Community leaders look at long range regional planning

Collaboration would include housing, recreation and general connectivity

[ By Katherine Nettles ]

What will the North Valley look like, and how will it operate in 10 to 20 years? This is the starting point of recent conversations among several entities across the county about a countywide—or at least North Valley—long range planning effort. While several jurisdictions across the Gunnison Valley are crafting and/or updating their own guiding documents for comprehensive planning, officials from Crested Butte, Mt. Crested Butte and Gunnison County have recently discussed looking through a wider lens after their separate plans are complete to unify some of the disparate visions among them. The collaboration would begin in early fall and include numerous other non-governmental stakeholders as well.

The long-range planning isn’t new to any local jurisdiction or organization, but the idea of coordinating valley-wide efforts began in earnest this spring when Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte community development directors Troy Russ and Carlos Velado reached out to their counterparts at the county. Russ then formally presented his ideas for a ‘North Valley long range plan’ to county commissioners during their May 25 meeting.

“Several critical elements of our communities are shared or have regional influences with Gunnison County,” wrote Russ and Mt. Crested Butte town manager Isa Reeb in a memo to commissioners prior to the meeting. Both Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte are currently honing their own comprehensive plans, and stated that they want to create a shared vision with each other and the county “for the unincorporated areas of the North Valley within the town’s spheres of influence.”

Russ made the case for a comprehensive plan for establishing public purpose and due process. “And we know we have competing goals that make for tough decisions,” he said. “From a planner’s perspective, when you get to difficult moments of either changing a regulation or implementing an infrastructure project or a community initiative, and if not everyone is not on the same page, it’s nice to have a framework.”

Russ suggested that even as each jurisdiction has its own comprehensive plans, “There are certain elements that are beyond this.” He said whatever input the county’s community development director Cathie Pagano and the board of commissioners have, “We’d love to have a conversation about scoping.”

Russ specified that they are looking for more than Three Mile plans, which traditionally focus on annexation, and land development for those joining a municipality. “What we’re seeking is how do we deal with the conflicting goals of recreation, open space, environmental stewardship? Housing is beyond any one of our abilities to solve or even manage,” he added.

Russ also suggested creating a shared decision framework, and used the recent controversial set of decisions on how to handle the RV dump station in Crested Butte as an example. “If we’d had a shared decision framework maybe we wouldn’t have created the first round decision on the RV dump station. In setting up these frameworks maybe we could have an agreement that any one jurisdiction could pause on a decision,” he suggested.

Reeb said Mt. Crested Butte plans to finish out its internal master plan process over this summer that will influence the discussions in the fall for the long-range plan. “So we come in prepared to have conversations about, ‘this is how we see our growth happening over time’ and how we’d like to work with valley partners to manage that,” she said.

“We have a lot of conflicting goals up here, between recreation, open space and environment,” said Russ. “Is there a way we can look at sensitive development, similar to what you’re looking at along the 135 corridor?” he asked. “What about sense of place and arrival and preservation of town and county?”

Russ also discussed affordable housing and “community essentials,” such as personal services, goods, healthcare, transportation and entertainment. He said that although everyone knows what is coming online immediately in the next two to five years between the North Village, Slate River Annexation, the county-owned Whetstone property and Brush Creek, it is important to keep track of deficiencies and developments as a group and to also communicate what is happening to the public.

“How do we go forward with a unified front?” he asked.

Commissioner chairperson Jonathan Houck suggested that Crested Butte Mountain Resort (CBMR) should also be a key partner as one of the largest employers in the county and an anchor institution.

Reeb agreed, and said they have already been engaging with CBMR over the comprehensive plan process and were looking to bridge the gap as the new vice president and general manager Tara Schoedinger joined CBMR this month.

Houck also said Western Colorado University is as important to the south end of the valley as CBMR is to the north. “And each of those cross throughout the valley as cornerstones,” he said. Houck said he was glad to see the city of Gunnison listed as a stakeholder to be at the table.

“The idea of a shared vision means we are going to share some painfully hard things to work through. And we are really going to have to take on some things and come up with different results than we have had before,” he said.

Commissioner Roland Mason mentioned how it would be important to manage county staff resources, and integrate their efforts as they move out of COVID response (hopefully) and into other projects.

“I think we all understand that the entities in our county have a long tradition of working together,” said commissioner Liz Smith. She echoed Mason’s consideration of how county resources fit into the puzzle. “I’m really excited to be having this conversation and to imagine what our community looks like…for decades to come,” she said.

Pagano said the county’s existing strategic plan would relate well to the collaboration, but “It may broaden your scope,” she cautioned.

Houck said for that reason, identifying clear ways to gauge success would be key. “Plans are good. Executing plans with measurable metrics are incredibly important as well,” he said.

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