Town says stay away from affecting wetlands
It’s back to the drawing board for the proposed Foothills Annexation proposal. The proponents, who hope to have 68 acres of land annexed to the town of Crested Butte, gave no indication when they would unveil a revised plan but they told the town Planning Commission on Monday night they are making changes based on comments from the town and the public. One thing the town officials made clear Monday was that any new plan should not disturb any wetlands on the property.
The work session was set to address several issues. Foothills attorney Jim Starr began the meeting saying the proponents were in agreement with the town over most of the issues on the agenda. They agreed to bring water rights to the town and said they would not build structures within 200 feet of the Slate River. In addition, they agreed to do further tests on the old town dump and work with the town to determine the extent of the potential pollution problem. Starr said the proponents had also agreed not to build in the flood plain. “We’ve been listening to the feedback and we are adjusting and redesigning the proposal accordingly,” he said.
The Foothills parcel is located just north of town, across from the Gas Café. It follows Highway 135 toward Mt. Crested Butte and wraps around the cemetery to the rec path. Moon Ridge Lane is its boundary to the north. The Slate River cuts the land into two parcels.
The wetlands issue and concerns over view corridors on the property were left up for discussion, and wetlands took up the bulk of the Planning Commission meeting. Crested Butte Town Council members act as planning commissioners during the annexation process.
“We have some issues with the wetland delineation,” explained Starr. “Your consultant and our consultant are working together to try to come to an agreement over the wetlands.”
One issue being discussed by the town and applicants is how important “irrigated wetlands” are in the project. Such wetlands may not be naturally occurring but rather are formed when irrigation water from other properties make a parcel of land look and act like a wetland. The argument is that if irrigation is stopped, the wetland will go away.
Planning Commissioner Billy Rankin did not attend the meeting but left a memo stating that as far as he was concerned, “in no case on this parcel of land do we fill ANY wetlands and DO NOT decrease any buffers we currently have.”
The town currently requires at least a 100-foot buffer between “high-quality” wetlands and buildings. The buffer between “low-quality” wetlands can be anywhere between 25 and 100 feet.
Commissioner Leah Williams wanted to protect the wetland asset near Crested Butte. “My concern is that we have these wetlands here,” Williams said. “Why would we give up what we have in our valley to degrade it or move it somewhere else? If we decided to encroach upon the town’s wetland buffers, what’s the public good?”
Commissioner Reed Betz also said he saw no good in mitigating wetlands by filling them there and replacing them somewhere else like in the wetlands bank by Ohio Creek.
Crested Butte resident and developer Wayne Meredith said when he annexed two parcels of land into Crested Butte, the town was adamant that the 100-foot wetland buffers be protected, and he complied. “And that was when Jim Starr was the attorney for the town asking for the buffer,” he said. “A lot of storm water from the town gets dumped into those wetlands.” Meredith also emphasized making sure the old dump was safe and making sure any water brought to the town by the developers was “wet” and not just ink on paper.
Tyler Harpel works for the engineering firm SGM hired by the Foothills proponents, but he spoke as a private citizen at the work session, asking the Planning Commission to consider consequences of not allowing the development. “Whatever units aren’t approved in the annexation will eventually be built down valley,” he said. “There are a lot of wetlands in the valley up here. These guys have a good heart and if you say no to development up here, then the development will go down valley and that can have big impacts… like more people driving on the highway.”
Crested Butte citizen Dave White said the proponents should approach the new plan with an attitude not of seeing “what’s the least amount of damage we can impose and still get approval but rather have a plan that shows they really care about what’s going on. We don’t want to see the dollar sign as the most important part of the plan.”
Sue Navy of Crested Butte urged the town to look at the wetlands on the parcel as part of a whole system and to view them in their larger context. She also argued for clustering of any density and against “sprawl.”
Foothills developer Kent Hill said from his perspective, the town should consider not classifying irrigated wetlands the same as natural, high-quality wetlands. He also wanted some wiggle room with the buffers and asked that buffers between the wetlands and development be based on scientific data, not established arbitrarily.
Commissioner Skip Berkshire responded that the buffers defined by the town are based on past experience but he would listen to scientific arguments about adjusting them. “But the intuitive logic is to protect what’s there as far as wetlands and not move them,” he said.
Board member Dan Escalante wanted the town to follow its Area Plan and subdivision regulations, which call for strict preservation and protection of the wetlands.
“I agree,” said mayor Alan Bernholtz. “I think our subdivision regulations have been well thought out. If it’s wet, it’s wet. We don’t want to disrupt the flow of water through the valley. I hope you are hearing it loud and clear from us and this gives you somewhere to work from with the new plan.”
The town board members also emphasized to the proponents that the cemetery was special to the community. They made it clear that the cemetery and the land immediately surrounding it should be treated with kid gloves, and development shouldn’t impinge on views from the cemetery.
Crested Butte resident Harvey Castro asked that a “high-end, high-tech computer graphic” be presented by the Foothills applicants to give citizens a real understanding of what the plan will look like. “Tacking paper on the wall isn’t good enough,” he said. “A professional developer should be able to supply a professional presentation.”
Peter Esposito, who lives north of the proposed development, seconded that idea. “We keep asking that the plan be put on the Internet and it isn’t here yet,” he said. “It’s not hard and without an educated public, you can’t make an educated decision.”
The proponents will draw up new plans for the annexation and bring them to the town staff. “Let’s let the staff chew it over and we can start anew,” said Bernholtz. “But remember that our values are clearly defined in the town’s Area Plan and subdivision regulations. We want to be wowed by the new plan.”
The Planning Commission is expected to meet again to discuss the revised plan sometime next month.