Brush Creek well test put on hold to focus on other projects

County zeroing in on the Whetstone parcel across the highway

[ By Mark Reaman ]

Despite the town councils of Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte originally requesting a water well test on the Corner at Brush Creek land, consensus among the other ownership partners could not be gained so there will not be such a test done there this winter.

The availability of water to the site was one of several issues brought up during the county’s review of the proposed affordable housing development on the 14-acre parcel. The two councils felt having the current partners in the property conduct a well test would provide valuable information for any future housing development on the land. The parcel is jointly controlled by the two towns, Gunnison County and Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR).

In her manager’s report to the Crested Butte council at the January 19 council meeting, town manager Dara MacDonald said she met with representatives of the other partners and it was determined a well test was not a priority at this time.

She said the reasons included the “desire to focus limited funding and staff time moving forward the more immediate affordable housing efforts including the Whetstone property [located across the highway from the Corner at Brush Creek and owned exclusively by the county], the Crested Butte Slate River annexation land, Mt. Crested Butte’s Homestead project and the North Village, which is also located in Mt. Crested Butte.”

In her report she said there was concern that focusing attention on Brush Creek, however investigatory in nature, would only distract the public’s attention from the other planning efforts being initiated or under way at Whetstone, Slate River and North Village.

Other reasons for not doing the test included that it would only be good for four years so it would likely have to be done again, and because prior tests on the existing well demonstrated only 10 gallons per minute, additional testing would involve drilling a new well that could involve significant cost.

Resident Kent Cowherd urged the council to push forward with a well test on the site anyway, saying it was valuable information for a future housing development.

“One of the sentiments expressed was that [county manager] Matthew Birnie gets things done because he prioritizes things and right now his focus is on the Whetstone parcel and not Brush Creek,” explained MacDonald. “The concern is that this would be a distraction and there is no staff capacity to focus on such a distraction. Brush Creek is one of many other projects in the affordable housing pipeline. CBMR’s Tim Baker also conveyed that given the pandemic circumstances it would be hard for him to secure any funding for the project from Vail Resorts.”

Responding to an email from the News, Birnie said, “It is true that the county wants to focus on the Whetstone project and not spend time and money on Brush Creek. We have a number of other projects under way (Shady Island, the Library, the Airport, the Paintbrush housing project) and don’t have the capacity to work on more than one large housing project. [The well test] wouldn’t have any real use until we are ready to proceed with something at Brush Creek. The study would only be valid for use in the land use process for approximately four years and may require drilling a new well, so it makes more sense to focus our energy and money on Whetstone, which we plan on moving forward with next. We may be ready to proceed with Brush Creek within that timeframe, but we will have preliminary costs for Whetstone so want to use our resources there.”

Birnie emphasized that planning for a housing project on the Whetstone parcel is in the very preliminary stages. “My team is developing a planning process to present to the commissioners, but it is early and still being worked on,” he stated. “Generally, we anticipate doing some preliminary analysis of water, wastewater, geology and the entrance intersection first. Then, later this year, we anticipate a public input process. Finally, once all of that information is compiled, we would like to issue an RFP [Request for Proposals]. Again, this is still in development and hasn’t even been presented to the commissioners yet.”

Crested Butte mayor Jim Schmidt asked if the county was exploring how to combine the Whetstone property with the Brush Creek parcel, considering their proximity.

Birnie said the initial thought is to not tie a Whetstone affordable housing project to the Brush Creek parcel beyond considering future development there in the analysis of the intersections at Brush Creek Road and the entrance to the Whetstone property. ”The water/wastewater issues appear more straightforward on Whetstone than Brush Creek, but studying those issues is part of the preliminary work we hope to do this year,” Birnie explained.

MacDonald reminded the council that with a half dozen potential affordable housing developments in the pipeline in the north end of the valley, there could be major ramifications to the town and its services, due to the potential increase in population. “It seems that all of these projects on the table need to be talked about together and not in isolation. They all will have significant impacts on the town.”

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