Fire district and town at odds on land for new fire station

Looking way into the future

by Mark Reaman

The idea of the Crested Butte Fire Protection District moving from its main station at Third and Maroon and building a new station in the Slate River subdivision on Highway 135 appears to have hit a snag. In a September 8 work session between the CBFPD and the Crested Butte Council, fire district representatives raised objections to the proposed deal.

Originally the town had set aside a parcel of the property in the new annexation for a public safety facility. The idea was to provide a space for the Crested Butte Search and Rescue Team that was taking up room in the current Public Works yard. That expanded to the idea of allowing the fire department and perhaps even the town marshals’ department to move out there and share space with the search and rescue team—but the parcel was not large enough for all three entities.

So basically, it came down to the town agreeing to provide the parcel to the CBFPD for a new facility that contained space for search and rescue for free. That would allow the marshals to take over the current Station 1 and move from the current facility they share with KBUT. If for some reason the fire department abandoned the building in the future, the property would revert back to the town.

But in the last several weeks the CBFPD floated the idea of owning the property in the annexation free and clear. The thought was that in the long-term the district might want to move to an even better place and wanted the ability to sell the property to help with the move. No matter what, the land would have a deed restriction that mandated the property be designated for a public use so that would limit potential future buyers. While the new idea perplexed the Town Council the town staff threw out a price tag of $1 million. The fire district board balked at the figure and said there were less expensive comparable properties in the county.

“We thought we were giving you the deal of the century,” Crested Butte mayor Jim Schmidt said at the work session. “The idea was the town would give you the property to build the new station but if for some reason you leave, [the town] would get it back. That seems pretty normal.”

CBFPD board chairman Jack Dietrich said the district was making the pitch to council that the town should deed the new property to the district before a new station is built with little or no cost. “We would abandon the downtown station so it is a good deal for the town,” he said.

Dietrich said the current main station is somewhat outdated and does not have enough rooms to house the personnel on duty so there is a benefit to building a new, modern facility. He said the annexation property would also provide easier access to respond to emergencies up and down the valley.

If the district needed to go to the voters to help finance the construction of the new building, Dietrich said that would probably happen in the fall of 2021. Dietrich said the district did not want to be on the same ballot as a possible bond issue for the school district.

“We still have 55 years on the current lease,” Dietrich said. “We don’t own it but that is a lot of time left. And a new station will cost a lot of money to build.”

A second idea seemed to be floated at the meeting, to have the town give the district the deed to the current station, which could then be sold on the free market and that money used to help pay for construction of a new station. That would reduce the amount for a new bond issue. There was not much enthusiasm for that alternative idea.

Board member Chris McCann expressed concern over the town including the so-called “reverter clause,” where the town would take possession of the property and building if the fire district left the site for some reason. “It feels we are at the five yard line and now having these discussions,” he said.

Town manager Dara MacDonald said the reverter clause had been part of the talks with the fire district from the beginning and is a pretty standard part of such contracts.

“It feels like the town is treating this like a private business deal,” said CBFPD board member Eric Tunkey. “All we’re trying to do is give your property back and build a new station that houses district employees and provides community benefits. It feels like you guys are putting us in a tough spot right now.”

Dietrich said the town shouldn’t charge the district anything for the land since the town was getting it for free from the developers of the new subdivision. He emphasized that the district is responsible for its constituents throughout the valley and not just those living in town.

MacDonald disputed the idea that the town was getting the property free since it was part of the negotiated deal with the developers.

Crested Butte community development director Troy Russ said the two entities had been working collaboratively for many months on the project. “All the reverter clause says is that if you stop operating as a fire department then it would revert back to the town,” he said. “Two months ago the fire district switched to wanting the land free and clear. So we came up with a cost. We have to protect our taxpayers too.”

CBFPD board member Ken Lodovico suggested the property be appraised to determine its value.

The two boards agreed to get an appraisal for the land and split the cost of the appraisal. From there, the district and town will continue conversations on how to proceed in terms of a contract.

CBFPD chief executive officer Sean Caffrey emphasized that the district and town “are very much interested in making a deal” to relocate the fire station and search and rescue to the new parcel. “The outstanding question is the terms of the land transfer between CBFPD and the town of Crested Butte,” he said. “The new discussion is, can we agree on a price for a clear title that would, from the CBFPD perspective, best protect the investment of the district’s taxpayers in the new facilities in the event future growth necessitated we move the fire station elsewhere.”

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