Density in the ballpark…affordable housing isn’t
The Crested Butte Planning Commission told the proponents of the Foothills annexation Monday evening to go back to the office, read the town subdivision regulations and Crested Butte Area Plan and return with a plan which meets the requirements in those documents.
But, at the same time, the town officials have agreed to give the developers more density than is allowed in those documents.
The commission, which is comprised of the town council members, seems comfortable with a density range of approximately 120 to 145 units for the annexation. The parcel being proposed for development includes the primary 44-acre “Trampe” piece and two-and-a-half acres of town land that would maintain the Crested Butte grid. Under the Area Plan, the town would normally allow 92 units on the site.
After a 30 minute executive session between the proponents and the planning commission along with a work session that lasted more than two hours, planning commission chairman Alan Bernholtz made it obvious where he stood.
“We’ve been clear with issues like affordable housing since the get-go and this new plan doesn’t even meet the minimum requirements,” he said.
If the developers are eventually allowed 125 units, 60 percent of them or 75 units, must be deed restricted as affordable housing under the town subdivision regulations. The latest plan proposes somewhere between 47 and 57 affordable units along with some land to be given to the town.
“If you are not going to meet the minimum requirements, then you have to come in with a really good reason,” Bernholtz said. “Don’t come with a bunch of b.s. We’ve always said our regulations are where we’re starting from. You did it with the wetlands. Work with the staff but the big questions should come to the planning commission.
“You’ve done a good job of playing a fair game but there is still work to be done,” Bernholtz continued. “To go from almost 400 units in the initial proposal to about 140, everyone is making progress.”
The other three planning commission members at the meeting, Leah Williams, Reed Betz and Kimberly Metsch agreed with that attitude.
Town Planner John Hess asked the commission if the staff should continue meeting with the proponents “or should they just come in with a plan that meets the regulations?”
“If they did that, there wouldn’t be the need for many of these long meetings,” responded Bernholtz.
Lead attorney for the proponents, Jim Starr agreed. “I think we are on the same page,” he said. “We too want to get through the process and I agree that we have all made progress.”
The two sides seem to concur that approximately 29 of the 44 acres can be used for development. They also appear in the same ballpark as far as number of units that could be put on that land. The two sides have come to a general agreement about wetland buffers, wetland mitigation and a river park. “That’s all a big part,” Bernholtz said. “So unless you want to continue to go upstream with it, I’d say follow the subdivision regulations. Otherwise it will be a long, hard process.”
While the general wetland issues seem to have been solved between the town and the proponents, details will be worked out later when the wetland experts are present. “Overall, I think they’ve done what we asked them to do as far as wetlands,” said Hess.
Starr made the case that the developer’s plan to include increased density east of the river but south of the cemetery made sense. He said such development would continue the grid of town, wouldn’t impact diminishing wildlife in the area, didn’t impact view corridors from the highway and allowed for some smaller, thus cheaper, free-market lots.
Bernholtz was lukewarm as far as dense development east of the river. “I’m not sure of that one yet,” he said.
One of the Foothills owners, Kent Hill, explained that “density is needed to make sustainability work in developments.”
Foothills attorney Aaron Huckstep said the development east of the river helped with the continuation of town. “We have heard you loud and clear and one of our main concepts now is to mimic the look and feel of the current town,” he said.
As far as affordable housing, Bernholtz didn’t appreciate the new plan being at least 17 units short of town requirements. Huckstep wanted to know if the town was interested in taking four lots with infrastructure as part of the deal.
The planning commission didn’t object to getting land but not as a trade for 17 affordable units. The proponents said that the recent economic decline also prevented them from promising to build affordable units.
While the proponents were looking for some concrete answers to issues, local resident David Leinsdorf said a work session was not the proper place to make any binding deals. “There are only four commissioners even here tonight. It’s certainly not fair to the proponents, the public or the town,” he said. “If they take this feedback and spend money on changes, it’s not really fair.”
Town Manager Susan Parker “respectfully” disagreed. ”This direction from tonight is non-binding. Huck understands that,” she said.
“We certainly do,” Huckstep responded.
But with that concern, Bernholtz directed the discussion to stay general in theme. He told the proponents he didn’t like all the high density being placed along the highway. He said he was still “grappling” with density east of the river.
Huckstep broached the idea of the town giving extra credit for certain requirements if the annexation proponents included the northernmost seven acres of the parcel. The town contends that is wetlands. The proponents say it is irrigated wetlands, which might eventually be allowed to be developed.
“That is an extremely valuable and pricey piece of land,” Huckstep said. He intimated that because of what was paid for the property and its location, it should be considered prime open space or public lands.
The town’s open space requirement for the proposed annexation given the number of proposed units is 345 acres. But the open space can be purchased somewhere else in the valley north of Round Mountain.
Bernholtz said the commission definitely wanted the seven acres included in the development and the town preference was to keep it open. He asked the staff to discuss the value of those seven acres and report back to the planning commission.
“We can probably purchase open space somewhere else in the valley for thirty or forty thousand dollars an acre,” said Hill. “This land is worth ten times that. We think we should get some extra value for that land because there are cheaper alternatives.”
Bernholtz ended the meeting warning the developers nothing was set in stone and more issues could always arise. “Just to let you know, Billy Rankin couldn’t make it tonight but he e-mailed and made it clear he would be pursuing not just a carbon-neutral development but a carbon positive-development. Just want to make sure you are aware so that something like that doesn’t come out of left field for you.”
The proponents will digest the Monday discussion before scheduling another meeting with the planning commission.