Public shows no support for foothills annexation

Decision on September 28?

A crowd of about 70 people spoke overwhelmingly against the proposed Foothills of Crested Butte annexation plan on Monday night at a public hearing before the town Planning Commission. The Planning Commission is made up of Town Council members.



The proponents threw a wrinkle into the proceedings early in the meeting when they unveiled an offer to sell their 23 acres east of the Slate River to the town for less than they paid for it. “It is another option if you don’t want development east of the river,” explained lead Foothills attorney Jim Starr.
Town Manager Susan Parker said the developers had proposed selling the land to the town for about the same per acre cost as the proposed Spann land sale. “They are asking $5.6 million and change for the 23 acres,” she said.
The planning commissioners made no decision on the annexation during the two-and-a-half hour meeting and they didn’t discuss the real estate sale proposal in any depth. The public hearing was actually continued until September 28 and the town is still taking written comments on the sketch plan. A work session on the staff recommendations over the plan will be held Monday, September 21 at 5 p.m.
Starr said the Foothills proponents had spent 15 months discussing options with the town staff, the planning commissioners and the public. He said the affordable housing aspect being proposed was exemplary. He also pointed out that the plan had moved to a grid system to continue the feel of Crested Butte.
Foothills attorney Aaron Huckstep explained the current plan called for 155 units, “which was significantly decreased from the original 384,” he said. “We felt we were in the right place after lots of comments and meetings. There have been drastic changes influenced by the process.”
The proposal calls for 61 units on the development to be deed-restricted affordable housing. The proponents plan to purchase another six to 10 free-market units in town and deed-restrict them. Huckstep said there could also be cheaper free-market “micro” lots as part of the plan.
He said the annexation would provide tax revenue to the town and would provide for the clean-up of the old town dump.
The open space being brought to the table would be significant, according to Huckstep, and include a view shed of 106 acres of land on the ridge starting up the Slate River valley.
Town Planner John Hess said the sketch plan phase was meant as a general overview and he agreed with Huckstep that a lot of time and effort had gone into the plan and it had changed dramatically over the last year. “The sketch plan is meant to ask things like ‘Is this the right place for development? Is the number of units good? Are the general traffic patterns right?’” he explained. Hess had compiled a list of about 100 issues still to be resolved. Some were bigger issues than others.
“I’d guess half of the 100 issues were anticipated and normal,” said Huckstep. “The other half we figure we can work through.”
Starr said a lot of the issues cited by Hess would be expected to be addressed at the preliminary plan phase of the process. Hess did say the details of any dump cleanup would have to be completed before preliminary plan and there was a lot of work to be done in that aspect.

On to the public comment.

Former mayor Jim Schmidt said the old dump should be a major concern for the town (see a letter from Jim Schmidt regarding Foothills at “I saw lots of things burned and buried in there when I first got here,” he said. “I think it is bigger than shown on the maps. To clean that up would essentially create an open pit mine site behind my house. Wind could kick up potentially toxic dust in the neighborhood and we have kids over there. And the huge amount of trucks that would be needed to haul the old material from there would be enormous. There are so many significant minuses to this proposal.”
Steve Glazer spoke on behalf of the High Country Citizens’ Alliance. He said the environmental group had several concerns but he focused on water. “Water is such a critical issue,” he said. “We want to make sure there is avoidance of any risk to current water users in town. It is critical the developers provide water with senior water rights or junior rights with sufficient augmentation. We also want to see the details of the wastewater plan.”
Resident Peter Bridges outlined a myriad of concerns (see a letter from Peter Bridges regarding Foothills at “I think given the availability of affordable housing in town right now and the ability for the town to build more, that their claim of an affordable housing benefit is a false banner,” he said. “I also think Mr. Hess has been a bit light on the wetland and wildlife issues. There has been a proposal for a wetlands preserve with the Slate River that this would destroy.” Bridges also expressed concern over the financial responsibility of the developers, potential pollution and traffic problems.
Former school crossing guard Harvey Castro informed the commissioners that traffic would double in the winter and people in the Foothills would indeed drive to the bus stop to shuttle up to the ski area.
Crested Butte commercial property owner Cricket Farrington told the commissioners it has been her experience that these types of developments “always cause my taxes to go up and my taxes have already gone up to the point of ridiculosity. You should keep in mind the quality of life and taxes of people already here,” she told the Planning Commission. “I speak for the overwrought taxpayer.”
Second homeowner Margie Haley asked if the town should have an idea of the valley’s “carrying capacity” before allowing more development. “I worry about the impact of what we’re doing here on our children and grandchildren. The climate is changing. Don’t we want to know the number for the carrying capacity of the valley as it gets stretched?”
Crested Butte resident Sue Navy has attended many of the Foothills meetings. “I’m not even sure of the proposal anymore now that they are offering to sell the land on the east side of the river. I’ll just say I don’t really like density over on that side.” Navy also said no homes, particularly deed-restricted homes, should be built on the site of the old dump.
Laura Martineau expressed concern over the current town infrastructure. “The project is shifting and more information is needed,” she said. “I don’t think this development was considered when we expanded the school. This type of development could cause the need for a whole new school. Will they pay for a new school if it’s needed?” she asked. “The water treatment plant in town is already pushing maximum limits in July. Will we all be stuck paying for a new water treatment plant? And the old dump is no place to excavate. It’s not a place for homes. I agree with Jim Schmidt. I don’t like the idea of being downwind of the dump if you start opening it up.”
Resident Larry Mosher expressed concern with the local and national economic climate. “Taking on unknown new costs is not prudent. It is not a reasonable time for the town to expand.”
Tyler Harpel said the town already owns plenty of water that could service the new development. He works for Schmueser-Gordon-Meyer Engineering, which is a consultant for the Foothills. “Just one of the ditches by Wildcat where the town has water rights, provides six cfs (cubic feet per second). The town uses just 1.34 cfs at peak and this development would add just .1 cfs more. There is water. And the town shouldn’t be making decisions on issues now that should be made at the preliminary plan.”
Longtime resident Wayne Meredith reminded the commissioners that “Coal Creek dries up every year. If the town has so much water, where is it? It’s being used. Every bit of it,” he countered. Meredith also said that the old dump shouldn’t be characterized as being illegal. “Prior to 1976, this is the way things were disposed of everywhere. It was an open dump. The proposal doesn’t make sense as far as the dump goes.”
Local attorney David Leinsdorf said the annexation was a bad deal for everyone except the seller. “And there is no basis for the town to spend tax dollars to purchase the 23 acres east of the river. Your job is to protect the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of Crested Butte. Deny this proposal.”
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Resident John Wirsing asked what would happen if the proposal was denied. Commission chairman Alan Bernholtz said it would likely go before the county. Hess speculated there would be less density allowed but house sizes would be larger.
Glo Cunningham said she had faith in the county process but the town planning commissioners needed to determine if this was the right proposal for a town project. “Having houses on the dump and saying it is okay is like Thompson Creek assuring everyone they can do an environmentally friendly mine. Right.”
The commissioners made a few comments as well. “I think the developers have tried to compromise,” said Bernholtz. “But Margot [Levy] and I were on the council during the Verzuh annexation process and just like tonight, we had a room full of people but they were supporting the annexation telling us we were crazy not to take that plan. I haven’t heard a lot of support for this Foothills project. I too am very concerned about the dump and water issues. It’s always been important to us to not have any extra burden fall on the town from this annexation.”
Commissioner Billy Rankin was ready to wrap it up. “I haven’t really heard one comment in favor of this proposal,” he said. “The public is pretty unanimous against this. I’d like to cross the bridge pretty quickly and move on. I’ve heard a pretty solid ‘No’ from the public.”
Fellow board member Skip Berkshire was getting near the end of the line as well but he wanted to take the time to discuss the staff recommendations and conditions for possible approval. “We either need to close the book soon or have a chance for dialogue with the staff and proponents over the conditions listed in the staff report,” he said.
“I feel like Alice in Wonderland,” remarked Levy. “The proponents say we should wait for details on certain topics at the next step but at the last annexation it went to the preliminary plan and then we were told it was too late to ask for details.”
Huckstep said it was all part of the process. “I bet the Verzuh plan changed a lot over time,” he said. “The project morphs.”
Bernholtz said he was getting a sense there might not be any way for the public to buy into this particular proposal.
“If that’s the case, then we want to know soon,” responded Huckstep.
Starr again emphasized that this was one of the last places for Crested Butte to expand. “You have to decide if you want the town to expand or not,” he said. “Right now the town has 12 percent affordable housing. This plan expands that significantly. Realistically, the town will have to face some sort of development here sometime in the future.”
Commissioner Dan Escalante said he had heard from several people on the street who were in favor of the annexation proposal but none showed up at the public hearing. And not many, if any, letters have been sent written in favor of the proposal to the town. “I’ve been hearing the other side,” he said.
Commissioner Reed Betz said he sided with Rankin. “It’s time to make a decision,” he said. “We’ve heard a lot from the public and staff. We are 15 months into this and John [Hess] has outlined more than 100 concerns tonight. I appreciate the public comments and countless hours from the staff and proponents but it is time.”
The commission spent another 45 minutes debating with themselves, the public and stand-in Town Attorney Rod Landwehr about whether it was indeed time to end the sketch plan part of the process and make a decision. Landwehr tried to explain that since it was a quasi-judicial matter, the public hearing should probably be closed and public comment completed and entered as evidence for the proceeding.
The commissioners wanted to discuss the staff report and allow continued comment. That made Landwehr uncomfortable.
Still, the commission decided to continue the public hearing until 7 p.m. on September 28. At that time, there will be a Planning Commission discussion over the staff report, some more public comment, then deliberation and a possible decision over whether to approve, deny or accept with conditions, the sketch plan for Foothills.

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