.

Elected officials in the town of Jackson have a goal of housing 65 percent of the local workforce. Stoker says Jackson was at the 65 percent mark a couple of years ago, but has slipped to about 62 percent and is losing ground pretty quickly right now. There is a Housing Action Plan in the works that should be complete within the next couple of months.

Stoker says there is no dedicated funding source for housing in the community besides developer-in-lieu fees, nor are prospective developers lined up for such endeavors, but this may come through the Housing Action Plan. There are fees that new development pays when they don’t provide housing units in the development, and those fees go toward affordable housing.

Last summer the town of Jackson passed an ordinance allowing people to sleep overnight in public parks and parking lots.

“The idea was for someone who had an RV or vehicle to be able to pull over and sleep overnight,” Stoker says. “This had not been allowed in the past. There was consideration of setting up some kind of man camp for this summer, but I believe that idea was squashed due to issues that could arise from the density of campers all in one place.”

Stoker says the biggest problem in Jackson is the shortage of rentals. “Many people have turned to using their single-family homes and condos as short-term rentals, even when they are not allowed, and this reduces the number of units available for the workforce. Last summer, we had 12 percent of the workforce living out of their cars,” she says. “A decade ago, it was difficult to find rentals, but not like it is currently.”

Stay tuned for Part III of Living the Resort Town Life, in which we’ll speak with local officials and discuss the area’s future plans to develop more deed-restricted affordable
housing.

Living the Resort Town Life: Part I

By Adam Broderick

Editor’s note: There is more to living in a resort town than the difficulty of finding a place to live or the long political discussion over how to provide so-called affordable housing. Reporter Adam Broderick will look at different angles of the issue in this summer series that explores what it’s actually like to live in deed-restricted affordable housing in Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte.

This week we take a glimpse into current residents’ living situations, exploring different deed-restricted neighborhoods and their advantages and disadvantages as residents view them.
A handful of deed-restricted affordable homeowners from the Upper Gunnison Valley explained what they thought about their living situations. From Red Lady Estates to Paradise Park and Poverty Gulch on either side of town to Prospect on the back side of the mountain, this is what people really think of their affordable homes.

Paradise Park
Nicky O’Connor lives with her dog and cat in the Paradise Park community, which is located on the block between Gothic and Teocalli and 8th and 9th streets. She moved into her one-bed, 1.5-bath condo with a garage in June 2007 after building the house through the winter months as part of the Mutual Self-Help Build, a program offered by the Gunnison Valley Regional Housing Authority.

ESTATE ESCAPE: Gibbons’ “little oasis” in the Red Lady Estates catches some morning light.    photo by Adam Broderick
ESTATE ESCAPE: Gibbons’ “little oasis” in the Red Lady Estates catches some morning light.
photo by Adam Broderick

Four units were built simultaneously—two buildings, two townhomes in each—and all homeowners pitched in to help each other build and save money up front.
In lieu of a down payment they were required to work a minimum of 30 hours per week, but many worked more than that. O’Connor says homeowners collectively did about 60 percent of the builds and contracted out the plumbing, drywall, roofing and the initial concrete pour. They did all other flooring aspects themselves, including grouting, staining and sealing.
“We would do one step on someone’s house all the way through, then repeat that step in the other homes. When it came to the inside—personal stuff like paint choices and interior designs [O’Connor was quick to engrave a Celtic knot on the floor]—we would do our own,” she says. “We worked over the span of about nine months for at least 30 hours per week. Some weeks we put more time in. We were allowed to get help from friends or family, but we personally had to put at least 15 of those hours in. I ended up having to quit my second job to allow the time for the build.”
With rental rates as high as they have been lately, O’Connor says she couldn’t even get a room in town for the price she pays for her home. And when she walks out her front door, Mt. Crested Butte is the first thing she sees. In fact, she can see a peak out of each of her 16 windows. She lives next to the rec path, and says her neighbors are awesome. “We all help each other out,” she says. “And I love my little yard. It’s not fenced in but could be if I wanted.
“Another awesome thing about the program was how much I learned building the house from the ground up,” she continued. “I was able to add thoughts to the design of the original floor plan and change it up a bit. And I now have bragging rights because I can say I built my own house.”
As for downsides, O’Connor says there aren’t many other than resale value. “There is a cap on how much you can make on resale. My subsidized loan is through the United States Department of Agriculture. Even with the annual appreciation, if I were to sell I wouldn’t make much off of it.”

Red Lady Estates
Jack Gibbons lives in what he calls the best lot in town. His home is in the Red Lady Estates, the small mobile home community on Red Lady Avenue next to Clark’s Market, and he says he’s made it into something pretty incredible. Once you step inside, all the remodeling he’s done makes you forget you’re even in a mobile home. Even from the outside, it’s still difficult to tell.
Gibbons owns a 1,100-square-foot two-bedroom, two-bathroom home with one roommate, his cat and his roommate’s dog. He was lucky to find his home twenty years ago, when he says the town offered lots to people who were lucky enough to have their names drawn from a hat.
“I was number ten out of 50 people,” Gibbons says. “They gave you the lot and you went and bought a trailer. There were lots of hurdles and it was hard to come up with the down payment, but I don’t think it was atypical of what anyone else goes through. The home was relatively cheap. I’m so lucky to have been here at the perfect time, to have won the lottery that put me here.”
He moved into his new home, part of the first affordable housing project Crested Butte had done, in 1995. “At the beginning there was a lot of controversy, but I think we’ve proved everyone wrong,” he says. “People said they didn’t want a trailer park in town and called it degrading and white trash. I hate the term ‘trailer park.’ We try to keep the place clean and tidy as possible. I think it’s the best lot in town.”
Gibbons says the only downsides to his deed-restricted home are that he will never have a garage, just a porch over his front steps, and since he’s tucked up against The Bench he only gets a few hours of sun per day in the winter. But in summer the whole yard is a lush garden with water features and stone sitting areas, and the yard borders a hillside covered in thick foliage. “It’s a little oasis back there,” he says.

Poverty Gulch
Jake Jones and his family live in a two-bedroom, one-bath, 800+ square foot duplex in the Poverty Gulch community, which is on the north side of Butte Avenue between 7th and 8th streets. He says his wife, Sarah, holds the title as the first and only owner and if he remembers correctly, she won a lottery and was able to purchase their home from the town of Crested Butte in 1999 or 2000. Jones says the property was probably at one point considered unusable land, but was turned into affordable housing.
The Jones family most appreciates the price, convenient in-town location and great views from their home. They feel fortunate to live in town, especially since many of his and Sarah’s friends have moved their families out of town.
“We feel very fortunate to go non-motorized so often, leaving the car parked and riding bikes to work or a free bus to the ski area. Living in town, that’s really something,” Jones says. “Another upside is these units are owner-occupied. If we lived anywhere else in town, we’d probably be surrounded by renters. Living with other people who own their units is a good thing.”
In that corner of town, due to the density of affordable units, there are many long-term residents and families. According to Jones, “There is a strong sense of community, more so than in other parts of town where you find mostly renters or mostly dark neighborhoods. Also, our kid can ride his bike to school easily. His friends are all throughout the neighborhood. A lot of these families would not live in town if it weren’t for these units.”
Jones says about 15 years ago the town built the homes, then sold them. “People had to qualify, then get their name on a list, then have their name drawn. My wife had to meet all the standards of not making too much money, all the money she did make had to be locally earned and she had to have lived in the valley a certain number of years.”
Other than actual quality of life, Jones says there is no benefit to improving the property. Projects that require building permits—decks, windows, etc.—could add equity to the home, but not for many years. “A tiny 50-square foot addition could add $30,000, but you may not see that for 30 years,” he says. “[Improvement projects] may increase your quality of life, but you couldn’t recoup that as an investment.
“At the end of the day, these units do not get people out of affordable housing into the free market,” he continued. “The free market is far surpassed. But it is an affordable way for locals to experience homeownership.”

Prospect
Mark Fontenot says the town of Mt. Crested Butte was very generous and let him rent his one-bed, 1.5-bath in Prospect for a year to see if he liked the location. He bought it a year later. The Prospect development is on the backside of CBMR near the Prospect chairlift. Fontenot says he got into his home at just the right time and he is proud to have his own little slice of heaven for the rest of his life.
As far as restrictions go, Fontenot says he thinks the town hit a home run with the Prospect development. “Our dues are very low compared to other affordable housing communities around here and as far as wanting to do anything I can, as long as I go through the right steps and properly approach the board [of directors], I have had zero problems doing anything I’ve wanted to do. I can plant as much as I want and make my house look as beautiful as I want as long as I ask permission to do it. If I want to put granite countertops in my home, I can, and that adds to the value of my home. Any improvements I put into it I can get back.”
Fontenot explained that he could sell his house for the original cost plus around 3 to 3.5 percent (inflation, he called it) per year plus the cost of improvements he makes to it. “Whatever the house was purchased for, the next year it will increase 3 to 3.5 percent plus any improvements I do. If the granite counter tops cost $1,000 I can sell my house for cost plus 3.5 percent per year plus the $1,000 for the counter tops. You just keep your receipt.”
“I really hope we can build more of these opportunities for other people so they can have the same satisfaction I have,” he continued. “This town needs it. My home is affordable. I’m able to live in this amazing community and pay all my bills and not struggle to live here like some other people who aren’t as fortunate. I look forward to the day that Prospect is further built out so that I have more friends as neighbors.”

As you can see, these real life stories are examples of how affordable housing works. These communities are full of families, the local workforce—real Buttians. Stay tuned for the next installment of Living the Resort Town Life. We’ll take a look inside more affordable housing developments around town and explore what has been done in other resort towns to address local housing issues.

Honestly, a championship tastes even better when it’s over our sister town

This town has never needed a big excuse to hold a parade, but this Friday at 4 p.m. it has a pretty good reason to have one. The Crested Butte Community School boy’s soccer team traveled to Denver last weekend and came back as the new 2A state champion. They get an Elk Avenue parade.

A few quick notes on the weekend run that struck me:

—When Willa Emmitt was singing the national anthem before the start of the championship game at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park where the professional Colorado Rapids soccer team plays, the sound on the television at the school wasn’t fully working. Because the 60 or 70 people in the multi-purpose room could pretty much only watch as she sang and the Titans team stood with their hands over their hearts, the people who were gathered at the school stood up, took off their caps and started quietly singing the Star Spangled Banner. It was truly moving. And everyone who did hear her sing said Willa nailed it, by the way.

—The team took time in the mayhem after their victory to recognize school bus driver Bill Kastning in the locker room after the game. He has spent months transporting the Titans over mountain passes and through city traffic all season delivering our kids safely to and from their games. He would apparently act as a bit of a tour guide at times and the kids grew to appreciate his work, his knowledge and his contribution to the team. He was given the special Hawaiian “game shirt” that normally goes to the player of the game and Kastning wore it immediately. Maybe he hasn’t taken it off. That too was touching and speaks to the caliber and character of this particular Titans team.

—Than is the man who pushes a new flock of Crested Butte boys to become better men every fall. Than Acuff is the long-time CBCS high school soccer coach who has helped shape so many of the boys and girls in this community. He has made them laugh, cry and get mad. He has done the same with the parents. One of Than’s finest attributes as a coach may be that he treats his players as human beings, with respect and accountability. They are trying to figure out life. He is not a babysitter. He teaches. He is empathetic. He doesn’t suffer excuses but understands life circumstances. He is a blessing for the school and the community. Former players still refer to him as “coach” when they see him, out of admiration and deference for a life mentor. It is impressive to witness the impact he has had on the village’s young adults. He said this state championship was for every team he has had the honor to coach in his CBCS history. I know every former player feels pride in this year’s accomplishment. As usual, Than recognized the potential of the 2018 Titans and got the most out of a good group of local kids from Crested Butte and Gunnison.

Now, I must say that making the state title even better is that this team of chemistry beat archrival Telluride—a team that has for years given the Titans fits, depending on the season and the sport. This fall season belonged to Crested Butte as they beat the Miners three times. But the victory in that third game took overtime, and frankly, it doesn’t get any better than playing in a state championship game in a professional stadium and going to overtime—and winning.

This is where in a standard, politically correct commentary on the champs I’d say that just getting to the championship game was a great honor for two mountain towns and as long as the boys did their best that’s all they could ask for.

Nope.

Telluride and Crested Butte have always had sort of a playful, love-hate sibling relationship. The two towns both take pride in being quirky and different and a whole lot cooler than, say, Vail. There’s a mutual chip on the shoulder over the similar Colorado mining town turned ski resort—Aspen—getting all the money, glory and fame. T’ride might be more Rasta while Crested Butte is more…blue collar real? Telluride was built on silver mining while Crested Butte was built on coal. T’ride has brick buildings and we have wood. It used to be that Crested Butte as a ski resort dominated in terms of skier visits and steep ski terrain. Then Oprah and Tom Cruise started hanging out in Telluride and the Forest Service let them expand and not us. Their summer festivals blew up and our festivals stayed under the radar, except for Vinotok. They quickly became Aspen Light and we slowly moved toward an Epic patina.

Speaking as the parent of two athletes who played Telluride regularly in soccer and hockey, it was always great to beat our sibling town. The old-school parents over there were sort of like us, while some of the newer ones with East Coast accents were what you might expect: Loud and irritating. Some of the kids (okay, on both sides) were cheap when it came to playing and so there was always a special delight in beating Telluride. It’s just the way of sibling mountain town rivalries.

So when during overtime a Telluride player gave a cheap elbow shot from behind to one of the Titans and Gaby Marmolejo took the direct kick and put it into the back of the net like a pro for the 1-0 overtime victory, it was great. There’s just something so prideful about small town sport rivalries.

Talking to Than last week (his desk is five yards from mine) he said that while Telluride was a good team, they had a tendency to lose their composure. He said if the Titans waited long enough, their rivals would get frustrated and lose their composure and that could lead to a W. And he was right. A really well-played soccer game from both sides tipped on a Telluride player losing his cool and making a dumb decision. We’ve all done it and usually the results are similar: Karma matters. If Telluride had won, there would have been some grudging sibling pride in that. But as it is, congratulations to the members of the 2018 Titan team that kicked some Miner butt in the state spotlight last Saturday.

After coaching hundreds of local kids, Than deserves that trophy and this team deserves a parade. And they’ll get one this Friday at 4 o’clock. Stop by Elk Avenue and tip your hat to the 2A state soccer champions.

—Mark Reaman

There’s a new superintendent in town as Leslie Nichols takes reins

Gunnison Watershed School District welcomes superintendent Leslie Nichols

By Cayla Vidmar

Earlier this spring, Leslie Nichols, former superintendent and principal of Hinsdale County School District, began her transition into her new role as superintendent for the Gunnison Watershed School District (GWSD). Nichols is taking over for Doug Tredway, who retired from the position. Nichols is hitting the ground running, working on the safe routes project, investigating affordable housing for her employees, and devising an entry plan that emphasizes building relationships.

“I do not come to this position with a pre-made plan for change,” writes Nichols in her entry plan in the superintendent’s message on the GWSD website. In the plan, Nichols recognizes the strong community, the tireless staff, and the hard work and leadership of her predecessor, Tredway, in building a solid foundation that she’s stepping into.

During a phone interview, Nichols says she’s coming into the district “eager to ask folks three questions: what do you think the district should keep doing; what do you think the district should stop doing; and what do you think we should start doing?” The answers will inform her implementation plan, where she will build on established systems and “renew the vision for GWSD so we function with purpose and motivation for the benefit of our students, families, local community, country and world.”

According to her biography, which is also available on the GWSD website, Nichols describes a life full of outdoor adventure, family, and a love for education. Nichols says, “I believe in the promise of public education in our country … To me it is a promise of creating conditions of an educated electorate for our precious democracy, of supporting families and building communities around the glorious endeavor of learning.”

Nichols’ résumé includes five years leading the Hinsdale County School District in Lake City as the superintendent/principal, and 15 years teaching secondary math and English, along with NOLS wilderness medicine and an EMT certification.

Nichols’ entry plan includes taking a deep dive into the district, building relationships, and investigating aspects of district functions, including curriculum, finance, transportation, facilities, and more. One of these areas is the facilities plan for Crested Butte Community School (CBCS), which Tredway worked on throughout the spring of 2018. That plan has gone through numerous revisions and the plan to-date was presented to the school district board at the August 13 school board meeting.

“I’m looking forward to delving deeper into that with the board and picking up from the great work that Doug has already done,” Nichols says.

One item from the facilities plan that is being implemented now is the safe route to schools, which will lead students to the CBCS on Belleview Avenue in between Seventh and Eighth streets. That sidewalk work is slated to be completed before school begins on August 27. “We’re working with the arts community in Crested Butte to have three crosswalks painted and made into works of art, which I think is super fun,” Nichols says. The safe routes will also include the school logo so students can easily identify the safe route.

The other area that’s a priority for Nichols is affordable housing for district employees. The district committed to purchase a two-unit duplex in Crested Butte’s Paradise Park development for affordable employee housing; however, Nichols says, “We had to take a step back and look at the cost for construction because the town had to recalibrate the entire project based on increased construction costs. We’ve allocated $520,000 and costs have increased significantly from that, and we’re having to consider other funding options.”

Overall, this is a topic Nichols is investigating. “I think employee housing provided by the school districts is becoming more of a trend in resort communities like ours,” she notes. Nichols says she will be attending a meeting with resort district superintendents and “Affordable housing is at the top of the discussion list with this group, and I’m eager to hear more on solutions that other towns are implementing.”

Nichols says she’s “looking in Gunnison to see about other affordable housing options and working with the Gunnison Valley Regional Housing Authority to get up to speed on where everything stands, and continue to be a part of that problem solving.”

Overall, Nichols is eager to learn from the community, her staff, the parents and students on what has been working, and what hasn’t been working, and build an even stronger school district. “What’s most on my mind is the heart of a strong district, which is teaching and solid relationships with families, and being sure our youngest students are getting everything they need,” Nichols concluded.

Town survey indicates citizens concerned about change

Weigh in on the future of Crested Butte

By Mark Reaman

More than 750 people have so far responded to the Crested Butte Community Survey but the goal is get more than 1,000 responses by the end of August. The 20-question survey is a broad poll on what people want to see as the town grows. Initial responses appear to center on awareness of the changes Crested Butte is experiencing and about how to shape the changes into the future.

More than 70 percent of the respondents described themselves as “outdoor enthusiasts” and almost 12 percent said they could be described as a “ski bum.” So far, about 30 percent of those who have responded live in Crested Butte. Another 37 percent live in the north end of the valley. The rest live south of Round Mountain, on the Front Range, or out of state.

Several questions allowed respondents to select more than one choice for an answer so percentages don’t necessarily add up to 100 percent. When asked what “kind of community” they want to see in 20 years, almost half said they wanted the town to be able to “accommodate responsible growth without losing its unique historical character.” Another 41 percent said they wanted town to have a “balanced economy with good jobs and attainable housing.” Only 17 percent said they wanted town to remain like it is 20 years from now.

As for the greatest local challenges Crested Butte is now facing, it probably comes as no surprise that lack of workforce or attainable housing tops the list, with 52 percent saying it is an issue.

Other challenges topping the list include maintaining quality of life with a balance between being a community and being a resort. General affordability and cost of living in the area also received significant clicks of concern from respondents.

Supporting existing businesses was the most popular answer to the question about what town’s priorities should be regarding economic development. Diversifying from a tourist-based economy to a broader year-round mixed economy also received popular support.

Parking congestion also surfaced as an issue, with survey respondents saying that traffic congestion and parking availability is a problem, especially in the summer. The solution from those who took the survey was to develop an intercept parking lot near town with public transit; create more parking lots in town; or change “user behavior instead of investing in new capital improvement projects.”

Overall, people say they like the small-town feel and mountain environment that is part of Crested Butte. They also value the outdoor recreation and the people.

“People can remain anonymous when taking the survey so it feels like we are getting pretty honest feedback,” said Crested Butte community development director Michael Yerman. “The news about Vail purchasing CBMR  broke about the time we opened up the survey so that seems to have impacted the responses, especially at the beginning. But we are getting a good steady stream of people taking the survey.”

Crested Butte town planner Bob Nevins said it is obvious people are feeling the impacts of a changing community but for the most part they don’t want to build a wall. “It seems a pretty mature outlook,” he said. “People see change is coming but they want to try to guide it responsibly.”

As would be expected, the opportunity to include written comments always makes for interesting reading. Some examples include:  “All council members should take economics classes and learn how economies work;” “Don’t let tourism ruin our town;” “Do NOT build more infrastructure in an effort to turn it into a city;” “Your values are way too far to the left;” “The class division is so apparent and only going to get worse;” “CB and Gunnison should embrace their serendipity;” “They say ‘No’ a lot to most items on the agenda;” “Important to keep it a place that is accessible to more than just the 1%;” “No paid parking downtown;” “Quit being so progressive;” and “Open the portal to Somerset, mine the Red Lady, quit being wimps and put up a statue of the 45th president. Embrace Vail and connect the mountain with a Gondola.”

No word yet on where council stands on that last comment.

Anyone is eligible to take part in the survey. Physical surveys are available at the coffee shops in town. A link to the survey is on the town website or you can simply go to crestedbuttesurvey.com.

Ski resort under contract with Vail

After 30 years, the rumor is confirmed

by Mark Reaman

To paraphrase an old CBMR marketing campaign—“We are not Vail.” But Vail will likely be running the ski mountain this winter. In an announcement that sent shock waves through the community Monday morning, it was revealed that one of the world’s largest ski resort operators, Vail Resorts, is under contract to purchase family-owned Crested Butte Mountain Resort. The deal is expected to close later this summer.

Current CBMR operators, the Mueller family, who came to Crested Butte 14 years ago, confirmed that they agreed to a sale of all three ski resorts they manage under Triple Peaks LLC, including Crested Butte Mountain Resort, Okemo in Vermont and Sunapee in New Hampshire.

Vail Resorts executive vice president of the mountain division Chris Jarnot told the Crested Butte News Tuesday that the company is excited to bring CBMR into its portfolio but has no desire to change the community or culture of Crested Butte.

Vail will pay $82 million for Triple Peaks and the leases currently held by a hedge fund will be paid off at closing. The Muellers will retain a chunk of the local real estate holdings including the Prospect property on the back of the mountain; the North Village property at the base of Snodgrass; the commercial property in the Lodge at Mountaineer Square; and the Treasury Center building in the base area.

Vail will take over the Grand Lodge commercial property, the main parking lot and the land behind the Grand Lodge. The property where the Adventure Park and mini-golf is located will go to Vail Resorts at closing.

“We are no longer in the real estate development business,” explained Jarnot. “When it came to the real estate aspect of the Crested Butte equation, we acquired what we need to help operate the mountain and let the Muellers retain the other real estate. We were focused on the real estate we need to operate the mountain.”

Tough call, staffing 

Ethan and Erica Mueller both said Monday that the decision to sell was extremely difficult for the family, especially given the recent financial successes the Triple Peaks resorts have seen the last several winters. But they basically said the writing was on the wall in terms of how the ski resort industry was evolving with Vail and Alterra (Aspen) basically controlling resorts across North America and the world and marketing their brands to skiers through ways smaller resorts had trouble competing with.

“There were times during these discussions that it was a shock for us,” admitted Erica. “We would ask ourselves if this was really the conversation we were having. It took a lot of contemplation. It was not easy.”

Ethan agreed. “I’m sure some people look at it and think it was easy and have the attitude of, ‘Look at how many millions they got,’ and I get that to a degree. But this has been our life. It’s always been our plan to take this business into the future. And now everyone is asking what will we do now and frankly, we don’t know. We’ve been focused on the deal and our employees. Obviously, there will be some change. The Vail people indicated that CBMR is structured basically the way it should be structured, so the intent is to keep people,” Ethan continued. “That being said, there are some people who probably won’t be a fit. It was the same way when we came in. As for us—we will be out of a job soon.”

Jarnot said no one should expect major staffing changes. “The management structure looks much like our existing resorts,” he said. “We’ve said that we expect to retain the vast majority of employees at all the resorts we recently purchased.”

“Our employees have done so much good work over the last several years to make CBMR a success. We want to see them continue to do it. With this move they will have more resources and that is exciting,” said Erica.

Retaining community 

“As part of the decision process we contemplated whether this would be good for the community,” said Ethan. “We recognized it would be a big shift. And quite frankly, we do think it will be a good fit. For people who think there will be a million skier visits, there won’t be. There’s a natural infrastructure governor (such as found in small engines) that won’t let that happen. There are only so many rooms for example, and this isn’t a day resort. But we’ve been intent on growing, too. I think they’ll get to our goal, easier. We were fighting the good fight and we were getting ourselves there but it was harder for us. We have been looking at that 500,000 to 600,000 skier-day winter for years. I would expect they will get somewhere in that realm but maybe not in that first year.”

Like the Muellers, Jarnot makes no bones about the desire to see an increase in skier visitations. “We announced that we would spend money [$35 million] out of the gate on improvements at the resorts we purchased. We invest in the guest experience to make it better and we certainly want to attract more people,” he explained. “We expect a return on the investment. That is part of the business strategy. But I don’t understand how that would change Crested Butte.”

When pushed whether the sale from small independent ownership to worldwide corporate conglomerate would intrinsically change Crested Butte to move away from its somewhat rough-around-the-edges reputation toward a more glossy corporate feel, Jarnot said that was the last thing the company would want.

“We already have a Vail and we don’t want to buy another one,” he said. “Crested Butte is so unique and different, with strong individuality. That’s the attraction of Crested Butte that appeals to us. Our perception is that the community as a whole is very distinct in attitude and feel. I’m surprised that people think we could change that or even that we would want to. That is not what we want to do.

“Okemo and Sunapee certainly complement Stowe and the idea of the company having a presence in the Northeast,” he continued. “Our strategy is to offer different resorts and different experiences for our customers. But this deal was not just about the Northeast. We have been aware and have been interested in Crested Butte as a unique and different resort. It is a true destination resort, especially compared to our other Colorado resorts. It is not as much of a regional draw as our other resorts in the state. Our overall business strategy is to provide different experiences for people to choose from. We want to get them to try new places with different feels, and Crested Butte offers that.”

“Vail can’t come in and overnight dictate that we’ll go from 31,000 airline seats to 75,000,” added Ethan. “It just isn’t going to happen. Monarch Pass is still Monarch Pass and some people will be okay driving over it and others won’t be okay. We’re still at the end of the road. And I think those things will largely continue to, as they always have, keep things in check.

“We are not now Vail,” Ethan continued. “CBMR doesn’t define Crested Butte. Crested Butte is what it is because of the people. Vail can’t change that nor do they want to. They’ve been very upfront that they don’t want to homogenize everything, which is what people are afraid of. They recognize their opportunity is to diversify. They know there is a customer out there who wants a Crested Butte and they want a product they can sell that person. That’s their intent. So they want Crested Butte to be Crested Butte, with a few more people to come and see Crested Butte.”

“Vail is a ski company,” added Erica. “That is its roots. They never sell a resort. They want skiing to prosper but keep it unique to what it is. I think they want to keep and celebrate our character. Their decisions here won’t be just something out of Broomfield. It was discussed with them and made our decision more comfortable.”

The new business model came into play

Ethan said that while considering whether to sell, the wave of ski area consolidation was a factor. “One realization we came to with Alterra and Vail is, whether we want it or like it, this is where the business is going. They’ll brand differently but at the end of the day they are similar. It’s been largely driven by consumers. Consumers are making these companies successful and they are asking for these things so we came to that realization.

“Our resort companies have been close to record years lately,” Ethan continued. “There wasn’t any one thing that clicked us into making the decision. Like any big decision, we talked about it a lot. The more we talked, the more obvious the answer became. It initially was a ‘Holy Crap’ moment but over time as we absorbed that and talked through the deal and all the stuff like the employees, the community, the personal stuff that was in the mix, it slowly made more sense.”

Jarnot said it made sense to the corporation as well. “Crested Butte is physically remarkable,” he emphasized. “The combination of the town, the setting, the wide-open spaces, the ski terrain, all add to the mix. The character of the town and the local businesses, the attitude of the locals, it all has a distinct flavor. Over time Crested Butte has developed its own strong personality and that is part of the appeal for some people who want to visit. The destination is distinct and different from other places and that is why it works for us.”

As for season passes, if the acquisition goes through, Vail will honor CBMR passes that have been purchased. Pass details can be found online at www.epicpass.com.

Expansion and housing

The proposed Teo-2 expansion currently going through the U.S. Forest Service review process will continue to do just that. Jarnot said his team has not seen the actual terrain but has looked at maps and photos. “We need to learn more about the expansion plan and what it provides for the guests,” he said. “We will evaluate it all and see what to do if it gets approved by the Forest Service.”

Jarnot said that good employees and their living situation is an important part of any business model. “We have been focused on affordable housing in our other resorts and the types of housing depend on the various resorts. In Breckenridge and Keystone we have significant employee housing that we own or control through master leases. In Park City, we don’t have as much. But it is a concern in every single mountain community in the West. We understand that we need it to operate our business.”

When the deal goes through, it will be Vail that is a new partner in the Brush Creek Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) contract and Vail will have a 25 percent say in the project. “I’ve heard about the Brush Creek proposal but don’t know a lot about it yet,” admitted Jarnot. “We are interested in understanding where CBMR was with it and see if there is opportunity there to create housing for our seasonal employees.”

Coming in, going out

Overall, Jarnot is excited to delve more into the community. “We went into this expecting it would be big news and a surprise, and it was,” he said. “We understand the concern to protect what is valued in the community. We are really excited about acquiring CBMR because it is Crested Butte and it is so individual and has such a strong character. That is what interests us. We have no interest in trying to change that. We have a lot more to learn about Crested Butte and I’ll be back there this summer and look forward to meeting with community members and talking about how we can be part of the community.”

There was some obvious emotion as Erica and Ethan discussed the sale in their office at the base of the Silver Queen.

“This is home for us,” Erica said. “A big part of our hearts is in Crested Butte.”

“It always will be home,” agreed Ethan.

“Like our parents in Okemo, we have developed a lot of good relationships and had a lot of good experiences here,” said Erica. “A lot of emotion came with the decision.”

“If we didn’t have a mostly positive feeling about it we wouldn’t be doing it,” concluded Ethan.

Town Council to hold public meeting over Brush Creek

Gathering info to form an opinion 

By Mark Reaman

The Crested Butte Town Council will host a work session that will include a chance for the public to comment on the proposed Brush Creek affordable housing project. The meeting will be held on Thursday, October 5 at the Crested Butte Center for the Arts starting at 6 p.m.

The idea is for the council to get a feel for what the community at the north end of the valley wants on the site and what impact a project at that location will have on the town. The town staff will run the meeting and give a history of how the project got to the current point. The council plans to sit in the audience and listen to the pros and cons of the proposal.

Negotiations have been ongoing between Gunnison County and Gatesco, a Houston-based development company that was selected to propose a plan for the site located at the corner of Brush Creek Road and Highway 135. Gatesco’s initial proposal called for 240 rental units. The plan has been submitted to the county to begin a Planning Commission review but has yet to be made public while staff evaluates the completeness of the application.

The town of Crested Butte, along with Gunnison County, the town of Mt. Crested Butte and Crested Butte Mountain Resort, contributed to purchasing the property in 1998. A Memorandum of Agreement was signed between the four entities but the county holds title to the property.

Some Crested Butte Town Council members have voiced misgivings at how the process has played out to this point. At the September 18 council meeting several citizens spoke during the public comment section of the meeting to caution the town about supporting the plan, given the potential major impacts on the community.

“I sort of feel like we had just started dating and we were ready to go on a second date and suddenly we show up and find out we’re engaged, with the dad behind us with a shotgun,” said councilman Jim Schmidt.

Councilman Chris Ladoulis said he would prefer to have a public discussion before even discussing a draft purchase agreement between Gatesco and the county in executive session, which was scheduled for later in the meeting. “I think having an executive session tonight would be imprudent,” he said and later was the sole council vote against going into the closed-door session.

Mayor Glenn Michel said it was important for the council to listen to the constituents to help the council determine where the town should head with the project. “We might end up in the same spot or in a different spot but we need to understand the impacts of this project on the community in terms of both the costs to us financially and on the quality of life,” he said. “It would be good to have a general sense from the community of weighing the costs and the benefits of this project. We need to look at the county Housing Needs Assessment Study and see how this projects fits into that. It seems to be the Crested Butte way in that we are comfortable engaging the public and it helps the way forward. I think the people want to be heard and we’ll listen.”

“I’m encouraged by the public engagement on this issue,” said councilman Jackson Petito. “I love it when people come up with alternatives to an issue as opposed to just saying they don’t like it.”

“I think this offer was very seductive, especially to the county when it provided rental units at no cost,” said Schmidt. “But if something sounds too good to be true, it’s probably not true. I have educated myself and gotten information from the public and housing experts since this came out. I’m comfortable with my position.”

“I agree with the analogy of the second date,” said councilman Roland Mason. “I think the north end of the valley needs to be fully aware of the implications of this project. A public meeting to listen to the people and shed some light on our boundaries as the Crested Butte Town Council would be appropriate.”

“And it would provide an opportunity for the public to gain information and background on the process and project,” said town manager Dara MacDonald. “Ultimately the public input will go through the county.”

MacDonald said the September 18 executive session would center on the draft purchase agreement and not the county’s Land Use Resolution process.

“Some might say the two issues can’t be separated,” said Ladoulis.

“We have always said that we will publicly bring the document to the council for public discussion before council votes on it,” said MacDonald.

“I am reserved and guarded with the option of one suitor,” said Michel.

“The town participated in the Request for Qualifications and the Request for Proposals and agreed to go with Gatesco,” reminded MacDonald. “There was a process.”

“We know what we are trying to do. Is it the right place?” asked councilman Paul Merck. “Has enough public notice been given? People need to understand that the ship has not sailed. The land has not been transferred.”

“People also need to understand this is not in our municipal jurisdiction. It is in the county and we are not the Gunnison County Planning Commission or the county commissioners. We will do what the town can do but the real process is at the county. That is where it will really matter,” said Michel.

Friends of Brush Creek attorney David Leinsdorf wanted to comment on what he felt the council could do but Michel tersely shut him down before giving him a brief opportunity to comment.

“What concerns us is the lack of transparency thus far. We are trying to empower you to have multiple bites of this apple,” Leinsdorf stated. “The town should be a player in the sale and I urge you to slow down the sale of the property. We get the feeling you feel you are only bystanders but we want you as a partner in the property, to be empowered.”

The council decided to hold the public work session at the larger Crested Butte Center for the Arts space instead of Town Council chambers, given space constraints. They will implement some basic guidelines and let the staff run the meeting. Michel suggested a three-minute limit to each public comment.

“We want this to be about the project. We do not want character attacks,” said Michel. “The council wants opinions and information to form an opinion on the matter. We want to weigh the costs and the benefits of this and there are good points on both sides. We won’t have all the answers that night but we want to hear from the public.”

CNL reaches agreement to sell ski resorts, includes CBMR

No changes in resort management

By Alissa Johnson

CNL Lifestyle Properties announced last week that it reached an agreement to sell its 36 remaining ski and attractions properties, including Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR).

The sale is expected to close early in the second quarter of 2017, but no noticeable changes will take place on the mountain or with resort operations.

CNL, a real estate investment trust, has owned CBMR since 2008. CNL also owns Mount Sunapee Mountain Resort and Okemo Mountain Resort, and leases all three to the Mueller family, which manages the resorts through Triple Peaks, LLC.

Michelle Rash, a CNL spokesperson, confirmed the agreement via email, writing, “CNL Lifestyle Properties has reached an agreement to sell Crested Butte to Och-Ziff,” a New York hedge fund manager and real estate investment trust.

CBMR is one of 14 ski and mountain lifestyle resorts that will be acquired by Och-Ziff, including Mount Sunapee and Okemo. The remaining CNL properties will be acquired by EPR Properties, which is also providing Och-Ziff with five-year financing for 65 percent of its purchase.

According to an article by the Associated Press, CNL would receive about $830 million in cash and stock through the purchase, and long-term leases with the properties will remain in place. “If it closes, it would be the largest single ski resort transaction in the history of the sport,” according to the article.

And according to reporting from BusinessDen, Och-Ziff already has a foothold in the ski town of Aspen. “CEO Daniel Och owns a $16 million property in the ski town and three Ziff brothers that initially funded the hedge fund … owned a portfolio of Aspen properties worth $44 million as of 2014.”

The sale will not change how CBMR operates. Vice president of marketing and sales Scott Clarkson likened any such sale to the transfer of a home mortgage or paying rent to a different landlord. “There is no change for us. It’s basically like having a mortgage sold between two lending institutions and you’re still sending payments in.”

This latest agreement comes after CNL had already sold 120 other properties in its portfolio. According to a statement provided by Rash, CNL’s board of directors has also approved a plan to liquidate and dissolve the company. Both the sale and the liquidity and dissolution will need be approved by stockholders.