County looks at fairgrounds for new affordable housing project

Working with Cattlemen’s Days, other groups to maintain use of spaces

[ By Katherine Nettles ]

The Gunnison County fairgrounds sits on 24 acres on the south end of the city of Gunnison, and is home to rodeo grounds and indoor facilities that host rodeo, roping, horse show, 4H club and myriad other events and community gatherings. That location may soon be host to yet another game in town—affordable housing. During their August 3 meeting, county commissioners discussed developing affordable housing there and ultimately gave direction to staff to pursue a housing project on a 1.9 acre parcel of land within the fairgrounds. County officials met with a group of stakeholders last week who would be impacted by developing part of the fairgrounds, and said Tuesday that everyone could have something to gain from the potential project without any uses being lost.

Gunnison County sustainability coordinator John Cattles gave a brief presentation to commissioners on Tuesday highlighting the county-owned 24 acre-space that contains the fairgrounds. He explained that producing up to 42 housing units on 1.9 acres there would be a relatively quick turnaround because the site is flat and already has utilities and zoning in place. “It would be a fraction of the process that we’ve gone through with our other projects.” …this is an opportunity to try and address the housing economic crisis as quickly as possible.” Cattles said it would be ambitious, but construction could potentially begin as early as next year.

Commissioner chairperson Jonathan Houck said looking at all the county-owned property north and south, a project at the fairgrounds would be a quicker project, which has an appeal. Addressing the current fairground’s many uses, Cattles said the county has hired a landscape architect to review the entire use of the fairgrounds.

Officials also held a meeting with representatives from the 4H Club, Cattlemen’s Days, the CSU Extension office, the roping club and various other users to consider what accommodations they would need to make or how to reposition the site so the current uses can continue.

Houck said some of the conversation focused on how developing the area around the fairgrounds might bridge community involvement in the events there, especially regarding 4H and other youth programming.

“The group was optimistic that we could make this work and even make improvements to what it there,” said Cattles.
Mike Dawson, who is the current president of Cattlemen’s Days, was also at the meeting.

Dawson said he had concerns about bringing in residential uses to an area that sees a flurry of commercial activity and public use from early spring through late fall, often late into the night. He noted that the grounds are used for everything from weddings and quinceaneras to committee meetings and HOA conferences. Dawson said he uses the facilities at the fairgrounds for a variety of his own activities such as roping and horse shows as well.

“Our position was you need to be conscious about what happens when there are new homeowners or renters and think of that existing commercial use. We also suggested they look into some fencing,” he said, to provide a barrier between housing and the public areas.
As for making improvements, Dawson said a fairgrounds improvement master plan already exists but hasn’t gained traction. “We’ve had this plan for over a decade,” he said.

“And the county said they would plan for a location for the carnival, but until we see an actual plan for it, it’s hard to say,” he said of his general impression.

Commissioners passed a resolution indicating their support and directed staff to work toward getting a Request for Proposals (RFP) out. They agreed to take an approach of asking the private sector to present a vision for the space and to take it from there. They also authorized county manager Matthew Birnie to sign documents on behalf of the board to that end.

The current high costs of construction will be an issue, said Birnie, and the project would need to be subsidized beyond the county’s land subsidy. All agreed it would be mostly deed restricted whether for sale or rent.

“The only way we will move forward is if it is affordable housing,” said Birnie. That may include some market rate units, but only to achieve the affordability goal, he said.

Cattles said he will also be applying for DOLA (Department of Local Affairs) grant funding to offset energy efficiency costs.
Gunnison Valley Regional Housing Authority executive director Jennifer Kermode said condo lending is becoming available again after a period where it was generally not available, and recommended having both rentals and for sale units there.

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