Expand the breath of fresh air when talking housing

Walking the dogs in the early evening helped bring back some calm. Before the big moon came over the ridge one could see Jupiter, Venus and Saturn. There’s a lot going on up there besides billionaire Jeff Bezos flying a, shall we say, interesting looking rocket to suborbital space but from down here it appears pretty quiet. The week’s crystal blue skies cleared of haze with a fall twinge in the air, along with a much more mellow energy on Elk Avenue also helped bring a community breath to the valley.

After several ‘celebrations of life’ this past week, it was nice to feel that breath. Not that those celebrations didn’t bring some calm and closure for a big group of people who appreciated friends lost too early. It was a chance to reconnect with many who have moved on but still love this place.

What they still like are the memories of the good old days and the incredible beauty that still surrounds us today. They ask about the pace of change and everyone wonders if there is a next best place. But this valley continues to hold a magical place in people’s hearts and that’s because the place is as much an idea as locale.

Special places for individuals are based in time. They are times forged through relationships and experience. For many today, Crested Butte is the best place ever. Awed by the outdoor opportunities and special friendships, they are experiencing the joy of nature and the fortune of living in a small town. Others hang on to the uniqueness that is present here but feel the stress as it gets harder and harder to live as a working person in the valley. They are increasingly gasping for breath.

It again struck home to me that what is out of balance in this time for the community in general is the opportunity for workers to live in the North Valley and be a daily part of the CB society. Plenty of people still live in town, in Mt. CB and in the surrounding subdivisions full-time. The growing school is testament to that. But unlike a few years ago, the free market is out of reach for those who depend on any wages to live and eventually raise a family here. Even in the ‘80s and ‘90s most people worked several jobs to stay here but now that doesn’t matter as real estate prices skyrocket out of reach for most without access to seven figures.

While it is not everyone’s ‘right’ to have a house with a yard on Maroon Avenue, it is the right thing to do to figure out as a community how workers can have a roof over their head near the place where they work. It makes the community richer and better for everyone.
And while some of those who complain of government overreach also blame local government for not providing houses to the working people, there is real movement to confront the issue by almost every local elected official. The second homeowner community has also actively stepped up and put the old Crested Butte Hostel under contract to help provide pillows to those who work up here. Part of their plan involves getting local businesses to help with filling rooms so they too have a place to house those that make their businesses successful. CBMR, through Vail Resorts, should be a financially contributing member of that new partnership. It’s not a magic wand solution and there are still a lot of details to figure out, but there is progress that might put a dent in the problem before the snow flies.

Which brings me to the next thought. In order to not just grow like a mushroom in the dark woods, the community should actively decide how much housing is really necessary for workers. How many workers short are we right now? Is it 100? 350? 500? Understand that building hundreds more apartments or houses means those living in them in five years will need more plumbers, teachers and waiters. That cycle of growth makes it never ending. Building the things to mitigate that growth should be part of every discussion moving forward.

Throwing up 300 deed restricted housing units at the Whetstone parcel, 180 at Brush Creek, 120 at North Village, 70 at Sixth and Butte without considering the infrastructure needed to service those living there is not smart. How short of staff is the Stash, the Nickel, Peak Property, Rocky Mountain Trees or any construction crew? What is the actual hard number worker shortage in the North Valley? 1,000? How many more workers are needed during ski season? Should we not determine how big we want to grow with our workforce and build to what we need instead of saying we can keep trying to build our way out of it?

Just as important, we should then responsibly address the infrastructure needed to serve the growth we are asking for. I would suggest that the Brush Creek parcel be used not exclusively for housing but for a school campus serving say, K-5 students because with workforce housing comes more families. That 14-acres could include some of the fields that would be needed for more kids and residents as the place expands. It could also include some housing units around those fields for teachers, bus drivers and kitchen help working with the school district.

As the town reduces the number of required parking spaces for affordable housing, there should be a spot, perhaps a Whetstone Industrial Lot, where those living in places without enough parking can leave their vehicle. Living in Crested Butte does indeed provide opportunity for people not to use a car, but most people will still have them. So let them park in a place where they can leave their car without threat of a ticket and can easily grab it when they head to Denver or the desert for spring break. And don’t forget the need for more water for more people and less congested trailheads. Workers here should have a good quality of life and not just be serfs that catch a bus to their job.

Celebrating the life of people who are connected to the place, to the idea of Crested Butte, is important. It is important that we get to a point where we can continue to do that for people who work here now. Workers not being able to live up at this end of the valley is evidence that something is broken. A thoughtful, strategic plan to fix that broken element of community is important. To ‘fix’ the problem also means considering the impacts of the growth that comes with any solution and fixing those things as well. That would be something to celebrate with a long, deep breath as we continue to move toward unique success.

—Mark Reaman

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