New affordable housing units reduced in Pitchfork project

Reduced to four units, two of which will be for sale

by Katherine Nettles

The Mt. Crested Butte Town Council approved alterations to a planned affordable housing development for the Pitchfork Subdivision last week, allowing for a previous sketch plan of six units to be reduced to four. It approved the application with requirements that two of the units remain as long-term rentals and that a parking study and plan be submitted as well.

The decision came after a public hearing and lengthy discussions between Gunnison County sustainable operations director John Cattles, who is acting as developer and general contractor for the project, and the council.

The project will be developed on property purchased by Gunnison County in 2002 for affordable housing purposes. Cattles asked to reduce the unit count and for the flexibility to sell all of the units in order to cover the costs of construction. He proposed maintaining the same number of total bedrooms at 10, but said that the originally planned six-plex was too complex with stairs, fire breaks, and demand for space.

A four-plex would be a better build economically, said Cattles, but the county would need to sell at least two units to cover construction costs. The sale of the units would be to qualified residents under the provisions of an amended deed restriction. The other two would be available for long-term lease through the Gunnison Valley Regional Housing Authority (GVRHA).

The council held a public hearing prior to the council session and its vote. Much of the concern coming from public comment and the development commission focused on crowded parking areas rather than the number of units.

Several residents of Pitchfork spoke, one of whom opposed the sale of the units and preferred they be used for long-term rentals to aid in the affordable housing shortage. Others expressed concern over snow storage, since the vacant lot slotted for the development is currently used for overflow by default.

Mayor Todd Barnes spoke to the ongoing issues at Pitchfork with parking, and the use by some Pitchfork residents of space that exceeds what has been allocated to them to store recreational equipment, firewood, and vehicles. The overall agreement was that enforcement is key.

“As we build this, we are going to make sure everybody understands who has a license to park where. And as you guys put the asphalt in and as you cut back the dirt…it is an opportunity to clarify where everybody goes, and to solve it and be an example… That’s not a bad guy position, it’s for the benefit of the neighborhood,” said Barnes.

The design included nose-in parking for the new units, overlapping with what is technically an existing sidewalk. Cattles discussed options for parallel parking instead of nose-in parking, which he said would be very difficult to achieve.

“The parking plan is a real nightmare, with lots having easements on adjacent lots for parking,” Cattles said, pointing out that people are parking on the lot designated for the county. “So people will be losing spots that have been available to them because there is no one else built out.”

“They weren’t their spots to begin with; they were just a convenience,” councilmember Dwayne Lehnerz stated.

“The overall parking issue in Pitchfork is something we can’t really resolve. We are happy to reach out to neighbors…see what makes it better. We’re not going to be able to fix the snow storage problem or the parking problem,” said Cattles.

Council member Lauren Daniel, who lives at Pitchfork, noted that the nose-in parking doesn’t cover an area that is used by pedestrians, although it is a pedestrian walkway.

Not everyone agreed on how to handle that. Community Development Director Carlos Velado argued that the pedestrian walkway is designated to keep people off the roadway for safety and [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliance.

Councilmember Nicholas Kempin stated that he was comfortable with nose-in parking and appreciated the ADA considerations, but that it made sense to make an exception there since the dominant form of use is on the driveway and streets.

Additionally, the council addressed common issues associated with selling units under deed restriction, including people gaming the system with short-term rentals and the loss of deed restrictions if a sold unit faces foreclosure. Town attorney Kathleen Fogo said there is potential of building in a right of first refusal to the developer, which in this case would be the county.

Velado stated, “We’ve learned a lot over the years about the deed restrictions. The deed restriction in this is going to be a key component.”

Council member Ken Lodovico summarized that most of the public input had not been about the issue at hand, which is a reduction in the number of units and the for sale versus rent aspect. “The unit count, affordable housing going from six to four—I don’t know if we would be considering that if it wasn’t Pitchfork and the problems that Pitchfork creates, with the logic being that a reduction from six units to four units is less of an impact. And if there’s ever a subdivision that needs less of an impact, it’s Pitchfork. “

The council voted unanimously for approval, with the conditions that one two-bedroom unit and one three-bedroom unit may be sold, the other two bedroom unit and three bedroom unit would be available for rental, and that a parking study and plan be submitted.

Cattles said he was determined to try and continue with the project, possibly breaking ground during the next building season in spring of 2019. He said having only two units to sell will make it very challenging to build the development, but that his mission for the next several months is to work on how to finance it.

“There are other sites that the county has where we can build and not subsidize it…but we are going to have to subsidize this either way, it is just a matter of how much,” said Cattles of the council’s decision. “It is very challenging. If affordable housing were easy to do, the private sector would be doing it.”

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