Foothills proponents asking town for closure on development plan

Affordable housing up to 51 percent

The Crested Butte Planning Commission wants to keep talking to the proponents of the Foothills of Crested Butte in an effort to continue “the process.” The developers have said they want an answer sooner rather than later. The proponents made it clear that while the plan could change again, it will not be “dramatically” different from what’s in front of the town.



The Foothills is a proposed 44-acre annexation located on the north edge of the town boundary. It has been on the boards more than a year and is in the sketch plan phase. According to Town Planner John Hess, the sketch plan is meant to approve or reject a general idea for development on the property. The development would be addressed in more detail during the preliminary plan phase. The Planning Commission is made up of Town Council members.
In an effort to shore up the affordable housing aspect of the annexation plan, the latest revision unveiled Monday at a Planning Commission work session showed a total of 158 units on the property. Sixty-one of them would be deed-restricted for affordable housing.
The developers have also proposed purchasing eight existing apartments in Crested Butte on the free market and deed restricting them.
They have also said they would pay for the implementation of infrastructure to the Paradise Park affordable housing area already located in town. That would make 26 new lots available for building. Getting credit for the offsite amenities would raise the amount of affordable housing to just over 51 percent of the Foothills project. Town planning regulations call for such a project to be comprised of 60 percent affordable housing.
A public hearing on the sketch plan decision has been continued until Monday, September 28 at 8 p.m. The pubic hearing follows a presentation by Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment representatives speaking on the old town dump situation at 7 p.m.
Planning Commission chairman and Crested Butte Mayor Alan Bernholtz encouraged people in favor of the proposal to show up at the public hearing since not one person from the general public has spoken in favor of the latest plan. He said that silence appears to be impacting some commissioners. Lead development attorney Jim Starr asked the commission members to keep an open mind on the project.
At the Monday work session, Hess went over more than 30 points that remained “open discussion items” between the developers and the town. They included topics like the old town dump clean-up, issues over performance bonding, open space and water.
Bernholtz reiterated some previous frustration with the developers. “We’ve always said to start with the requirements in our area plan and subdivision plan,” he said. “What we want is written in our town documents. When it says the town requires this much park space for this many units, provide that much park space. The plan changes every time. I think it would be better for you to bring us a plan that is close to our requirements and that we can tweak.”
“We can’t meet everything. We’ll never get there,” responded Foothills principal Brant Bryan. “If that’s not good enough, let us know. Real estate is only so big. You can’t stretch it. We are trying to make it work in the space that is there and I admit we are looking for some compromise.”
“I like a lot of what you have to say and I would bet we have similar values,” said Bernholtz. “But it’s not our issue to make it happen for you. For me, I don’t want to support something that adds any new burden to the town.”
Margot Levy, a town planning commissioner, voiced concerns that many elements of the proposed plan is asking for waivers from town standards on issues such as the size of the roads.
“We don’t have problems with a lot of this stuff,” said Bryan. “It’s part of the corrective process.”
Town Attorney John Belkin reminded the commission that a lot of the development details get ironed out in the next phase of the process—the preliminary plan phase. “We’re not even out of the batter’s box yet,” he said.
“I’m not sure I even want to even join this league,” said Bernholtz.
Commissioner Billy Rankin came back to the public input. “How important is the public comment on this project?” he asked. “We haven’t heard one person say it is a good project. Think about it. I want to go to the public hearing on September 28 and make a decision.”
Commissioner Skip Berkshire argued for the process. “The dozen or so issues raised by the public are being addressed,” he said. “Virtually every one is being addressed. Traffic, wetlands, the dump. So I think it is premature given the issues being raised to put a bullet in it until we see the answers to the issues. I think we need to go through the process before we can honestly answer yes or no.”
“If this last year hasn’t been a process, I don’t what it has been,” said Bernholtz.
Commissioner Dan Escalante had hoped there would be just a handful of issues on the table at this point in the process. “I agree with Alan and would have liked them to do what the town asked in its planning documents.”
Commissioner Reed Betz was ready to vote and end the process last week. Monday he was ready to keep going… but not forever. “I think the process is important but give me a reason to not say no,” he told the proponents.
Planning commissioner Leah Williams admitted the process has been painful. “But it’s our responsibility to carry it through until we see it won’t work and I’m not there yet,” she said.
Bernholtz pointed out that the mayor doesn’t always carry the day. “It’s a group decision,” he said of the Planning Commission. “But for me there are still a lot of issues that need fixed. It sounds like affordable housing is almost there. I want real parks in the annexation and not payment-in-lieu money for parks instead. I want to see a traffic plan. More open space on the site would be beneficial. Frankly, offering to sell us the land east of the river was a real head-scratcher for me.”
Berkshire and Williams said they liked the concept of payments-in lieu if the money could go toward improving existing parks like Big Mine Park.
Bryan said he too was tired of the process. “At some point, we need to get on with it,” he said. “We will do what we can but we’ll be whittling on this proposal more than taking a chainsaw out. Don’t expect something dramatically different. Is this good enough? If not, tell us.”
Earlier in the meeting, Bryan told the commission that the developers figured they could make more money by going through the Gunnison County development approval process. “But we think this belongs in town. We’re trying to do the right thing, but let us know.”
The town Planning Commission will take up the sketch plan issue again on Monday, September 28.

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