Tuesday, October 15, 2019

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Endings and new beginnings

As I walk the dogs around the neighborhood loop in the mornings, it is easy to see the signs of the end of summer. There is frost on the sage, there are elk in the wetlands and there are geese flying south overhead. The sun is low and it is cold these days, with temperatures requiring shoes instead of flip-flops. I sometimes shift my perspective as I round the corner near the river and think how warm it would feel if it were March instead of October. But it is October and it is the end of summer and not the beginning of spring. It reminds me that skiing is closer than it was yesterday. In an ideal world we would get another year where the switch doesn’t flip to deep snow until the weekend before the chairlifts start turning and we can ride bikes into late November. That doesn’t look likely at the moment but you never know…

Speaking of… The forecast looks like winter at the end of the week. Snow is possible Thursday and I see that on Thursday night it could hit a chilly 6 degrees. It is quite a drop from the 60s on Wednesday to 6 on Thursday. I look at it as just one more way to cull the herd of people who move here thinking every day is sunny and 75 and all is perfect in fantasy resort land. That sort of weekend is normal this time of year and marks the start of new seasons—sometimes several seasons in a single day. And it’s not all unicorns and rainbows all the time up here…

Speaking of… It appears that the constantly contentious Corner at Brush Creek drama might be ending. Which could open up a potential new beginning with a more solid starting point. It is still a “might,” as all the involved parties have until Halloween to reach some sort of agreement.

Gary Gates of Gatesco Inc., the proponent of the affordable housing project, says he won’t give up. But it is not entirely up to him. He was charged by the county commissioners to formally convince three of the four landowners to move ahead and two of them—the towns of Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte—appear pretty firm that they want Gatesco to adhere to the compromise they spent five months crafting. They are sticking to the 156/2/5 figures, where there are no more than 156 units on the site with two parking spaces per unit and five acres of land set aside for a future use. So unless some on either council flip on what they’ve stated strongly at their last meetings or Gates reconsiders and agrees to the 156/2/5, the commissioners have said they won’t allow the developer to submit an application for preliminary plan review. Wouldn’t that be the end of this chapter that seems to never end?

I have wondered aloud what the councils would do if Gates came in and said, “Okay, we’ll go with 156/2/5.” He’s hit what I thought would be the hardest of the three with the 156. And in an ideal world, his partners—all the landowners including the two towns—would help make it a reality with a little financial or in-kind assistance. But as I’ve mentioned before, the brittle “trust factor” or lack thereof between all the parties involved is real in this situation and so I don’t see it happening.

I must say that while charges fly at every Brush Creek meeting—and there are a lot of them (meetings and charges)—I was never put off that some of the units had a thin deed restriction that allowed some essentially “free market” rents but required that local residents live here. That to me added to part of the good mix.

Anyway, Gates hasn’t been at the last couple of Brush Creek meetings. One reason might be that according to my interwebs, Gary is busy in Texas running for an open seat in the state legislature. It’s not his first attempt to get elected in Texas and it is his third time running for that house district seat. Perhaps Gary is thinking of new beginnings as well.

While a new Brush Creek beginning might be difficult to crank up, given where these talks have ended with animosity oozing all over the place, there is a real opportunity to start again on a positive note. A fresh starting point that fleshes out details of a project that could work for everyone including the developer, the governments and the neighbors could happen if ego is set aside by everyone. There is a new pool of state money that could be used for things like infrastructure to make it easier on whoever wants the affordable housing project and the community can weigh in with a positive and active role in molding the development instead of being put in the poor position to react antagonistically to something they didn’t like from the get-go.

A late start to the colors made for a really nice early October in the aspens. It looks like one more big wind day or that snow in the high country could be the end of the gold season and start of the brown stick season.

Anyway, life is full of endings. But each of those offers opportunity for new beginnings. It depends on perspective. Yeah, the mornings are sure cold right now and the heat is turned on in the house—but if it were spring, it would feel pretty warm. Yeah, the cluster of a flawed process looks like the first shot at affordable housing on the Brush Creek property could come to an end, but local leaders can take the many lessons of this drama and start fresh with a cleaner opportunity. There is always the chance for new beginnings.

—Mark Reaman

CB/Mt. CB on same page with Brush Creek issue

Sticking to 156/2/5 could end project

By Mark Reaman

While an official vote was not taken Monday by the Crested Butte Town Council on whether to move off the compromise conditions set with Mt. Crested Butte over the proposed Corner at Brush Creek project, all indications are that the majority of the council is done negotiating.

The council majority appears ready to stand with last week’s Mt. Crested Butte vote to stay with the three conditions of allowing no more than 156 units, requiring two parking spots for each unit and setting aside five acres of the property for a future use.

So unless the project developer, Gatesco, Inc. either agrees with the two towns’ 156/2/5 compromise or can convince the Crested Butte council to move to its latest proposal of 156 units with a 3.5-acre set-aside and 1.65 parking spaces per unit, this particular project could be over.

The Gunnison County commissioners gave Gatesco until October 31 to obtain the formal consent of at least three of the four parties to the Memorandum of Understanding between the county, the two towns and Crested Butte Mountain Resort (the four owners of the land) before allowing Gatesco to submit a preliminary plan application.

Crested Butte Town Council members Will Dujardin and Candice Bradley advocated to continue negotiating with Gatesco, while the rest of the council voiced support to stick with the 156/2/5 numbers. Councilwoman Laura Mitchell was not at the meeting.

Mt. Crested Butte councilman Dwayne Lehnertz attended the October 7 meeting and said his council voted 4-3 to remain on the 156/2/5 compromise since that was agreed to with the town of Crested Butte after five months of discussion. “That was something we all spent a lot of time getting to in good faith,” he said.

Dujardin said he agreed with the tone of a letter from project supporter Jim Starr and said the two sides were so close in numbers that the town should consider more negotiations.

Starr’s letter to the council asked, “Are we really going to pass up or significantly delay 156 units of affordable rental housing and $20,000,000 in private equity for a $40,000,000 project at Brush Creek over a difference in parking of .35 parking spaces per unit, and 1.5 acres of set-aside?”

“A 4-3 vote would suck either way it went,” Dujardin said. “I wholeheartedly stand behind what Jim Starr says. Gatesco is saying that’s it from their end. Now is the time to explore all other options in the next few weeks. Maybe we push for four acres to be set aside to try to get it into the preliminary plan review. If you think 1.65 parking spaces is not enough, maybe we get 1.8.”

“I agree with Dwayne,” countered Crested Butte mayor Jim Schmidt. “What we did with Mt. Crested Butte was a big compromise. It was a long way from the number of units I wanted. I think about Anthracite Place, where the community came together to support that and the county and Mt. Crested Butte and this town all contributed money to it. And again, this project seems so controversial and laden with doubts. I am fine with the numbers we got to.”

“We’re not that far away from making something happen,” said Dujardin.

“I’m not convinced this is the right proposal,” said Schmidt.

“I see no reason to keep revisiting the issue we worked out with Mt. Crested Butte just because they keep asking,” said councilwoman Mallika Magner. “We want a good project. We want a project where the people there will have a good lifestyle, not a place where someone gets home to after working a double and can’t find a place to park.”

“You are making a lot of assumptions, Mallika,” said Dujardin.

“I’m questioning this process,” she replied.

Lehnertz suggested the council review the latest numbers in a revised Housing Needs Assessment that he said proved the Gatesco project misses the mark with what is needed.

Friend of Brush Creek attorney David Leinsdorf said he felt Starr’s letter contained some misstatements and reminded the council that of the 156 units in the proposal, many could charge essentially free market rents, so all 156 units shouldn’t be considered “affordable rental housing.”

Leinsdorf refuted a line in Starr’s letter that stated, “We are experiencing a significant slowing in the generation of sales tax and I can’t help but believe it is caused in part because of the decreasing work force available for our businesses,” by noting that sales tax collections in town were again reported as up over last year by 5.5 percent in August and 2.7 percent for the year.

Leinsdorf also said the parking should be based on number of occupants as opposed to the number of units. He estimated there would be about 400 people living in the 156 units, so 312 parking spaces would not be adequate. “I also urge you to not abandon your ally of Mt. Crested Butte if the north end of the valley wants to have any influence at the county,” he said. “This town initiated the discussion between the two towns and you all worked hard for five months on a compromise.”

Former councilman Kent Cowherd, who had been heavily involved in watching the evolution of the project, also encouraged the town to stand by the 156/2/5 compromise, which he said was fair. “I don’t understand why Gatesco doesn’t fully embrace the three conditions. Then the two councils would support it. All of this friction is unnecessary.”

Dujardin again asked his fellow council members if there was room to compromise in the next couple of weeks, but he didn’t get much support.

Councilman Chris Haver indicated he supported the two towns and didn’t want to negotiate with themselves.

Councilman Paul Merck said he was surprised Gatesco hasn’t agreed to the 156/2/5. “We worked hard for five months to reach this compromise, which was pretty amazing,” he said. “I was surprised we got there. So I think we should stick to it. I feel the compromise is a win for the Gatesco team if it meets those three conditions,”

Bradley disagreed, as she pointed out she was looking for rental housing while no one else on the council was in such a position. “I just have a weird feeling that I’m starving for housing and someone is holding up a loaf of bread and we are saying you can’t have it,” she said. “I think we should work to make something work.”

“I agree with you,” responded Merck. “And I feel we worked a lot to get to the compromise.”

“Is there no way to compromise more?” asked Dujardin. “I feel that compromise was designed to kill the project.”

“I don’t think the compromise was ever meant to kill the project,” retorted Haver.

The only Gatesco representative at the meeting was Jeff Moffett, who didn’t say much other than that the letter sent by Gary Gates to the two councils on October 1 was “designed to provide more thorough explanations” of the Gatesco team’s reasoning for their proposal.

Schmidt noted that there was no requirement to take a formal vote on the issue but that it would be on the agenda at the October 21 council meeting.

Crested Butte benefits from Vail’s EpicPromise initiatives

CBMR joins forces with Vail’s sustainability and community efforts

By Kendra Walker

As a new member under the Vail Resorts umbrella, Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) has experienced inevitable changes that come with transitioning from a small-town ski area into a subsidiary of the world’s leading mountain resort franchise. Take these changes as you will: Among them is CBMR’s collaboration with the Vail EpicPromise program.

One of Vail’s missions is to strengthen and sustain the communities under its wing, like Crested Butte, to help preserve and improve their beautiful landscapes. Enter EpicPromise. Through environmental efforts and community involvement, EpicPromise aims to help conserve these ski towns for future generations of outdoor adventure-seekers.

EpicPromise is a company-wide program, but each local community may prioritize individual efforts and grant recipients as necessary, according to CBMR senior communications specialist Zach Pickett.

Commitment to Zero

One of the initiatives under EpicPromise is “Commitment to Zero,” Vail’s environmental pledge to achieve a zero net operating footprint by 2030. This includes the goals of reaching zero net emissions, zero waste to landfills and zero net operating impact on forests and habitat, all by 2030.

On July 2, CBMR employees joined forces with the U.S. Forest Service to plant 600 trees in the Double Top Glades of the ski area’s East River zone. “This partnership effort is meant to help ensure forest resiliency, and supports the preservation and improvement of our mountain landscape in conjunction with Vail Resorts’ Commitment to Zero,” said Pickett of the tree planting.

According to Pickett, CBMR is also working hard to identify composting opportunities. The resort is currently providing the bulk of food waste to a local Gunnison pig farm, Calder Farm, and other food waste is being composted for landscaping soil at CBMR. The resort has also switched to compostable and recycled-content Eco-Products to eliminate conventional single-use plastics and “We are working to improve waste and recycling signage to be consistent across our outlets and the larger Vail Resorts enterprise,” said Pickett. “We offer paired waste and recycling bins in public areas to encourage appropriate disposal.”

Throughout this last fiscal year, Vail donated $1.19 million to organizations focused on healthy forests. In November 2018, the company announced a long-term wind energy contract to purchase the equivalent amount of electricity (310,000 megawatt hours annually) needed to power its North American operations by 2020 and reduce their emissions by 100 percent, according to Vail’s announcement. Referred to as the Plum Creek Wind Project, it is slated for completion in 2020.

Community Investment and Land Trust Partnership

Pickett also explained EpicPromise’s focus on community investment, saying, “To date, [community investment] may be where Vail Resorts’ presence has most impacted our local community.” This includes events such as the Teocalli/Twister chairlift sale in June, where 50 percent of the proceeds were donated to the Crested Butte Land Trust for its Long Lake Exchange Project.

“Approximately $30,000 of the chair proceeds were donated to the land trust,” said Pickett. “The remainder was donated to the EpicPromise Employee Foundation,” which benefits employees with financial aid and scholarships in times of need. The EpicPromise Employee Foundation has funded two emergency grants and three $10,000 scholarships for CBMR employees to date.

In December 2018, the Katz Amsterdam Foundation donated $30,000 to Gunnison Valley Hospital Foundation to help fund the Ore Bucket mental health therapy rooms. A guest donation program has also been created to further support the Crested Butte Land Trust as well as the new Gunnison County Stewardship Fund, where guests have the option to donate $1 when purchasing an Epic Pass product online. “This will equate to at least $50,000 to local forest health projects,” said Pickett.

Community trail work

Coming up on September 14 is Vail’s EpicPromise Day, where CBMR and its employees will be partnering with the Crested Butte Land Trust to focus on three different habitat and trail work projects in the area.

The first project will be trail restoration work to Long Lake. “The Allen family has been generously permitting the public to access Long Lake across their Washington Gulch property for a very long time, which has allowed the community to enjoy convenient access to the lake,” said Crested Butte Land Trust executive director Noel Durant. “The impacts of the public using this steep trail are taking a toll on the property.”

In partnership with the Allens, CBMBA/Crested Butte Conservation Corps and Vail, EpicPromise volunteers will work to create a new sustainable hiking-only trail and begin restoration of the current trail.

The second project will include noxious weed removal at the confluence of Coal Creek and Slate River, the land trust’s first conserved property. “As [Crested Butte is] the Wildflower Capital of Colorado, noxious weeds are public enemy number one, as they have the potential to irreparably harm the native vegetation that we all love,” said Durant.

Finally, EpicPromise volunteers will work on the stabilization of agricultural loafing sheds on the Niccoli Homestead, a key tool for ranching in the valley, according to Durant.

“As a conservation landowner protecting what makes Crested Butte and the Gunnison Valley special, the Crested Butte Land Trust relies on partnerships to ensure our scenic views, wildlife habitat, working ranches and recreational access are still here for the next generation to enjoy,” said Durant. “EpicPromise and Vail Resorts employees are investing in the future of our open space through stewardship projects that wouldn’t be possible by the land trust alone and bolster the great work and generosity with key conservation partners in our community.”

While the EpicPromise Day projects will be specifically for the Vail/CBMR employee volunteer force, Durant said the land trust plans to host more trail work days open to the community to get them across the finish line at Long Lake—so stay tuned.

“EpicPromise, and all of these efforts, tie directly into Vail Resorts’ core value, Do Good: Preserve our natural environments and contribute to the success of our local communities,” said Pickett. “We cannot speculate on future efforts, but will continue to identify where we can make the most positive impacts for the Crested Butte community.”

Councils seem open to new Brush Creek plan

October 31st deadline to strike a deal

By Mark Reaman

It appears that with a revised proposal from the developer limiting the number of units to 156, there is new life for the Corner at Brush Creek affordable housing proposal. The majority of north valley elected officials on the Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte town councils now seem to feel there is opportunity to strike a deal with Gatesco Inc.

A two-and-a-half hour joint work session on Tuesday, August 27 with the two councils, Gatesco representatives and the other two owners (Gunnison County and Crested Butte Mountain Resort) of the 14-acre property located at Brush Creek Road and Highway 135, ended with generally positive feelings that a deal was possible.

The two sides were grappling with the three conditions reached in a compromise between Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte to have no more than 156 units on the property, provide two parking spaces per unit and set aside five acres for a future public use. Gatesco recently agreed to the unit count but wanted other concessions.

The mayors of both towns expressed some disappointment in the issue of trust between Gatesco and the towns or them personally, given past actions and statements. But most council representatives wanted to continue discussions with the developer in an effort to see if an agreement could be struck for the major workforce housing project.

They did bring up concerns over things such as adequate storage for recreational toys; how much land to set aside for a future public use; how many parking spaces to require; where to place a small transit center for buses in relation to the highway; and how to provide washers and dryers. Of course, everyone agreed that adequate water and sewer to service the project remained the prime concern.

The proposed adjustments

Gatesco attorney Kendall Burgemeister went over a revised proposal from Gatesco that included many changes from previous proposals. He pointed out the 156 units was a 35 percent reduction from the original plan for 240 units. “Getting to that number shows that Gary [Gates] really wants to make this project,” said Burgemeister.

He said the largest building was reduced in size from a 22-plex that was approximately 18,000 square feet and nearly 35 feet tall to a 12,500 square foot, 16-plex that stands 26 feet tall.

While the two towns had stated they wanted to see two parking spaces per unit, Burgemeister said the 156-unit Gatesco proposal has 226 bedrooms with 1.5 parking spaces per unit, or 234 spaces. “A project with 156 units, 1.5 parking spaces per unit, and a modest set aside [of land] for future uses will provide a project that is more livable for residents while still providing ample parking,” Burgemeister wrote in a memo to the property owners.

The developers are proposing a transit center with public restrooms similar to the bus stop building at the Crested Butte Four-way Stop.

Gatesco wants the project to be totally rental with no for-sale units but wants the “flexibility to add additional units in the future, contingent upon reaching an agreed-upon trigger that demonstrates a continued need for workforce housing (e.g. at least 90% occupancy for three years,)” the developers wrote.

Any new building would be subject to the county land use review. Of the 156 units, 77 would have deed restrictions tied to renters making less than 120 percent of the Area Median Income. For two people in the county, 120 percent AMI would be about $53,100. Rent and most utilities would be capped at 30 percent of income.

The other 79 units would have to be rented to locals who reside in the county, but income limits would not apply.

The new proposal shifts to a smaller unit mix, including 30 studios, 60 one-bedroom units, 60 two-bedroom units and six three-bedroom apartments.

Water, storage, bus…

Council representatives had a lot of questions and comments concerning potential population, rental caps, the ability to serve the lowest income workers and the financial feasibility of the project.

Crested Butte mayor Jim Schmidt said one of his disappointments was that significant well testing hadn’t been performed, especially following a particularly dry year in 2018. “It seems that is one thing you’d really want to know,” he said.

“That expensive testing is required in the county’s preliminary plan process. That timeline is not uncommon,” said Burgemeister. “If we dig dry holes, then we don’t go forward and this is all academic.”

Gatesco has had a hydrologist monitoring an already-existing well on the property and very early testing has shown no issues. But Burgemeister emphasized that no comprehensive testing has been conducted and much more intensive water testing will be needed. “We haven’t seen any red flags. The aquifer levels recharge by snowmelt and so are at their lowest in May and at their fullest in mid-summer. We have seen no sign of initial long-term issues but again, this testing is not conclusive. More testing needs to be done,” said Burgemeister.

Storage areas were also a major concern.

“Where do people put their cars, bikes and skis and boats and all the other things people here have?” asked Crested Butte councilmember Laura Mitchell.

“Are you open to a shared storage space that residents could use?” added Mt. Crested Butte councilwoman Lauren Daniel. “The community has a lot of toys.”

“Our philosophy is that if you own a boat you can probably afford to live somewhere else or afford a storage unit,” said Burgemeister. ”I don’t have the exact numbers for size but there is a dedicated storage space for each unit for things like bikes or skis.”

“Your comment that someone who owns a boat shouldn’t be living there illustrates your lack of understanding about the community values,” said Mt. Crested Butte councilman Roman Kolodziej. “People here value outdoor recreation. Where do people in the studios and one-bedrooms put their things?”

“We will have space to accommodate things like skis and bikes,” responded Burgemeister. “I don’t know of any affordable housing that has parking for things like boats.”

Daniel said boats could mean equipment such as kayaks and standup paddleboards instead of big ski boats.

“People living here probably have three or four pairs of skis and at least two bikes,” added Kolodziej. “That’s what people here spend their money on.”

“I’m sorry you took my comment wrong,” said Burgemeister. “I’m very well aware of the values of the community and the recreational endeavors people like to pursue. Skis and bikes can be addressed but affordable housing depends on controlling costs.”

Mitchell, who is also chair of Mountain Express, suggested the bus stop be moved away from the northeast corner of the property and closer to the highway to make access easier for future bus service. She also pushed for the project tying into nearby sewer service, whether it was the East River Sanitation District or even the town of Crested Butte’s wastewater system.

Responding to a question from Daniel, Burgemeister said the project was not shifting to cater to seasonal short-term workers. He said it was more profitable to hold onto renters for as long as possible.

Mt. Crested Butte councilman Steve Morris asked the developer to consider ways to provide more housing for the workers making less than 50 percent of the AMI.

Comments. Lots of comments

Citizen Jim Starr has advocated for the project from the beginning. He said he wanted the officials to look for a way to say yes instead of looking for a way to say no.

“It seems it goes to the issue of trust between the towns and the proponent and the county,” Starr said. “But we need to open our eyes to the critical need we have for this housing right now,” he said. “We have a proposal that started at 240 units and is now at 156. If this doesn’t go through it will be three or four years before anything can be built out there. We need rental housing desperately and the time is now. I’m asking you to open your minds and don’t destroy a good project looking for the perfect project.”

Citizen David Leinsdorf, speaking for Friends of Brush Creek, urged the council representatives to stick to the compromise agreement it took them months to craft. “The 156 units with two parking spaces per unit and five acres being set aside is a good compromise that pleased no one. But this is not located in town so parking will be needed,” he said. “This is public property and as elected officials you carry a public trust. You need to make sure the public benefits of selling this property to Gary for $100,000 matches the public subsidies and costs to the taxpayers.”

Crested Butte Mountain Resort general manager Tim Baker said housing challenges are not unique to Crested Butte. “This is an unusual circumstance,” he admitted. “As a company we see the best results through partnerships. Long-term, the problem is not going away. It is a challenging dynamic to be navigating but we are happy the conversation is continuing.”

County manager Matthew Birnie said the county would be supportive of whatever compromise is reached between the developer and two towns. “I do think housing is in a state of crisis and we have an opportunity to do a project that is meaningful,” he said. “I don’t think it is doing any favors to hold on to five acres for future use when a use is obvious now.”

Birnie noted the county’s recently purchased 13-acre property across the highway from the Brush Creek project could likely be used for future parking if needed. “If this project doesn’t go forward  Jim [Starr] said nothing would be there for three or four years. I’d double or triple that number,” Birnie said. “I agree with Jim that there are no perfect projects and I appreciate that Mr. Gates is willing to go through the county’s arduous process.”

The town council reps all were pleased with the tenor of the meeting. “I think we’re a lot closer than we were,” noted Mt. Crested Butte councilman Michael Bacani.

Crested Butte councilman Will Dujardin wrote in a letter that he did not “believe an inability to reach specific consensus between our councils’ numbers on the parking spaces per unit and land set aside for future use vs. the Gatesco plan should be deal breakers in sending this to preliminary plan.”

Kolodziej said the issue was critical and they needed “to find a way to make this happen. I think we’re close.”

Crested Butte councilwoman Mallika Magner voiced her concerns with the proposal over density, storage areas, parking and transportation.

Mt. Crested Butte councilman Dwayne Lehnertz referred to the Housing Needs Assessment Survey and said this project would provide more rental housing than called for and he preferred to look at long-term home ownership opportunities to build a stronger community base.

Crested Butte councilwoman Candice Bradley disagreed. “There is a huge rental crisis and I’m part of it,” she said. “I’ll never own a house in the Gunnison Valley and my friends are in the same boat. We need to focus on this.”

Mitchell agreed on the need for rental housing and emphasized the need to address water and sewer issues but felt the conversation should continue.

Mt. Crested Butte councilman Nicholas Kempin said the meeting had a better tone than those in the past and he felt things were moving in a positive direction. Morris agreed that notable progress had been made with the meeting and the new proposal.

Crested Butte councilman Chris Haver appreciated some of the adjustments by Gatesco but said he would have a hard time approving an “open-ended” development. He also said nearby trail issues needed to be settled.

Daniel said she liked the idea of a mix of deed-restricted housing and more free market units dedicated to locals. She said the preliminary plan was the place to settle water and sewer issues and she “didn’t want to lose the opportunity to work with Gatesco. For me, I’d be willing to relook at the five-acre set aside.”

Crested Butte councilman Paul Merck said he hadn’t heard the group say “no” to the proposal but rather ask important questions. “I feel like we’re down to the little things to work out like parking and the bus stop location. I’m amazed we’ve gotten to where we are. We’ve made a lot of movement,” he said. “There will never be enough housing to support everyone who wants to live here. But with this one, I think we’re really close so let’s keep going.”

Mt. Crested Butte mayor Janet Farmer said she felt obligated to support her council so was willing to move ahead, but she had concerns. “One thing for me is that with the new breakdown in unit size it doesn’t seem geared enough toward families. And given the location, people will have cars, so we need two parking spaces per unit. The consensus of the group seems to be to keep working with Gatesco.”

Crested Butte mayor Jim Schmidt was not a fan of that path. “Like Jim Starr said, it is a matter of trust and therein lies my problem,” he said. “I think Todd Barnes said it best when he said ‘If this is how you treat me in the courtship, I hate to see what it will be like when we’re married.’ I’m just disappointed by Gatesco for a number of reasons I’ve stated publicly. I think it is time to end this relationship. It matters who we’re in a partnership with. I’m not there.”

Farmer agreed with Schmidt that there had been some points of contention with Gatesco she did not appreciate and, for her, “damaged some of the trust she used to have with Gatesco. If we’re moving ahead we need to rebuild that trust.”

The councils will retreat to their individual meetings to further discuss the issue before reconvening for more negotiations with all the partners and the proponent. No future joint meeting was set.

What ifs…

We are transitioning to the time of summer when things slow down enough for locals to appreciate it again. Cooler mornings and fewer visitors allow people to breathe in the blessings of a high mountain summer. And it gives us time to think about the what ifs.

What if Gary Gates and his Gatesco development team walked into the August 27 meeting with the two town councils and said the Corner at Brush Creek was willing to agree to all three of the towns’ requirements? Gates has agreed to lower the unit count on the site to the 156 that the two towns asked for but he is balking at the other two mandates of putting aside five acres for future development and having two parking spaces per unit. His attorney said there is flexibility from the development team perspective with those two issues. What if Gates simply said okay to those? Given the personal friction, what would the councils do? The 14 council members spent a ton of time getting to those three compromise positions but if Gates said, “We can do that,” what would the councils do?

What if Big Blue, the new Crested Butte Center for the Arts, was already open? It’s not, but could be soon. That will be a game changer and the board and administrators are not willing to predict a specific date when that will happen but they all hope it is before the end of the month. That is only appropriate so that the Center’s executive director, Jenny Birnie, who has led the charge for the expanded facility, can enjoy a show as the ED before leaving for her new job at the Gunnison Valley Health Foundation on September 1. What if an angel donor stepped up and agreed to pay the current bills of the construction costs based on future pledges with no interest? It would probably make the general contractor and his subs sleep a little easier and take some stress out of a certainly stressful situation with a lot of moving parts. What if the angel actually bought the big lot across the street for Center parking? Whoa. The bottom line is the new theater looks pretty cool inside and will be top-notch when all is said and done.

What if the increasing conflicts between private property owners, public land agencies and the growing number of recreationists could be amicably settled and just disappear? Disappear like the new canal bridge at Strand Hill did this week or the gate at its former location on the Green Lake Road (which was apparently simply moved up to a new location). Poof. The gate issue on Green Lake Road above Lake Irwin continues to rub people on both sides the wrong way. Understandable. Not surprisingly, conflicts grew as it got busier and busier around here. It used to be pretty secluded up there but not anymore, as recreation has exploded and people want to hike and bike and drive to Green Lake or Ruby Mountain. Hopefully a permanent solution can be found that lets the public use that road to access their public lands while respecting the concerns raised by the property owner. Then there is the Strand Hill conflict. Again, a private property owner had an issue with a new bridge erected over the canal and took it upon himself to remove it this week. As I understand it, the property owner, who is the only user of water in the canal, viewed the bridge and the new trail accessing the bridge as a threat to his livelihood and to the canal’s continued operation. It’s another example of conflict between old ranching/mining Crested Butte and growing recreation Crested Butte as it gets busier in these parts. Arrangements are being made to get the bridge back to the Forest Service and hopefully the two sides can reach an agreement that satisfies both sides in terms of placement, impact mitigation and understanding.

What if the Crested Butte Town Council seriously considered the idea of selling the Old Rock to the library board? I know the council likes the idea of owning that cool building but if the ultimate goal is to have it used as a library in perpetuity, isn’t that more important than ownership? Of course it should only be done if the library tax passes this fall so that it is owned by a public entity with a solid income stream. The town’s rent requests have not been unreasonable but this lease-purchase idea could be even better for everyone down the road. If council holds on to Old Rock out of pride, and in the future the library board decides say, Crested Butte South is a better spot for a north valley location, is the town going to put more offices in Old Rock? Is that a good ultimate outcome? I just think there is opportunity for a long-range win-win.

What if your spouse is one of the lucky eaters to score one of the 50 Olive Garden Lifetime Pasta Passes? What would his or her new nickname be? The chain will be selling them on August 15 for $500 and the people who win them will have unlimited pasta, soup or salad and breadsticks—for their entire life. Of course, they may not live that long if that’s all they eat and the width of the grave might have to increase but that’s just part of the price you pay for unlimited pasta for life. Olive Garden is also selling 24,000 Pasta Passes at the same time that allow pass holders nine weeks of unlimited access to the Never Ending Pasta Bowl from September 24 through November 25. How fortuitous that it runs out just before Thanksgiving. Burppppp.

What if summer stayed here until November 20, a week before Crested Butte Mountain Resort opens and then it dumped feet of snow and the packers and patrol hit it all perfectly and the Headwall opened on Day 1 of the season and…

What if the people associated with any of these “what ifs” agreed they made at least a little sense worth thinking about instead of getting upset by the suggestions? That’s not likely.

Anyway, enjoy the start of the locals’ summer and take advantage of it, no matter how long it lasts, because it is always good while it is here.

—Mark Reaman

Communication and relationships

Communication and relationships really do matter as much or more than the ends and the means of most communal problems. It is particularly evident in a small community like this one and sometimes takes an uncomfortable situation to facilitate a positive move forward. Some cases in point from just this week:

I attended a grievance hearing Monday afternoon being conducted about a resident of Anthracite Place whose lease was not going to be renewed next month. My interpretation is that communication between administrators and the tenant had gotten sideways. Because no definitive reason for the non-renewal was cited and one wasn’t given to me when asked, my gut tells me that the Gunnison Valley Rural Housing Authority staff seemed frustrated about the time, effort and attitude needed to deal with this particular resident, who happens to be a person with physical and cognitive disabilities. It appears that what had once been a good relationship soured and the hole kept getting deeper. The resident admitted that he at times had probably reacted too harshly in situations and he was apologetic. The administration admitted they weren’t trained to deal with his disability.

A three-member panel of the GVRHA board— Carlos Velado, John Messner and Chris Haver—made up the grievance hearing committee and they did a great job of listening to both sides with an open mind. It became evident early that they were interested in solutions instead of blame and defensiveness.

Ultimately an agreement was reached in concept to use an advocate to help with more sensitive communication from both sides. The broad outlines of a plan going forward were established, timelines were discussed and in theory, a final resolution will be accomplished soon. It was a good process that ended in a good understanding that respected the need for better communication and compromise.

The beginning of what could be a similar positive solution to an issue about the Old Rock Schoolhouse is germinating between the town of Crested Butte and the Gunnison County Library District. In an effort to get all of its rentals in order, the town recently asked the Library District for a proper lease that included a pretty good rent increase. The library board reacted negatively to the idea and then came back with a proposal for a new lease that included an option to buy the Old Rock. Both sides have probably gone a little far in their initial offer—the library wants the town to do or pay for about 95 percent of everything, including changing the light bulbs—but the seed of a good idea that could benefit both was planted.

Whether that seed sprouts depends in part if each side can get beyond perceived slights and misinterpretations of things communicated poorly. Perhaps the cleanest way to move forward is for a group of representatives from the staff and both boards to work out some of the broad details and then bring in everyone for a final deal.

Frankly, despite a tepid response from the town council, I think the big idea of a lease-purchase could be a good one. The town can sell the Library District the building and include in the contract that it has to be a library that is open six or seven days a week. If for some reason the district feels compelled to sell it in the future, the town should include a clause in the contract that they can buy back the Old Rock for what they paid. Instead of a 10-year process, it makes more sense as a one-year deal if the Library District gets its tax passed this November.

Seems to me both sides get what they want. The town maybe can’t say it owns one of the cooler structures in Crested Butte but it rids itself of an expense line item and can ensure that it remains a library in perpetuity. The library board can own its north valley building and be responsible for it. That makes it easy for them to explain to Library District taxpayers in Gunnison and Pitkin why they should invest in improvements for Crested Butte’s Old Rock that is an asset owned by them and not just the citizens of Crested Butte. It probably makes the upcoming November ballot issue an easier sell across the county.

The idea, which is far from being negotiated in any real detail, presents itself as another potential win-win compromise that moves things along instead of making people irritated. That’s where the relationship element comes in and the two sides need good, honest communication to make it happen. The current silo approach is counterproductive. Overcoming the friction developed earlier this summer shouldn’t be hard as long as both sides take a breath, speak their truth and move forward with sincere intention.

Which brings me to the Gatesco situation discussed Tuesday at the county commissioner meeting. I do like how Gary Gates has come down to the 156-unit cap required by the Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte councils. Based on his apartment size revisions, it appears to me he is probably shifting focus from long-term family or couple-type rentals to a more seasonal focus with more studios and one-bedroom units in the mix. I’m not sure about that move but it is certainly worth discussing. And that’s what will hopefully happen later this month as the commissioners basically allowed his extension, with the big caveat that he has to please one or both of the land partner holdouts, Crested Butte or Mt. Crested Butte.

The communication and relationship issues have been a consistent problem with this deal and I’ll go out on a limb and say that if that doesn’t change, there will be no deal. Gates’ attorney Kendall Burgemeister said as much late Tuesday night when he told the CB council that Gary wants to give “one last good faith effort to keep the project going” and indicated there was more “flexibility” to play with on the other two conditions. There is longstanding bad blood to overcome between the Gates development team and some members of both town councils. It was evident as recently as this last week. The Gatesco team decision to keep both councils in the dark about lowering the unit number until just before the county hearing on Tuesday was baffling. I’ll go out on another limb and say such a decision is antithetical to good communication and constructive partnerships.

Now Gary did say he’d been communicating with the other two partners in the property these last six months. That would be the new ski area owner Vail Resorts and the county. That too would tweak me if I were on either council. As a partner, I’d want to know what they’re talking about with our property and if say, Vail is snatching up all or most of the proposed units for their seasonal employees. That too might be fine and is worth discussing but I’d want to be part of the conversation as a partner in the deal.

So… In my opinion, this has been an issue with little positive relationship building. Gatesco attorney Burgemeister tacitly admitted as much on Tuesday morning when he said that while people can take issue with the way Gatesco has done some things in this process and the tone of the communication, you cannot assail Gates’ commitment to the project. You in fact can, because for the deal to come to fruition, that commitment takes a trusted relationship with several personalities and partners instead of an adversarial attitude based in righteousness from either party.

That said, the commissioners gave the parties until Halloween to come up with a deal. Scary stuff. Any deal will have to start by draining the pool of mistrust and negative politicking and refilling the pool with honesty and respect. It won’t take long to see if that is possible.

At the end of the Anthracite Place grievance hearing on Monday, some members of the audience thanked the three-person panel for being open to listening and compromise. They said they appreciated the compassion and fairness of the panel seeing the issue in human and community terms.

“Hey, we’re part of the community too,” assured chairperson Carlos Velado.

At the end of the Gatesco hearing, commission chairman Jonathan Houck said it was a good meeting and “despite differences we are able to have productive discussions and I appreciate that.”

Cheers to both those sentiments.

It is that attitude that makes most of this stuff really work in the small town life we are living. Speak your truth. Be honest and respectful. Work together and let the chips fall where they will.

—Mark Reaman

Mt. CB council hears from public on lodging tax

Town council fine-tunes ballot language

By Kendra Walker

In an effort to finalize November ballot issue language for a proposed lodging tax, Mt. Crested Butte Town Council addressed community feedback during a July 16 public work session. The proposed 2.9 percent tax would be directed at guests paying for Mt. Crested Butte short-term rentals and hotels, and the proceeds would help fund affordable housing projects.

Mt. Crested Butte resident Kathy Hooge gave her input. “I’m here to tell you it’s not going to make any difference one way or the other because when you go to a hotel, or when you plan a vacation, you don’t call up the person and say ‘So what’s your sales tax?’ You don’t. You say, ‘What’s your nightly rate? Do you have to pay for parking at your place?’ Those kinds of things, so it’s not going to make any difference.”

Town manager Joe Fitzpatrick clarified that group businesses and convention and meeting businesses do look closely at those additional taxes. “They are the ones it would impact the most,” he noted.

Additionally, Hooge expressed her concern to protect the life of the affordable housing projects initiated under the tax. She referenced the Marcellina Apartments, now called The Timbers, which were originally built by Crested Butte Mountain Resort to house employees but were later sold and turned into condominiums by the new owner. “So what will be the plan to make sure that in 20 years, they can’t just say ‘Oh, we’ve all changed our minds’?” she asked.

Community development director Carlos Velado explained that deed restrictions could be placed on affordable housing units. “If you deed-restrict a unit that’s attached to that property, that lasts, it survives,” he said.

“The challenge with deed-restricted units is that if they go into foreclosure, oftentimes there aren’t procedures in place for the deed restriction to survive,” Velado continued. “In the past the town hasn’t had enough funds in the coffers to buy a property at foreclosure.”

“Because everybody’s hurting at the same time,” chimed in councilman Nicholas Kempin.

“So that’s one of the things we discussed as a way to use some of these funds,” Velado continued. “In the case of a foreclosure on a deed-restricted property, those funds can be used to rescue that property out of foreclosure.”

Hooge also asked council if some of the money could be used for down payment assistance.

Councilman Dwayne Lehnertz responded, “We talked about keeping it overly broad so that we could do that. That avenue would not be closed off to us because our intent is to create something that supports any aspect of affordable workforce housing.”

Mayor Janet Farmer said, “While it’s out there as a possibility, it’s not a priority. We really want to get some funds built up so we can do something helpful with infrastructure for someone who is going to build workforce housing, some major expenditure assistance. And then as time goes on maybe we get to a point where we’ve got some of those things … then [down payment assistance] might be a direction that we go with some of the funding.”

Councilmember Lauren Daniel added, “There are some employers in the valley that offer that to their employees. Mt. Crested Butte Water and Sanitation offers some programs; our town offers some down payment assistance.”

Farmer brought up feedback she’s heard over the past several weeks outside of council meetings. Though not in attendance at the July 16 meeting and unavailable for comment before print, Crested Butte Mountain Resort director of lodging Heather Leonard had expressed her concern to Farmer.

Referring to the hotels, Farmer said, “They’re not too happy with the 2.9 percent” potential lodging tax. Because, she clarified, of a fee council had not originally taken into account. Hotels charge an additional 3 percent to their nightly rental fees to pay to the Mt. Crested Butte Town Center Community Association, which helps fund various maintenance projects such as landscaping, snow removal and asphalt repair. Farmer explained a 2.9 percent tax would take hotel taxes up to a total of 19.8 percent charged to their guests; however, council felt the 3 percent association fee falls under a category different from the proposed tax.

“That is not a direct expense because they’re getting paid back. So it’s not in addition to,” said Lehnertz.

“It’s an operating cost,” said councilman Steve Morris

“It would be like if you tacked on the $20 to your VRBO for landscaping and snow removal,” added Kempin.

“At Town Hall we are trying very hard to educate [the Town Center Community Association] and the public that it is not a tax, it’s a fee,” cautioned town clerk Tiffany O’Connell. “Government is the only one that can put a tax on something.”

Farmer concluded, “If you’re all okay that they’re going to have that high amount tacked on to their room costs—we may get some pushback at some point.”

Council also determined the proposed tax percentage should have the flexibility to lower in the future with voter approval. “As long as you don’t exceed the 2.9 percent, council has the opportunity to lower it,” explained town attorney Kathleen Fogo. “So if you have a pile of money, you could reduce it to 1 percent, for example.”

“It gives the public a voice,” agreed Morris.

Council debated the jurisdiction of the funds raised, whether the tax would support projects only in Mt. Crested Butte proper, or be extended to projects outside of town limits. They ultimately decided the funds would not be limited to Mt. Crested Butte, but council would prioritize Mt. Crested Butte projects first.

Hooge expressed her unhappiness with extending beyond Mt. Crested Butte limits, saying, “I don’t want the money going from here down to Gunnison. And it’s not because I’m against Gunnison, I shop there—it’s just that I feel like they already have enough things going on.”

“If we have the opportunity to contribute to something that benefits our community, whether or not it’s in our community or not, I would like to have the option to do that,” said Lehnertz.

Fitzpatrick added, “You can’t see all these things from this chair today [about] what may come up.”

Based on the evening’s discussion, Fogo will update the ballot issue draft for review at the August 6 Town Council meeting.

Profile: Dan “Ski” Zeroski

“Everybody knows me by ‘Ski.’ No one knows me by Dan and no one forgets my name,” grins Dan Zeroski. “There’re a lot of Dans in town.” In a snow resort town, you might think he got his moniker from being an outrageous skier and although he could be considered a senior über athlete, the name is a condensed version of Zeroski, which, he says, “I got before I learned how to ski.”

He grew up in the first town on the underground railroad stop in Ohio—it was on the border of West Virginia where slavery was legal and in Ohio it was not. His parents owned a bar and restaurant after his dad quit the coal mines. Ski has a fraternal twin brother. They were two of five kids. His early life was riddled with health issues. “I had pneumonia when I was two and because of that, hardening of the lungs.” He doesn’t actually remember that he had been pronounced dead as a toddler and the priest administered last rites, nor does he know how he miraculously survived. “I guess I came out of it. I survived it but I always had health and respiratory problems from the damage it caused to my lungs. Once I got into junior high school I got into sports and fitness and most of the health issues went away. I had been sick all the time, had hard breathing and allergies, anything that had to do with my respiratory system.” Ski attributes the healing and better health to staying fit and “keeping my lungs strong, with aerobic fitness.”

Ski’s four other siblings also kept him from slowing down and he says of his small town upbringing, “You did whatever you could come up with. We had a 10 p.m. curfew with a siren from the firehouse but the town didn’t enforce it because they didn’t have a police force. We just did what we wanted because our parents were working in the restaurant. Part of the culture of the area was that we could get alcohol whenever we wanted. I was bartending when I was 16.”

But Ski says the effect of allowing youngsters to have an alcoholic beverage was the opposite of what you might think. In fact, most European immigrants allowed their children to sample beer or wine because it was part of the culture and therefore the children learned to drink responsibly as adults.

“When you grow up with that, you don’t really drink because you were taught responsible drinking. I still only drink socially once in a while. The communities were ethnic because of the steel and coal mines so there were Polish, German, Italian, Czech, Irish and Scandinavians. All the communities were always tight. Softball competition was big.”

Ski recalls that, like Crested Butte, polka bands were the thing. “If you go back in the early days of Crested Butte, my community and Crested Butte were similar. You had the various ethnic social clubs.”

During junior high, Ski played football, basketball, baseball and in high school he focused on football and wrestling. He graduated from high school in 1975 and he says that, “At that time people thought I was crazy for wanting to go to college because you could make $80 a day with great benefits in the coal mines and steel mills. We had a guy who graduated with our class who couldn’t read or write and his first day in the coal mines he was making more than the teachers with their college degrees.”

Foregoing the mines and mills, Ski went off to Northeastern State University in Oklahoma in Tahlequah, capital of the Cherokee Nation. “Best three years of college was my freshman year,” he leans over and laughs. He earned his bachelor’s degree in health, physical education and safety with a double major in history in 1979, and stayed on to receive a master’s degree in junior college education, graduating in 1980.

He says, “I wanted to coach so I took a teaching job at a high school in Cleveland, Oklahoma,” where he taught history and coached wrestling, but when he was offered a position to teach health and PE and work with the Oklahoma State Wrestling Team at Oklahoma State in Stillwater, he jumped at the opportunity. While he was there for three years, he also earned a doctorate in education, “in higher education administration with emphasis in physiology of exercise in 1983. My dissertation revolved around developing a curriculum for martial arts so that universities could teach it. It had never been done before.”

Ski had studied Tae Kwon-Do in his freshman year at college. “It’s 65 percent feet and 35 percent hands. A lot of your contact is usually with your feet,” says the second degree blackbelt who fought professionally for two years on the Professional Karate Association circuit and was two-time national karate (in Tae Kwon-Do) and had Chuck Norris sign his trophy.

As part of his paid work- study program as a student at Northeastern, Ski ended up being the trainer for the football team, because he wasn’t big enough to actually play on the team. He remembers that the team would sign up for special boxing matches. “They’d have these boxing matches called Smokers, a one-day event. I didn’t know anything about boxing,” he grins, but he signed up. “I ended up boxing and became an Amateur Athletic Union [AAU]. My claim to fame in boxing AAU State Runner-up Champ was fighting for my club team and they wanted points to win state and I had to fight in the Open Advance division because I was over 21 years old. I got matched up against a USA Army champ and he was scared of me,” at least for the first round, he says, “because he heard I was a national karate champ, then the next four rounds he beat me like a drum because he realized I didn’t know anything about boxing.”

Post-doctorate, Ski was offered a job at a public school in Ardmore, Oklahoma. “I wanted to coach so I took the job: football, wrestling and track. It was an alternative school where we had fifth through 12th graders in the same room. These were children with a lot of issues but they functioned very well because they all had the same problems and couldn’t socially adjust to a normal environment. It was a unique situation.”

He was three years at Oklahoma State, one year at Ardmore and 31 years at Stillwater High School before retiring in 2015. “Work was cutting into my playtime so something had to give,” he says not quite seriously, “so I gave up work to play.”

He discovered Crested Butte in 1991, “When my friend brought me up. I’d live here during the summers, and bought a place in 1999. Some summers I’d be scraping ice off my windshield in August and then I’d pull back into Stillwater and it’d be 110 degrees with humidity. I’d miss the hottest part of the year there but still it’d be up in the 100s. Once you spend a summer in Crested Butte, you can never spend a summer in Oklahoma again.” Now that he’s retired, he’s a full-time Buttian.

“I’ve run to Aspen over West Maroon Pass, had lunch and run back. You tell people in Oklahoma that and they think you’re crazy but you tell people here and they ask if they can go with you. That’s the difference in attitude. Colorado is one of the top-ranking states for health.”

Ski’s done 68 marathons and ultra marathons including, he lists, “London; St. Petersburg, Russia; Zermatt, which was my favorite with 26.2 miles all uphill along the Matterhorn.” He continues, “Mt. Davos, Switzerland; Innsbruck, Austria, which started in Tirol, France over Brenner Pass into Innsbruck; Grindalwall, Switzerland; and my last marathon was Tulsa Route 66 on my 62nd birthday and was my 62nd marathon. My last ultra was the Grand Traverse from Crested Butte to Aspen.” He’s also climbed all 54 official Fourteeners, “and four unofficial Fourteeners,” he says.

Internationally, he’s climbed the Matterhorn, Mt. Blanc, the Eiger, Jungfrau Monk and enjoyed traveling to 43 countries. “Zermatt is my favorite city and Switzerland my favorite country but,” he confesses, “my all-time favorite place is Crested Butte.”

“My thing is running and skiing.” The last two years he’s taught ski school at Crested Butte Mountain Resort. “It was by default. I was with guest services, a volunteer service with CBMR, and we’d back up the ski patrol, everything concerning safety and guests.”

After a month of training this past season, he taught full-time. “Two years ago I worked for CBMR, now I work for Vail. I wasn’t planning on working, but I was doing it as a favor for some friends because they needed ski instructors.”

When the Public House, the newest Crested Butte brewery, opened two years ago, Ski was called upon. “The manager emailed me to do security because of my background. I did it one night and was asked again for the next concert.” He’s been there ever since. “In everything I do, if it’s not fun, I don’t do it. I get paid for skiing during the day and listening to music at night and it caused me to come out of retirement,” he says.

Of course, Ski plans on going to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. He worked the Olympic trials in Atlanta in 1996 for the USA Track and Field, filming for the trials. He also went to the 2012 games in London and got to see local runner Emma Coburn compete. He travels a lot with his longtime buddy, Duane Vandenbusche, who is also an Oklahoma State alum. “We met here. I worked with him in his running camps. I’m his technology advisor,” Ski says tongue-in-cheek, “because I know how to turn on a computer so he thinks I’m a genius.”

Ski’s life philosophy matches his warm sense of humor, which is in constant play. “I’d rather die while I’m living than live while I’m dead! It’s the atmosphere, the weather, the people here, everybody’s laid-back with no stress,” he says of Crested Butte. “You don’t have to deal with any stress or listen to the news,” he wisely surmises and jokes that he heard we have a new president since he retired. “Everybody’s into fitness here, and an active lifestyle is what I like.”

CB Babysitters expands roots in the community

Late night was never so easy

By Kendra Walker

“You saved my life.” “You saved my weekend.” Nowadays, CB Babysitters co-founders Laura Gutierrez and Katie Lawn hear comments like these often.

Since 2015, CB Babysitters has been fulfilling sitter requests from locals and visiting families in need of childcare. The service works as an “Uber” of sorts for babysitting requests, where parents can reach out with their sitting needs—dates, times, number of kids, location, etc.—and CB Babysitters connects them with an available sitter.

“When clients are desperate, and if they’re not from here, they’re not familiar, our role is to help,” said Gutierrez. “For me, it’s a great satisfaction when parents are able to find something reliable where they can go out and their kids are safe.”

The idea originally spurred from Gutierrez’s husband, Anthony Perez, who worked as the concierge at the Grand Lodge in 2007. Families started requesting babysitting services, so he would go down a list of local sitters he put together until someone was available. Gutierrez, who moved here from Venezuela in 2014, took over a year later to coordinate everything. That’s when the referral service transformed into its own co-op group of local sitters promoting each other.

Lawn started babysitting through the co-op in 2017 and soon joined Gutierrez to help coordinate requests. The two have managed the service as a co-founding team ever since.

According to them, at least 65 percent of the families are repeat clients from season to season. The rest of the requests they receive are typically from visiting families coming to town for one-time events such as vacations and weddings. “One of the most satisfying things is when we can fulfill a last-minute request so the parents can go out to dinner for a few hours, or go mountain biking for the day or ski without the kids,” said Lawn.

Gutierrez and Lawn take pride in their reliable fleet of background-checked, local sitters, and stress that a CB Babysitter “is not a person who will just sit and watch TV with the kids all night.”

“We make it fun for the kids because they are also on vacation,” said Gutierrez. “Parents often feel guilty because they’re going out to have fun but their kids are going to have just as much, if not more, fun.” Lawn added, “Parents love us because our sitters have a local perspective of the town, we know what to do here, we know local events taking place here. We connect families with the town and community.”

Denver-based Greg Carlin and his wife found CB Babysitters last summer for their baby, who was three months old at the time. “I think it’s really convenient for people like us who have kids, especially young kids who aren’t old enough to go out and hike or ski, and we’re able to bring them on the trip but also do all the great things that Crested Butte has to offer,” Greg said. “And have someone we trust to leave with the baby and go and get a real vacation for a few hours” he added. “

During that first winter in 2015, Gutierrez received 80 sitter requests. Fast-forward to this most recent winter season—236 requests. Last summer, CB Babysitters received 288 requests and anticipate even more this summer.

Because of the steady growth and popularity of the service over the years, Gutierrez and Lawn realized they had an opportunity to reaffirm their commitment within the community and turn the co-op into a limited liability company, or LLC. They conducted market comparisons with other Colorado ski towns, including Telluride, Aspen, Vail and Breckenridge, and talked with other similar babysitting services. Based on input from these communities and repeat clients, they realized they could make some adjustments that would better align with their goals and help them become more competitive with other ski towns.

“My biggest motivation was all this change from the small Crested Butte Mountain Resort family into Vail Resorts,” said Gutierrez. “We still want to keep it local instead of getting drowned by some big corporate sitting service taking over from the outside.”

Changes they have made this summer include the formation of the LLC, a new website, higher competitive rates and higher wages for their sitters. “Being an LLC, we are growing and there are added expenses—taxes, marketing, hiring an attorney to help us with liability,” said Lawn. Gutierrez also noted their desire to be part of the chamber of commerce and participate in town events like the farmers market, where entry/membership fees will be much more feasible as an LLC.

The new website, cbbabysitters.com, is designed to be more efficient and user-friendly and includes an online request form for families. “We try to make the whole process as quick and easy for parents as possible so it’s one less stress, one less thing they’re doing while they’re planning their vacation,” said Lawn.

Gutierrez and Lawn also expressed how helpful the community has been—hotel services, event planners and businesses—in recommending CB Babysitters to their customers. In return, CB Babysitters makes recommendations to their clients and steers families toward specialized services available in the community, such as CBMR ski lessons, CB Devo mountain biking and Rocky Mountain Biological Lab activities, to name a few.

“We have a goal to work with other local companies and non-profits to help each other and spread the word about what draws families here,” said Lawn.

“We want to support our other local businesses and not step over them,” added Gutierrez. “I’m vey proud of the small town we have and this community, and I want to show families the best and how beautiful the community is. It’s kind of like being an ambassador for our town.”

To learn more about CB Babysitters or to request a sitter, visit cbbabysitters.com.

Stakeholders look at mitigating tourism and recreation impacts

STOR priorities are improved parking, signage, bathrooms

By Katherine Nettles

The continued increase in tourism and recreation throughout Gunnison County has left a mark on certain well-travelled areas and is now the subject of focus among local land managers.

In order to curb the collateral damage of recreation, new signs and a parking area along the Slate River, more designated campgrounds to replace dispersed sites and inter-agency partnership on trail outreach at Taylor Park Canyon are among the improvements to local recreation areas that may be seen as early as this month, according to stakeholders who met in a Gunnison County Sustainable Tourism and Outdoor Recreation (STOR) committee meeting last week.

And more projects are to come, with the collaborative efforts of the STOR committee and new funding it received recently from a $350,000 GOCO grant for land stewardship, as reported by the Crested Butte News on June 21. A large part of the discussion at the June 27 meeting was brainstorming ideas for future projects to improve camping, parking and sanitation facilities in the Gunnison Valley.

While the committee reviewed that it had discussed Signal Creek, West Maroon and Judd Falls at its last meeting, its members proceeded to cover needs at Peanut Lake/Lower Loop, Gothic Campground, Rustler’s Gulch, the Almont river put-in, Nicholson Lake/Slate River and Taylor Canyon Park. The themes were, again and again, parking, signage and restrooms to reduce the misuse of and damage to the areas.

Taylor Park Canyon, which was regarded as a large problem area, took up a fair amount of discussion.

Gunnison Trails representative Gary Pierson said the organization is interested in helping the United States Forest Service (USFS) with a trails crew, to help manage some of that area. USFS Gunnison District ranger Matt McCombs said this could help immensely.

“The impacts there are extremely heavy. It’s important to have a field presence to tend to field contacts. And if you’re digging trail all day, you’re not out making contact with riders, and creating a new culture,” McCombs said.

Chris Parmeter with Colorado Parks and Wildlife said that in general, land managers have to draw a line and make it clear to recreationalists that they have limitations on use and availability.

“In order to be good stewards of the land, we just can’t allow everything, everywhere, all the time. We’re going to have to start saying no … and some people are going to just have to suffer. Some people are going to have to say, well, I guess I can’t do this here,” Parmeter said.

The committee did not make any final decisions on how or where to allocate the GOCO funds, but reviewed the STOR committee member survey results and discussed various needs at different locations (i.e., bathrooms at Slate River trailhead and parking at Rustlers Gulch) to help zero in on priorities. Several participating entities, such as Gunnison County and the USFS, also discussed their own ongoing efforts to minimize recreational impacts with projects that are already under way.

Gunnison County public works director Marlene Crosby explained her crew’s plans to sign the Slate River Road with “No ATV” signs this summer, to reduce the impact of unauthorized vehicle use in that area. ATV use on the Slate River Road is technically not permitted until past Pittsburg, since ATVs are not permitted on county roads. At Pittsburg, where the county road turns into a USFS road, a parking area has been discussed as a collaboration with the county and the USFS, said Crosby. “But we haven’t been able to get to it due to the late arrival of spring.

“The town and the land trust have been working on how to develop a trailhead there,” Crosby added. Crosby said the signs were a sure thing and were scheduled to arrive any day.

Aaron Drendal of the USFS presented the challenges and increasing burden of dispersed camping in various drainages, and the USFS’ work to restore some of the heavily damaged areas such as Musicians Camp in the Slate River Valley. He and McCombs talked about the need for additional designated campsites, which are more formal than dispersed sites, with signage, parking, permanent fire rings and delineation.

McCombs said the USFS has identified that dispersed camping both in and around Crested Butte is unsustainable. “Dispersed camping has been a problem that’s growing and growing, and we feel like we’re outside our forest plan guidance,” he said later in a separate interview with the Crested Butte News.

As part of a public review process, McCombs said the USFS took the opportunity to start the conversation with the STOR committee, because it is such a large group of local stakeholders. He explained how more designated campsites would help the situation, as would public outreach and education efforts about the changes.

“It would also arrest the unsustainable resource damage as visitation continues to increase,” McCombs said. “We wanted to brief the STOR committee on our work in case they decide to go forward with this,” he said. “I see the stewardship fund as well as the GOCO grant as great potential opportunities to invest in sustainable, high-quality experiences for visitors and residents alike in this area.”

The USFS’ next steps will be outreach to the public for further input.

Community and Economic Development director Cathie Pagano said that while the STOR committee’s project prioritization is initially related to the GOCO funding, she anticipates it will also inform future project funding discussions for the organization.

The STOR committee includes more than 20 representatives from Gunnison County; the city of Gunnison; the towns of Crested Butte, Mt. Crested Butte and Pitkin; Colorado Parks and Wildlife; the U.S. Forest Service (USFS); the Bureau of Land Management; the National Park Service; the Gunnison-Crested Butte Tourism Association; the Gunnison County Stockgrowers’ Association; Crested Butte Mountain Resort; Western State Colorado University; the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District; and several additional public at-large representatives from the Crested Butte Land Trust, Nordic Center, Conservation Corps and others.