Slate River development deal coming into focus

Final look expected February 16; includes river trail, boating access

By Mark Reaman

While the public comment Monday evening over a proposed “pre-annexation” deal with Cypress Foothills LP and the town was split, some speaking in favor of the 44-acre development just north of town and others opposed, the one common sentiment was that the 24 homes on the 30 acres east of the Slate River should not be “gated.”

There was some initial thought of including a gate to restrict access across the bridge over the river to all but property owners and their guests. A unanimous public and council objection to a gate quickly resulted in Cypress representatives promising there will be no gate as part of any deal with the town. The council will vote on final details of the proposed deal at the February 16 council meeting.

The outline of a new “hybrid” deal between the developers, the county and the town to have the homes hook up to the Crested Butte wastewater facility was discussed on January 11. The three primary concerns voiced at that meeting included restricting the maximum size of structures allowed on the east side of the river to an aggregate 5,000 square feet per lot; the amount of traffic that would be generated from the development; and public access to the Slate River and trails.

The town and developers spent two weeks negotiating the points and came back in front of the council and public at a special meeting on Monday, January 25 with a revised proposal.

The new proposal would limit primary house sizes to 5,000 square feet plus a 750-square-foot accessory dwelling. A major traffic study will be conducted as part of the county portion of the public review process. And the developers have agreed to build an extension of the town perimeter trail to run along the Slate. They will also provide a boating access area south of the new bridge.

The proposed deal in general calls for the 30 acres on the east side of the river to remain in the county and be regulated by the county. The developers will initiate a major impact review with the county for no more than 24 homes to be located on that portion of the land.

If that plan gains county approval—and that process is expected to take at least a year—the developers would start cleaning up two small sections of the old town landfill on the west side of the river and cap another portion of the dump. That is anticipated to cost up to $1.6 million, with the town chipping in $350,000. For many years local residents used the site as the primary landfill for the upper valley. While recent testing has shown small amounts of asbestos and lead buried at the site, there doesn’t appear to be significant toxicity.

Annexation proceedings would then begin with the town and if approved, the town would take possession of the west side property. The developers would control six town lots within that parcel. All structures on the entire property would be connected to the town wastewater plant. The homes on the east side would dig wells for water. There would be 50-foot setbacks from wetlands for any construction.

Initial ideas of how the town would use the public property include setting aside one acre for an affordable housing complex; designating a site for a potential school facility servicing pre-school through first grade students; having a spot for an emergency services center that could house the town marshal’s office and the fire department; open space; park land; and a sledding hill.

Town planner Michael Yerman noted this could open up more space in the core of town for more non-profit use. After the annexation is complete, the developers have two years to build the river trail and boat access, along with a fence separating the town public works yard from the development.

While a potential annexation is part of the proposal, the town code requires that the town enter into a “pre-annexation agreement” with the developers if homes are to be connected to the wastewater treatment facility. The council will consider the details of the agreement along with a resolution explaining reasons to enter into the deal at the February 16 Town Council meeting.

After assuring the council that the town sewer plant had adequate capacity to service the development, town staff went over the history of the process, admitting that it was “a unique process” involving the town, the county and the developers.

“Since going down this hybrid path, details seemed to have fallen into place,” said Cypress Foothills vice president Cameron Aderhold. “What’s in front of us can benefit the town for years to come.”

Cypress attorney Marcus Lock said an easement agreement would be signed with the town allowing boaters to navigate the portion of the Slate that goes through the private property. It would include language allowing “incidental touching” of the river bottom. Councilmen Jim Schmidt and Roland Mason wanted to be sure there were accommodations made for people who would be utilizing the boat access area.

The developers will have to put up a monetary bond guaranteeing completion of infrastructure work with both the county and town if the development is approved.

The public was offered a chance to comment on the proposed deal and anyone who mentioned the idea of a gate expressed dislike.

Resident Eric Davis said gates were a “metastasizing malignancy in the county and a slap in the face.”

Resident Jesse Irons reiterated the comments he made when the developers proposed an annexation of the entire property. “We have a really quaint town right now and this will really change it,” he said. “I see some aspects of it selling out our public resources.”

Builder Mike Weil thought aside from the gate it was a great proposal for the town. “Not to just speak from self interest but there aren’t many places left to build in town. I make my living building and this seems a natural extension,” he said. “Overall, there are lots of benefits to the town coming out of this with a school site and potential fire hall.”

Resident Sue Navy questioned the need for 24 5,000-square-foot homes with 24 750-square-foot accessory dwellings.

Harvey Castro wanted to make sure current residents wouldn’t end up paying more in taxes to subsidize this growth. And he wanted to make sure any traffic study included not just Gothic Road, but Seventh and Eighth Streets and Butte Avenue as well. He was assured it would all be part of the analysis.

Jim Starr spoke the longest and most vehemently about concerns with the deal. He started with what appeared to him to be a quick time frame. He said no one could read and understand the proposal since it was put out just a few days before the Monday special meeting. “This has been a terrible process,” he said.

Starr went down a few of the agreement points in the document and warned the council to be very wary of the wording, saying some things were ambiguous and others put too much liability on the town.

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He said given the amount of development facing the town, a major, comprehensive traffic analysis would be appropriate. “The cumulative impacts of this, Sixth Street Station, an expanded Center for the Arts, Anthracite Place, and a roundabout scare the hell out of me,” he said. “This has always been a pedestrian community. I’m afraid all of this is making us more a motorized community.

“The developers paid $1.75 million for the property and can probably easily sell the 24 home sites for $500,000 each,” he noted. “Look at what the taxpayer will end up paying as a result of this development and determine if it is fair when they will make a huge profit.”

“Yes, there is a lot to get through,” said Lock. “Jim said he has not read the whole agreement but your town attorney and town planner and town manager have and they have worked hard on this proposal. Many of the specific issues Jim raised will be addressed at the county process and the town approval process. I urge the council to look at the overall proposal. Everyone is trying to make it a project beneficial to the town and Cypress. There is lots of incredible public space in this.”

Kyleena Falzone said she does not want to see division within the town over the proposal. “But growth is inevitable. I support smart, strategic growth,” she said. “I think this would benefit the town in a huge way and they seem very willing to work with the town. Overall, I’m in favor of the project.”

Glo Cunningham told the council to be aware of what was in the dump. “It was horrid,” she said. “It was very polluted and may cost more than $1.6 million to clean up.” She also said the “old families” that she has talked about this with asked her to try to not allow any development east of the cemetery. “They believe that would really change the feel out there,” she said.

John Hess said he agreed with Starr that the town might find itself in some unexpected liability with the VCUP (voluntary clean-up program) of portions of the old dump.

Town attorney John Belkin said people should understand that Cypress would do the VCUP while they owned the land before turning it over to the town.

As for the council, most spoke against the idea of gate. Schmidt said he felt very strongly against agreeing to more than 5,000 square feet total on any lot. The rest of the council sympathized with his point of view but felt the compromise was adequate. Crossett said the county regulations could allow up to 10,000 square feet per house.

Schmidt said he was uncomfortable with the overall timing and didn’t want the town to have a hammer over its head if the county gave approval to the deal.

“If we wanted total control of the development, we should have annexed the entire property,” said Crossett.

“It seems to me the town could have purchased the property and done whatever it wanted,” stated councilman Chris Ladoulis. “But it never did and now this plan offers some benefit for affordable housing and things like open space.”

Belkin reiterated it was less about an annexation and more a deal for allowing a developer to tie in to the town wastewater treatment plant.

“It’s a negotiation,” agreed Yerman. “Is it perfect? No. The river access element got it close to perfect and I think it is a pretty darn good deal for us as we grow.”

Councilman Paul Merck wanted more information about what actually is in the old dump. “But overall, I think these guys are bringing some great things to the table,” he said.

Councilperson Laura Mitchell admitted that the process was feeling a bit rushed but overall liked the idea of the homes tying into the town sewer plant instead of having individual septic systems. “The reality is that Cypress Foothills or someone will do something out there. The county process will be very thorough and the town is getting some benefits. Let’s move forward.”

Mason, along with the rest of the council, wanted to let the idea percolate some more. He asked that the council continue the discussion into a February meeting.

“I think the new deal points need to be reviewed thoroughly by us and the public,” said mayor Glenn Michel. “I want the public to have ample opportunity to review this.”

Michel also asked the staff to formulate an official council resolution detailing reasons the council might accept the proposal.

The council will look again at the proposal at the February 16 meeting. The proposal as brought to the council will remain the same with the addition of a provision prohibiting a gated community access. The proposal is posted on the Crested Butte town website.

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