A few things to think about before filing an ADU lawsuit

I tried to reach out this week to Mr. Kiltz and Mr. Mize, the owners of houses in Crested Butte with accessory dwelling units (ADUs) attached to the property that they do not want to rent long-term. That would be their prerogative, except that the property they bought came with a deed-restricted deal that included financial breaks and density bonuses in exchange for building the ADU to rent long-term. They do not want to rent so much that the threat of a lawsuit is now in play. I just wanted to hear their thoughts and reasoning—much of which I would probably understand. But I heard through their lawyer that they had no comment on the matter at this time.

So I’ll go to Assumption Junction—Renting out a property is sometimes difficult and if you don’t live here, it is even harder. Vetting renters isn’t easy even when you have a ton of local contacts. There is some legitimate worry of property being trashed. Places are nicer these days, so the days of leasing out the ski bum dump for some extra cash are pretty much over. Wealthy people don’t need the extra rental income so there is no motivation to rent. Having a place out back for the in-laws to stay is better than sharing the main house. Maybe you bristle at being told what to do by a little hippie town. I understand all these arguments.

I also get why the town councilmembers are upset these ADUs aren’t being rented. The town maintains strongly that these homes were built within the context of an obviously understood deal. At construction, certain breaks and bonuses were given and in return an ADU was approved to be rented to working locals. It was a quid pro quo where something was done in exchange for something else. That’s called a deal.

And back in the early 1990s it was a good deal. Getting a break on building costs so you could build an income-producing house that might bring in $300 a month from a buddy to help pay the mortgage? That was no-brainer! Today, there are about 84 such ADUs in Crested Butte. But two of the owners don’t want to do the quo from the quid anymore.

The whole affair is indicative of changes in Crested Butte. With shrinking inventory, the town is more desperate to do what it can to keep workforce housing inside town boundaries. At the direction of the Town Council, the staff has gotten more aggressive with deed-restriction enforcement. The laws regulating affordable housing have been changed and are a lot tighter today than they were in the 1990s. And that’s the rub.

The homeowners’ attorney, Marcus Lock, makes the argument that the town can’t make them adhere to the updated laws. Lock says the town shouldn’t be able to change the rules and make them stricter at the whim of every new council. Fair enough. That’s where the term “grandfathered in” comes into play. If you are grandfathered in, it basically means you can abide by the rules of the time before stricter regulations were passed. Anyone new coming into to the same situation has to go by the new rules. It happens a lot in a lot of different situations so it seems to me the homeowners can have a valid argument.

The spirit of the 1990s ordinance is obvious. But the law is tighter today than 25 years ago. If a lawsuit is filed, who really knows how a judge would rule? Would the black robe go with the obvious spirit and intent of the law or with a strict reading of the 1991 words, which seem today deficient despite a clear deal? No one knows for sure.

So I ask those considering legal action—think beyond the box of the big city places that are probably comfortable to you. Think Crested Butte real, whatever that might mean to you. Something obviously drew you here—so start there.

What the property owners might want to consider is why they like it in Crested Butte. If it’s because of the mountain views or easy access to skiing, there are plenty of similar places. Chances are you could have bought a house in another pretty ski town. If it’s because there are hiking and biking trails, art galleries, good restaurants and fun stores, there are plenty of similar places that provide those amenities and more.

If it’s because of the vibe, the soul, the feeling – then maybe there aren’t so many similar places and you, the homeowners, should think about what provides that vibe, soul and feeling. It is the people. The people who work in the restaurants and stores, who carve out the trails and make the art.

And if the people who create the vibe can’t live in this end of the valley –the soul and the feel becomes like too many other places. If the people go, the reason you bought here instead of somewhere else goes too. If workers can’t find places to live in or near town and new homeowners want to grab a bite to eat—but no one is there to take your order or cook your steak—why come here? If you can’t ride or ski a trail because no one has fixed the sidewalls, done avalanche control or it gets cut off because someone hired a lawyer to close the trail where it touches private property, what’s the point of coming here? What’s the point of owning a house here?

While the law and the interpretation might not be crystal clear, the homeowners pushing this confrontation might really want to take a breath and see, for their own sakes, if there is a way to comfortably rent the ADUs that come with their houses. Perhaps the town (because it’s putting the pressure on) or Regional Housing Authority and private enterprise can form an impartial vetting system to help such out-of-town homeowners. Interested renters could apply and allow credit checks and references before being given a rating of some sort. A vetted pool of potential renters could be developed that out-of-town property owners could tap into.

Renting your ADU might be a decision that helps you continue to enjoy this place. Heck, if you lose the people providing the very things that drew you here, you might lose the value of your house when no one wants to buy it.

So while I tire of people who think they have a natural entitlement to live in a sweet, cheap house in town and I roll my eyes at people who can only define “community” by those who reside in Crested Butte instead of including all the families and characters who live in the expanded Crested Butte neighborhood of the entire upper (and increasingly lower) valley—I appreciate the benefit to all of us if people are living near their jobs.

There is a benefit to people walking home from the bars instead of driving.

There is a benefit to see lights on at night in all the blocks in town.

There is a benefit to keeping the C.B. pedestrian-oriented and with the energy of vibrant neighborhoods.

There is a benefit to kids walking home from school.

There is a benefit to people hopping on their bikes and doing a townie takeover.

There is a benefit to having happy people working in the stores and restaurants and contributing to keeping the trails clean and the art interesting.

There is a benefit when a town has teachers, cops, artists, plow-drivers, business owners and EMTs living in or near town.

It keeps the 10 square blocks real. And Crested Butte real is still different from so many other resort towns. Those weird painted buses your kids love? That’s Crested Butte real and painted by locals living here. That’s perhaps why people buy here.

All of that is something for Misters Kiltz and Mize to consider before trying to legal their way out of an old deal that came with their property. Contributing in a very tangible way to keeping the place you were attracted to attractive will make a difference to them and to everyone.

—Mark Reaman

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