Back to the drawing board for annexation?

Bernholtz asks for a better plan

The Crested Butte Town Council, working as the town Planning Commission, was somewhat lukewarm about the proposed Foothills annexation on Monday evening, but agreed to continue the evaluation process. A meeting on specific topics was originally scheduled for September 22 but has been postponed because several of the key players will be out of town. For the first time in the public process, frustration was evident on both sides of the table, from the developers and the Planning Commission.


Mayor Alan Bernholtz was the most vocal councilmember and made the argument several times to have the proponents return to the drawing board and come back to the town with a new, revised plan. “No one I’ve talked to on the council is against development there but it is so far away from the Area Plan that I don’t see a way to even start negotiations,” he told the proponents.
The Foothills is primarily a residential subdivision proposed to be located north of Crested Butte on 68 acres. Up to 380 total units have been outlined, with the proponents offering to build some affordable housing units. Potential amenities from new fire halls to recreation centers have been talked about but nothing concrete put forward.
According to an analysis by town planner John Hess, the proposal falls significantly short of the “Area Plan” and subdivision regulations that details town requests and requirements for development in the area within three miles of town. The Area Plan details what the town of Crested Butte wants in a development near its borders. The state requires such a plan from all municipalities.
“I haven’t heard a lot of support from the public or the staff,” Bernholtz said at the start of the meeting. “I’m concerned for you guys. Given what we’ve seen it will take years to negotiate this. I’m looking out for the applicants and the community and it is hard to even start negotiations when this is so far off the mark.”
Bernholtz used the analogy of putting his house on the market for a million dollars. While he may not expect to get the full asking price, he views this proposal as coming in at $300,000. “I feel this isn’t a serious offer,” he said.
Planning commissioner Billy Rankin said Bernholtz covered the situation pretty well, but he said he “enjoyed the process of the last meeting” where the council laid out several priorities. “I think the natural constraints in the property like wetlands and floodplain will define the developable land and things like density,” he said.
Commissioner Dan Escalante agreed. “I like the Area Plan. I’d like to see something that adheres to it better.”
“I’ll echo all that,” added commissioner Skip Berkshire. “I think the process Billy talked about will eventually get us there but if we’re not in the same ballpark the process will be interminable. I think the Area Plan can be extreme and not acceptable to the proponents but the maximum use of real estate is also extreme. We need more common ground to start the process.”
Before giving the developer’s attorney, Jim Starr, a chance to respond, Bernholtz emphasized there could be some common ground. “I want to reiterate that no one up here is opposed to development happening in that area,” he said. “But this isn’t in the ballpark.”
Attorney Starr painted a different picture. “I think it is too soon to make that determination,” he responded. “We feel that unfortunately, the data we have isn’t being understood. We are open and willing to adjust density. Another example is the wetlands situation. Setbacks can be different for different wetlands. The wetlands out there have a number of different functions. It is also easy to get the idea that a lot of the proposal is in the floodplain but that’s not the case. We aren’t ready to jettison the plan yet.”
Starr again pointed out that trade-offs exist. “The Area Plan is a goal and community vision but not all the things in there are realistically attainable,” he said.
Starr argued that the Verzuh and Kapushion annexations to town emphasized open space. “While the previous annexations had a lot of open space, not one stick of affordable housing has been built in town from those projects,” said Starr. “You get land but not structures. My client is talking about building the affordable housing you are looking for. We are proposing a development with 60 percent affordable housing. This project can’t provide all of the things called for in the Area Plan. The fact is you can’t expect anyone to solve all the needs of the community.”
Rankin pointed out that the 60 percent in affordable housing Starr referenced was based on getting double credit under town regulations for affordable housing if the developers build the deed-restricted units, something that has not been decided on.
“Saying that you are proposing a development with 60 percent affordable housing is a little deceiving,” he said. “We haven’t decided on the factor of two with affordable housing, so let’s be clear.”
Bernholtz said that even given the heavy affordable housing aspect of the proposal, the plan fell short. “For me, it’s where is it in compliance? It just keeps going and going and going,” he said. “Our town planner provided 23 core values that aren’t met at all with the Area Plan. Maybe affordable housing is a plus but every other item is off the mark. If you need direction go back and read the Area Plan and start there. That reflects our values and that’s our bottom line. I think you guys could do a better job and then the process would be faster.”
The public also weighed in on the proposal. Nick Lypps, who has sat on the Gunnison County Planning Commission, said having housing built for workers who labor in this end of the valley is a great opportunity. “Like many projects, it evolves and takes a joint effort to evolve.”
Crested Butte resident Peter Bridges reminded the commission that water is an issue. “I am opposed to any development there. I think we’ll face a water shortage crisis soon in this valley and the council should take a prudent attitude toward this project.” He also said it is possible to have prosperity and well being in a community without physical growth.
Harvey Castro, who lives on the east side Crested Butte, said the density was more reminiscent of the 1890s mining days of Crested Butte rather than what was appropriate for 2008. “The other major concern is the town dump. If you have a toxic site there then there will be real issues that could end up being the show stopper,” he said.
Longtime valley resident Glena Galloway said while change cannot be stopped, opportunities like this proposed annexation should be embraced and could address some of the needs of the community.
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Bruce Driver reminded the officials that more building probably means more electricity from the Gunnison County Electric Association. “The GCEA is supplied its electricity primarily from Tri-State, which uses extremely dirty coal-fired plants. If our carbon footprint is a concern, this is important,” he said.
Crested Butte resident David Leinsdorf commended the council and agreed the proposal was not in the ballpark. “It seems clear to cancel the next meeting and send it back to the drawing board,” he said.
Peter Esposito, who owns a house near the proposed annexation, said that at the very least, the pluses of the plan should balance with the minuses. He brought up the potential increased traffic issue as a concern.
Crested Butte’s Sue Navy advised the council to ask for a plan that fit the Area Plan and asked that air quality concerns be part of the issue discussion with any annexation.
Office of Resource Efficiency (ORE) building director Andris Zobs said the council could use a lot of national programs that would provide good standards for things like water quality and density. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. And as far as density, there is an argument that higher density can lead to better communities. Maybe those miners in the 1800s had something going by living near their workplace.”
Mike Potoker, who has also been a member of the Gunnison County Planning Commission, said the Area Plan was too strict. To apply it and have a development emerge would be close to impossible, he said. “It is a hurdle that no one could get over.”
Bernholtz again registered his disappointment. “I have seen annexation developments with a lot of good ideas in Durango and even Arvada,” he said. “The developers in Durango came with an original plan and said the town rules weren’t good enough. That’s what I’m looking for. I want a development that blows us away. Something that we could all be proud of. This shot across the bow doesn’t do it. I’m not confident we can start at this point and end up with a good development.”
Berkshire backed away a bit from the hard line. “I think Jim hit a good point about negotiating big proposals. I’d suggest we try to think of a process along the lines of Billy’s suggestion where we identify the developable land. I don’t want to say to you that there are too many houses out there, but not give you an alternative.”
Commission member Leah Williams said the next meeting could accomplish that goal and she urged holding the meeting.
“I agree that it is important to see what the parameters of the land are then use the Area Plan to guide the process,” said commissioner Kimberly Metsch.
Starr didn’t want the town to send them back to the drawing board. “Some of the things brought up tonight are more appropriate at sketch plan or down the line during the time to work out details. As much as we’d like to bring you a plan everyone thinks is beautiful, that’s not going to happen. Let’s use the time to look at the information we have.”
Rankin agreed. “The next meeting can be a vision meeting,” he said. “I think there is work we can do.”
Metsch was skeptical. “I don’t just want a meeting to have brain damage,” she said. “If we have information to build on then perhaps it will be worthwhile.”
Town Planner John Hess told the commission that, despite comments to the contrary, “The Area Plan is not that different from other communities. It is achievable. And while some of the property has been identified as a place for natural development, not all of it is suggested for more growth.”
Despite the protests of Bernholtz, who pointed out the proposal for the Verzuh annexation looked pretty much like what was eventually approved, the board will hold another meeting to continue the discussion of the Foothills proposal in more detail. That meeting is not yet set.

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