Two councils arrive at a consensus on Brush Creek issues

Density, parking and future land use carved out

by Mark Reaman

The Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte town councils reached consensus at a joint work session on Monday, January 7, concerning three primary conditions they want to see before The Corner at Brush Creek proposal moves into the county Preliminary Plan review process.

Basically, a majority of both councils said they could “live with” a project at Brush Creek that allows for 156 units; designates five of the 14.3 acres to be set aside for intercept parking or other future uses; and requires two parking spaces per unit.

While the Crested Butte council had suggested five more conditions that should be part of a joint letter to be signed by the mayors of both towns, the group restricted the conditions to what became referred to as “The Big Three.”

The discussion and ultimate letter resulted from the county’s request that three of the four entities that own the parcel agree to conditions that might otherwise be deal breakers before moving the project review from county Sketch Plan to Preliminary Plan. The two towns along with the county and Crested Butte Mountain Resort originally purchased the property.

“I hope we can reach common ground between the two councils and send a joint letter to the county commissioners,” said Crested Butte mayor Jim Schmidt at the start of the meeting. “It feels like this has been going on for thousands of years.”

Mt. Crested Butte mayor Todd Barnes said his council has had lengthy discussions and felt that of the Crested Butte council concerns, Mt. Crested Butte wanted to focus on the density, the land to be set aside for future uses and requiring two parking spots for each unit.

“We feel these three are the paramount conditions to address before going to the Preliminary Plan,” Barnes explained. “A density of 150 to 165 units is where we sort of settled as a council for what would be appropriate.”

CBMR general manager Tim Baker said the ski company wants to see the process continue. “We believe in the public-private partnership opportunity we all have here,” he said. “We believe in the public process and want to see it continue to work in the county LUR (Land Use Resolution) process. We believe strongly that the public process can vet out the questions.”

Speaking for The Corner at Brush Creek’s developer, Gatesco Inc., attorney Kendall Burgemeister said the density question was close to being answered. “We are all pretty much on the same page. The project has been at the 15 to 17 units per acre. I don’t think anyone can discern the difference between 15 and 17 units per acre. I think we’re in the same ballpark.”

Burgemeister said requiring two parking spaces for each unit would be “unduly burdensome. We now have a lot of one-bedroom and studio units in the project, so this seems pretty heavy. In Crested Butte they only require 1.5 spaces per unit for some multi-family development. We would like the opportunity to make the case at the county.”

As for the third of The Big Three, Burgemeister said setting aside five acres was “a difficult one for the development team. We went through the RFP (Request for Proposal) and sketch plan review before this even came up. We worked on a 12- to 13-acre project with one to two acres set aside for parking.” He said if the concern was a lack of parking in Crested Butte, he wanted to make sure all options were explored before setting aside such a large chunk of land.

“One thing that keeps me going with this project is that 74 of the units are restricted to those making less than 80 percent of the AMI (Average Median Income),” said John O’Neal of Gatesco. “If we can’t figure out a way to build units for low-income people, then they are out of luck. The 72 free market units in the project help pay for those low-income units. Plus if we can increase the supply of rental units it can impact rental rates.” There are another 34 units proposed that will be deed restricted for rentals serving people making between 80 percent and 180 percent of AMI.

Schmidt asked Burgemeister how Gatesco could continue with a development that capped the number of units at the 180 mandated by the county Planning Commission or fewer units if mandated by the two towns, when he previously claimed he needed 240 or 220 units to make it happen. Burgemeister said the project had changed significantly as a result of the decrease in units from the original 240. He noted features such as underground parking and the financing of some for-sale units had been eliminated to trim expenses.

“Gary [Gates] is still interested in trying to make the 180 work,” Burgemeister explained. “But he still doesn’t know if that is possible. He can’t guarantee the project will happen at 180 once it goes through the Preliminary Plan. Things like water could come into play. But he is still interested in exploring the opportunity.”

Schmidt explained his desire to see at least five acres set aside for future uses, especially since the ski area was recently purchased by Vail Resorts and that could impact the upper valley. He also said, based on his experience living at Poverty Gulch, an affordable housing development where many people live in one-bedroom units, the parking spaces needed for the four units in his complex vary between seven and ten. “That may not be what national studies say, but up here, that is what people use,” he said.

Town manager Dara MacDonald also explained to Burgemeister that the town allows on-street parking that acts as additional parking spaces for units in town. Such on-street parking is not permitted in county developments like the Brush Creek proposal.

Crested Butte councilman Will Dujardin expressed frustration with the joint council process, saying that he felt the time taken and conditions being discussed have hampered the project. “There is an opportunity to get 180 new units and I don’t believe any new conditions from us are necessary. Let it go to the county Preliminary Plan review process,” he said.

Crested Butte councilman Paul Merck agreed. “This process is hindering the affordable housing project,” he said. “This fits the need we have all talked about. The county has a review process and I think we should continue with it.”

“I agree,” said Mt. Crested Butte councilwoman Janet Farmer. “Let the county process work the way it is supposed to work.”

“I don’t share the same faith in the county process,” responded Crested Butte councilman Jackson Petito. “After a year and a half, I don’t feel the community concerns that have been brought up have been fully addressed. They put it on us to work for the members of our community.”

“It is our responsibility to help define what’s on that property,” added councilman Kent Cowherd. “This discussion and process is totally appropriate. It is a chance to be specific with the county. This is a publicly owned piece of property.”

“We are getting close,” noted councilwoman Laura Mitchell. “The two towns are about 24 units apart but that’s 24 more cars driving to town. But overall I think we’re really close on the main concerns.”

“I greatly appreciate this conversations,” said Crested Butte councilman Chris Haver. “The county LUR process is good for a lot of things but a private-public partnership project of this scale needs more. It is important to use our voice. I know it is a long process but I think it will make the rest of the process go quicker.”

Mt. Crested Butte councilman Dwayne Lehnertz agreed the two towns were close to agreement on the three main points. “I believe we should establish our number and let it move forward,” he said. “Then it is up to the applicant to figure out how, or not, to make it work. But we will at least have figured out what we want out there so if someone starts over there are parameters.”

“To go with a smaller project will force Gatesco to reduce the number of low-income units he can build,” said Farmer. “He’s already cut back on things like having washers and dryers in each unit. Are you getting what you are looking for with these cuts?”

“As revenues are adjusted [by the size of the project], the costs get adjusted to stay feasible,” said Jeff Moffett of the Gatesco development team.

As a relatively new council member in the process, Mt. Crested Butte’s Roman Kolodziej said from his review, “It has been an interesting process to see how it has been whittled down as the goal posts have been moved. Trust has been lost on both sides and the project has certainly been changed.”

“I would rather see the project move forward at 180 units than not be able to move forward at all over a few dozen more units,” said Mt. Crested Butte councilwoman Lauren Daniel.

Mt. Crested Butte councilman Nicholas Kempin understood the frustration of some town representatives but said the current conversation was necessary. “I wish we would have had these conversations first and then put out an RFP,” he said. “It makes sense to do it that way rather than what was done, but here we are. This is an opportunity to weigh in on this now. And I hope we can come together as the north end of the valley around the three main issues. This is not wasted time.”

The council members took straw poll votes and came to a consensus to require that five acres be cut out of the 14.3-acre parcel for future uses such as parking. A majority of the 14 council representatives agreed they could live with 156 total units on the rest of the site, with just four representatives—Farmer, Dujardin, Merck and Daniel—indicating they could live with or would prefer 180. The consensus was to also require two parking spaces for each unit.

O’Neal reminded them that The Corner at Brush Creek proposal had been adjusted so that 107 of the currently proposed 180 units were either studios or one-bedrooms. Moffett suggested the councils do an economic viability study of how 156 units would work after expenses such as putting in the roads and utilities.

The Mt. Crested Butte council showed no interest in pursuing some other issues broached by the Crested Butte council, including requiring a new site plan, a pro forma, a transit feasibility study, offering some for-sale units or including a tenant dispute board. To that last point, Petito made an impassioned plea to have such a board organized for future tenants. Gunnison Valley Housing Authority executive director Jennifer Kermode said such a board has been used in other places and it could be a good addition to the valley for all tenants, not just those renting in this project. She said the Housing Authority would look deeper into the idea of a countywide board.

Schmidt noted that both towns understood there would likely be a need for significant public transit to the area that would require the RTA or Mountain Express to somehow serve the development.

Staff from both municipalities will draft a proposed joint letter for the county and the councils will vote on it at their upcoming meetings later this month.

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