Look at the big picture

With the economy taking a beating at the moment, there isn’t much of a line at the Gunnison County Planning office. In fact, one of the biggest developers on the Gunnison County Planning Commission docket this Friday is the Crested Butte Land Trust. That makes me smile just a little.
Land Trust representatives will be in front of the Planning Commission for a public hearing and work session on their proposal to carve out a five-acre homesite on their 36-acre parcel located at the entrance to Crested Butte South.
The idea is to sell five acres of the Niccoli property in order to raise money to purchase more open space in the county. While conventional wisdom says that’s a bit of a strange proposal for a land trust, some merit can be gleaned in that scheme. In the big picture theory, you can sell a little to gain a lot.
I would argue there is also big-picture merit in the idea of placing a community park-and-ride on that property to bolster the Rural Transportation Authority buses being used more and more between Gunnison and Mt. Crested Butte. It would be perfectly situated to serve one of the main population hubs in the county, Crested Butte South. I think it could be done in such a way that it would be hidden.
At the time of the Niccoli purchase two years ago, the Land Trust board seemed horrified at the thought of a parking area on that land.
Is it really blasphemous to incorporate a small, well-screened park-and-ride between the north valley’s main highway and one of its major population centers? While the idea of using Land Trust property for a parking lot seems weird at first blush—sort of like a land trust subdividing property to sell on the open market—there may be good points in the idea. The Land Trust is already allowing similar uses on some of their properties. Up Slate River Road on the Kiekel property and at Peanut Lake at the start of the Lower Loop, there are parking areas on Crested Butte Land Trust property.

Look, I love the idea of the Land Trust and respect the members of that board. With more than 4,000 acres preserved under its umbrella, a lot of good has come out of that group and it has certainly been a forward-thinking organization. While the Nordic trail on the Niccoli property is nice, and a certain viewshed is protected, the transaction at the time was not without controversy. But the facts on the ground have changed. While the Crested Butte Land Trust is one success story of this valley, the growing public transportation system through the RTA is another. And now there’s an opportunity for a good community partnership to be forged.

Consider this. Back in the 1990s, the towns of Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte, along with Gunnison County and Crested Butte Mountain Resort, jointly purchased 17 acres of land at the intersection of Brush Creek Road at the entrance to Skyland. It is still there, sandwiched between the Larkspur subdivision and Highway 135. Why couldn’t those four entities sell off a portion of that land for development on the same scale as Larkspur? The proceeds could then be used to buy three acres of the Niccoli parcel and perhaps some acreage north of Gunnison. The RTA could be responsible for building, screening and maintaining the park-and-rides.
For every acre of land, approximately 100 vehicles can be parked. That’s a lot of cars not traveling the highway and a lot of people using community transportation. Hide the parking lot, get people safely on a bus to work or to ski and preserve open space views at the same time. Talk about a win-win-win.

The one park-and-ride in the county I see regularly is the Chamber parking lot at the Crested Butte Four-way Stop. Because parking is limited in Mt. Crested Butte (and that’s usually part of a successful park-and-ride equation) the lot is overflowing on weekends and powder days. It is used seven days a week during the ski season. These things work in these changing times.
Again…Would a parking area hidden from the highway behind a small forest of trees be worse than another house being built behind the houses already there? Where is the most community benefit?
The Gunnison County Planning Commission is holding a public hearing and work session on the matter this Friday. While the Planning Commission can’t bargain for a park-and-ride as a condition of that subdivision request, the Land Trust can offer whatever it wants. Perhaps it is time for the Land Trust to soften its stance and again show some insightful forward thinking and look at the overall community benefit they can provide while not deviating from what they already do.

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