Negotiations commence over Foothills annexation proposal

Council lobbying for more funds to deal with annexation

The first of what is expected to be many meetings concerning the proposed annexation of land north of Crested Butte came up with more questions than answers but got the process under way Monday night at the Crested Butte Town Hall.



Approximately 35 citizens attended the Crested Butte Town Council work session with the proponents of the 68-acre development that is just north of town and known as the Foothills of Crested Butte.
The council made it clear they wanted a “green” development that would address issues such as traffic, wetlands and housing. The developers, Cliff Goss and Kent Hill, agreed to proceed in that direction and offered potential incentives for approval, such as a voluntary one-percent piggyback onto the town’s real estate transfer tax (RETT) for anything sold in the Foothills.
Led by longtime local attorney Jim Starr, the proponents outlined the plan that calls for 240 total lots with 380 free market units and 142 affordable housing units. Currently, the town estimates there are 1,052 units within its limits. The proponents have indicated they want to build many of the affordable units. There would be access to the Slate River, which runs through the property, and potential community amenities such as a fire hall, school or recreation center.
However, the proponents made it very clear they also want their project to make money.
“Why, given the town’s ‘Area Plan’ and land use guidelines, is the density proposed significantly higher than what it potentially allows?” asked Starr, who is also a Gunnison County commissioner. “Number one, it is not possible to provide the number of affordable housing units with the density of the area plans. Number two, we need a successful project financially and the land use plans don’t allow that. And number three, in order to provide quality ‘green’ systems, we need the density to make the systems efficient and workable.”
As Starr explained it, “The only constant is change and this is one of the last places for growth next to town. We agree that development should be placed next to development. This area has been identified by town as a place of annexation. And annexation in Colorado is essentially a collaborative effort. There are no hammers the proponents hold over the town. We have a shared interest and that is to make a development we can all be proud of in the future.”
Starr told the crowd that the developers were meeting with representatives of the High Country Citizens’ Alliance and the Gunnison RE1J School District in the near future. “We want the public involved,” he said.
Starr laid out financial benefits to the town of the annexation, which could include increased sales tax and RETT revenues, and more affordable housing.
He also suggested an additional 1 percent of the sales price be added to the town’s RETT for properties sold in that subdivision. He gave no limits on how that money would be spent.
“Is that legal?” asked councilperson Leah Williams.
“Under current Colorado law and the TABOR (Colorado Taxpayers Bill of Rights) amendment, you can’t have any more real estate transfer taxes,” explained Starr. “So this would actually be a deed restriction. We are looking at other towns to see if anyone else is doing something like this.”
Touching on the history of the proposal, Goss explained that he was approached by the land’s previous owners, the Spann and Trampe ranching families, about possibly purchasing the land more than two years ago. When he contacted Crested Butte’s previous town manager, Frank Bell, about doing something with the property, Bell suggested annexation. Goss teamed up with Hill and began developing the current proposal.
“We think we have a good plan and I am excited to be here,” he said. “And I will be the first to tell you, this is a for-profit venture. But it is something that can benefit everyone.”
Hill went on to explain that the guiding principles behind the development are to keep Crested Butte unique. “We want to protect the unique culture and environment that is here,” he said. “If we do this right, we have the opportunity to make some enhancements to the community.”
Mayor Alan Bernholtz felt asking to have that property annexed was a good thing, given its proximity to town. And he made it clear that if any annexation happens, it will be the result of a deal.
“We can ask for anything,” he told the roomful of people. “The old joke during the Verzuh annexation was that we could ask for a Ferris wheel. But I want to be fair for whatever we ask for.”
Citizens at the meeting asked questions about the need for the proponents to bring water rights into the town or expand the wastewater treatment plant to service the 37 percent increase to Crested Butte’s size. They asked about protecting wetlands and making sure that affordable housing units allowed for not just growth in the town but growth of individual families living in such units.
Attendees asked about the impact of so many more houses coming on the market and lowering property values of existing homes. They also asked about who would pay for a recreation center, increased staffing needs, snowplows and pavement.
People asked about the impact on traffic to Gunnison and the possibility of a stoplight in Crested Butte. While there were no definitive answers, Bernholtz promised that the town staff would look into all those questions during the annexation process.
The traffic issue elicited the most emotional responses from the audience. “Stoplight? I feel strongly that I do not want a stoplight in Crested Butte,” said local business owner Davin Sjoberg, to some applause. “Frankly I would move out of town. We’ve already suddenly moved to a six-way stop and we should change the name of the four-way. But a stoplight? No way.”
Jerry Burgess of the engineering firm Schmueser, Gordon, Meyer, which did a traffic analysis on behalf of Foothills, said “With or without this project, the increased traffic as a result of what’s going on in Mt. Crested Butte could warrant a stoplight. But that was not a popular alternative.” He suggested a roundabout or another alternative could work as well. Again, no definitive answer could be given.
Bernholtz said that as a member of Town Council during the Verzuh annexation, he had felt “squeezed” at the end of the process and he wants to ensure that doesn’t happen again. “We want to make sure we don’t take on huge burdens. That annexation took place in a different time but I think we could have gotten more at the time.”
Town planner John Hess said the Verzuh annexation, which was approved in 2000, encompassed 79 acres with 60 free-market lots. Through negotiations with Verzuh’s developers, the town received 16 deed-restricted units, 13 acres of vacant land that has been primarily used for affordable housing, and parks and trail easements.
Sissy LaVigne, a Moon Ridge subdivision neighbor of the proposed Foothills annexation, said she wasn’t against the proposal but thought it might be too dense. “This plan looks different than the one Cliff showed me a few weeks ago and I applaud the work the town planner has done in his analysis of the plan. Overall, I’d like to see a little prudence with the project,” she said.
Councilperson Billy Rankin wanted the proponents to look at the recently written “Elements of a Successful Annexation Agreement.” Compiled by a Town Council subcommittee, the document outlines 11 major elements, including the need for efficient “green” standards for construction, efficient water use, use of solar energy, clustered development and protection of natural habitats.
“The council considers these things a high priority and we want it known out front,” he said. “These aren’t bargaining chips. It’s where we are.”
While admitting that present-day demand might not be “very deep” for more houses in town, Goss said this was a long-term plan. “We are planning for the future,” he emphasized. “Maybe it’s a 20- or 30-year supply. But I know people all over the country are moving to Colorado and this valley.”
Bernholtz saw potential social benefits to the proposal. “I’m open and I want to listen to my constituents,” he said. “I think this is an opportunity for us and you to come together to create a development that works for social reasons to attract the right kind of people who mimic what we already have,” he said.
When asked by councilperson Kimberly Metsch if he had any deal-breakers, Hill responded, “There’s a whole lot of ways this could be shaded depending on what the council wants. I see this as a process that has to work out economically and we all determine how it gets distributed.”
“There’s a lot of ground to cover,” Goss added. “But I want it to be an open and upfront process and that will save us a lot of time. We aren’t coming in asking for 3,000 units knowing we’ll get 300. That’s not how I do business. We need to trust each other.”
On an interesting side note, Starr said it was his first time representing a major development. “We looked at both the downside and upside of representing this development and we see a significant upside,” he explained. “I’m not used to being on this side of the table. But I’ve known Cliff Goss a long time and he loves this community. He’s an honest person and he’ll do what he says he is going to do.”
While no timeline has been proposed, the developers want to move quickly. “We hope to get this done in a conscientious and timely manner,” Starr expressed.
The council decided to start regular work sessions on the annexation on August 25. They hope to meet twice a month for at least two hours at a time, which brought up the time factor of evaluating the proposal and making a deal.
“We have a lot going on in town as it is,” said Rankin. “I’d be surprised if every councilmember came to every meeting. I think we should get additional compensation for all these meetings. I’m just being open and honest about it now. This is a working council and aside from just 9 to 5 jobs, a lot of us will be gone for work in the late summer and fall. We may need extra incentives to make all these meetings.”
Councilperson Reed Betz agreed. Currently members of the Town Council make $3,600 a year, while the mayor rakes in $7,200.
“We’ll chew on it,” Bernholtz told the council members.
The next meeting with the developers is Monday, August 25. At that time, the town staff and proponents hope to outline a process and estimated timeline that tackles the issues one at a time, until an annexation agreement can be signed.

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