Housing committee talks North Valley projects

North Village, Slate River Annexation, and needs assessment in the works

By Kendra Walker

Representatives of Mt. Crested Butte, Crested Butte, the Gunnison Valley Housing Fund, the Gunnison Valley Regional Housing Authority (GVRHA) and the Board of County Commissions (BOCC) huddled together on January 9 to discuss coordination opportunities for potential affordable housing projects taking shape in the north end of the valley. Additional folks in attendance represented the North Village, the Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory (RMBL) and Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR).

The group discussed the North Village parcel, the Slate River Annexation and possible funding opportunities for those projects and future affordable housing projects. The committee plans to hold these meetings every other month and will meet next on February 27 at 3 p.m. in the Mt. Crested Butte council chambers.

North Village collaboration

Mt. Crested Butte is collaborating with North Village Associates, LLC and RMBL to explore a partnership in the development of the North Village parcel.

Town will spend the next four months in a due diligence period determining their goals, needs and wants for how to incorporate the 17 acres they own that’s included in the parcel. If they wish to proceed with the partnership, town will work with owners the Alvarez family and RMBL to put together a Planned Unit Development (PUD) that best fits all parties’ objectives for the site plan.

Housing, especially rental housing, has been listed as a top priority for the Mt. Crested Butte Town Council. With RMBL as one of the partners, there is also a desire for seasonal employee housing built into the PUD. Representatives from RMBL and CBMR mentioned possibly joining forces on seasonal housing, with RMBL solving their housing need during their summer programming months and Vail serving their housing needs during the winter months.

Town also plans to hold a series of open houses to invite community involvement and feedback over the next several months prior to a PUD application. “The hope is that the application process is more streamlined,” said Mt. Crested Butte community development director Carlos Velado. “We’ll spend more time on the front end with the community in the hopes that it shortens that procedure.”

North Village project manager Crockett Farnell emphasized the importance of funding opportunities. “A lot of funding avenues are things only the town could apply for and a private developer couldn’t go for,” he said. “There are tools to do it and it takes time to do it right.”

Assuming the partners are able to get the funding mechanisms needed, “We’ll ideally get a PUD application somewhere over the course of this summer through sometime this next year…” said Farnell, “…and potentially come out of ground as early as next summer.”

Town plans to continue open communication about North Village developments with the housing committee as they develop.

Slate River Annexation

The Crested Butte Town Council has agreed to stand behind affordable housing in the North Village and collaborate with Mt. Crested Butte to avoid moving on two major projects at the same time. Their next project in the works to fit somewhere in-between or behind North Village is the Slate River Annexation property north of town.

The town held a public hearing and approved the Slate River Annexation Preliminary Plan on January 14, which will ultimately give town ownership of nine out of 10 parcels being annexed, with a possible two acres dedicated for affordable housing. The applicant will draft an agreement that permits recreational use along the Slate River where it passes property, and town staff will draft a deed restriction prohibiting development in perpetuity for the wetlands area that lies between Gothic Road and the Slate River. Council will hold a public hearing for the final plan on April 6.

“Between now and April the first thing is to subdivide the land,” said Crested Butte community development director Michael Yerman. “We’ll get the entitlements to the land and start planning any more beyond zoning.”

Yerman also said the town could start as early as June to begin community discussions with what to incorporate on the sites. “There’s a lot more to that site than just the rental project,” he said, speaking to possible elements to the area to include housing, a new firehouse, a hospital clinic, a sledding hill and parking.

Funding and needs assessment

Regarding the North Village timeline, affordable housing consultant Willa Williford brought up Colorado Housing and Finance Authority’s 9 Percent Tax Credit Loan Program, a tax credit used to finance construction of low-income affordable rental housing. It comes available every February, she said, so “February 2021 is a really good time for us to be putting our sights on.”

Williford also filled the group in on a recent call with the State Division of Housing as being “fairly anti-climatic.” “They have this infusion of money that will ramp up over the next three years,” she said. “But they have not realized any guidelines—no funding deadlines, nothing.”

“That made us realize we need to step back,” said Jennifer Kermode, executive director of the GVRHA. “It may be a while before any information comes back from the Division of Housing about any kind of parameters they might start thinking about for that money.”

“We shouldn’t have it drive all our planning,” concluded Williford.

“To me it’s concerning when you start talking about bigger projects… 30, 40, 50 units,” said county commissioner Roland Mason. “A lot of that money is still going to have to come from LIHTC [Low Income Housing Tax Credits]. Would they even fund another one?”

He alluded to the sometimes quarrelsome procedure with the Corner at Brush Creek development, saying, “When you look at the Brush Creek process and Mt. Crested Butte is negotiating with North Village, there is going to be some kind of give and take there and I’m worried where you guys are going to draw that line. Is it going to be because of two parking spaces just because you can’t deal with it or is the financial piece so good and you can’t fund it locally to make the project work?”

“What does a project developer need to do a project?” asked Crested Butte mayor Jim Schmidt to the project developers in the room.

“Financial feasibility,” answered Farnell. “That’s all there is to it.”

Yerman brought up the power of smaller projects in the works or already under way, like Mt. Crested Butte’s 22-unit Homestead development, Paradise Park Phase 2 and the upcoming application for a mobile home cluster at 114 Butte Avenue.

“While the big projects make the big impact numbers, these small steady projects tend to make an impact as well,” said Yerman. “Those smaller projects have the ability to make those dents… and chip away while we wait for a larger project like North Village to come online.”

The housing authority is also planning on updating their 2016 needs assessment in order to better determine what the Gunnison Valley community can afford to purchase and rent.

“When I see projects not perform it’s because of a mismatch in what people can afford,” said Williford. “We get too ambitious in what they can afford.”

“We really need an update on the demand side,” said Jennifer Kermode. “Having a grasp on that demand side is going to be really critical.” She told the committee that she hopes to have the scope of work for an updated needs assessment survey done by the end of February and then put out an RFP. Williford, who co-authored the 2016 assessment, said the update could then take about a month.

“Because we’re both on the same trajectory,” said Yerman of both towns’ housing projects, “by this summer I would really like to see the demand being tackled. As we continue to plan around all this, that is a critical missing piece.”

The North Valley Housing Committee will meet again on February 27.

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