Work on details for affordable housing land donation begins

Clarks to convene a exploratory group

Butch Clark and county officials are going to “start thinking about how to think about” the process of developing at least one affordable housing community on what is now federal land.



In December, Clark and his wife, Judy, who are longtime Gunnison residents, suggested exchanging a 960-acre parcel that sits in the middle of the Fossil Ridge Recreation Area for federal land near a population center to hold an affordable housing community.
Clark told the Gunnison County commissioners at a regular meeting on Tuesday, February 24, that a committee of 12 or more could be needed to make the “rather complicated” idea a reality.
“A lot of this stuff is trying to figure out what you want to achieve from the beginning and then we can begin fitting pieces together,” he said.
Clark hopes the group, which is being chosen by his attorney, Luke Danielson, could meet sometime in April to start the discussion. Likely candidates for the group are housing director KT Gazunis, a county commissioner, representatives from the federal agencies that will need to participate in the exchange and possibly some groups that have experience working on similar projects, like the Trust for Public Lands.
Federal agencies that manage land often consider exchanging parcels that have development or private value in populated areas for private land in remote areas that would have equal value to the federal government.
Once appropriate federal land is identified for the project, the challenge of placing a value on the land will become an early task for the group. No potential locations for the development have been identified.
“We could be looking at multiple land pieces when all of this has settled,” said commissioner Hap Channell. “The idea should be to try to utilize a lot of the federal programs that are out there for those kinds of trades. The problem is that there seems to be a lot of flexibility built into those land trade values.”
Clark said he knows that creating an affordable, sustainable community will require the cooperation of federal, state and local governments as well as public and private partnerships using the ideas of people who might live in the community. Establishing the value of the land being swapped will be the first test of that cooperation.
A letter from Danielson to the county suggests a four-stage process for moving forward with the land exchange and the community development.
The formation of the group would be part of an exploratory phase that would try to identify all of the options for the community, the players that would need to be involved during the process as well as the stakeholders that would be involved throughout, and would then start the paperwork to legitimize the process.
The exploratory phase would last for about 60 days.
Next would be a 90-day development phase, when the “informal working group” would formalize and intensify the process of public involvement, settle on a preliminary concept for the community, explore funding options and create binding agreements between the Clarks and the county.
Clark would like to see well-developed ideas and agreement on major issues “before the trade occurs.”
As the land exchange proceeds, Clark envisions a project design phase that will run simultaneously. That phase will require a team of experts to manage the design, a funding source and increased involvement of the Gunnison County Electric Association, “to see how the project could support their objectives,” and people who would be interested in living in such a community.
Clark said that during the final implementation phase, he also hopes Western State College can use the project as a teaching tool and local builders can use it to “strengthen their skills at green, renewable energy construction,” since that will be one of the major focuses the designers will have.
After Channell said he was “really interested in the energy conservation part of it,” Clark explained some of the ideas he has had for the community, which involved the transformation of “well-insulated shipping containers” into homes and distribution of heat created during the on-site generation of electricity.
Commissioner Jim Starr said he was excited about the ideas being presented and the commissioners agreed to try to find a time in April to meet with the exploratory group and begin the process.

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