Council reacts to first phase of Community Compass

Stay rough and authentic and get ready for the politics of convenience

[  By Mark Reaman  ]

Sustaining the “authenticity” of Crested Butte and not erasing its rough edges appears to be a couple of the primary principles coming out of the first phase of Crested Butte’s Community Compass process. The Compass is meant to eventually serve as the town’s comprehensive long-term planning document that creates a rational nexus for decision making and vision for future planning. Town staff has been busy gathering public input for months on what the community sees as its core values moving into the future.

Six such emerging core values have been identified as phase one of the Compass process winds down and phase two begins. The goal is to have an approved document by the middle of this summer. The core values could change or be tweaked before the final document is approved and at a Monday evening retreat with the Crested Butte town council, discussion led to thoughts about how to make them clearer.

The six emerging core values include: 1) a strong sense of community and caring for one another, 2) having a genuine connection to the outdoors and access to recreation, 3) the commitment to a livable small town, its historic architecture and its authentic rural feel, 4) the vow to environmental stewardship and commitment to climate action, 5) a priority toward pedestrian and bicycle friendliness and the social connection it creates, and 6) a commitment to a healthy economy that is accessible, equitable and diverse. The expectation is that as the values are discussed in detail there will naturally be tensions that need to be resolved.

The four primary focus areas of the Compass include, “Our natural surroundings; Our community’s look, feel and function; Our ways we move around and connect; and Our ways of living.” 

Crested Butte community development director Troy Russ and town planner Mel Yemma, along with strategic planning consultants Miles Graham and Sam Haas of the firm GBSM out of Denver and Ridgway, led the council through a discussion of what would determine success for the process. Generally, the council agreed that a top priority would be to make sure every demographic and every group along with any interested individual in the community would be heard and able to provide feedback on the planning endeavor. That was the focus of phase 1 as Yemma and Russ have spent hundreds of hours during the last four months meeting with groups and individuals to gather feedback. A general public survey resulted in more than 500 responses. 

“I’m proud of the work the staff has done,” said councilmember Jason MacMillan. “We need robust feedback from everyone, locals, guests, everyone.”

“The core values need to represent the broad community; otherwise it won’t stick,” added mayor Ian Billick. “That broad engagement is important.”

“Ultimately we need to define what it is we want to be and not just continue to say what we don’t want to be,” said councilmember Chris Haver. “That could result in some clashes.”

Councilmember Beth Goldstone said she hoped a successful Compass process would end with the council feeling supported by the community on decision making. “I hope this negates the feeling by some that the council is not listening and not making the right decisions for the public.”

“This feels like a proactive process and that is important,” added councilmember Anna Fenerty.

“This needs to be a community plan that starts with a foundation of trust,” summed up Graham before asking the council for their takeaway on the emerging core values.

“The terms “authentic” or “original” is something I hear over and over about Crested Butte,” said Billick. “People talk about how natural it is here for a CEO to be able to hang out with a dishwasher. People can cross economic strata. I also hear that a healthy economy is more a means to live here than an end goal. Most people don’t come here to advance a career. I’m not sure a healthy economy is a core value.”

“Crested Butte wants to stay funky and keep its rough edges,” added councilmember Mallika Magner. “It’s always been a difficult place to live if you aren’t independently wealthy. There have always been ‘trustafarians.’”

The idea of economy elicited a lot of discussion for the council and as a result, that core value could be tweaked through the process. Graham said the role of the economy could be a good topic throughout phase two of the Compass process.

Tension points

In terms of delving into the tough questions that define the core values and focus areas, the council realized it would lead to some conflicting ideas that they might ultimately have to choose sides over. 

“I feel there is a handfull of key tension points,” said Billick. “Things like tourism and growth. I’d hate to get caught up in too many questions instead of focusing on key points as this moves forward.”

“We want to map out where the big rocks in the river are,” assured Graham.

“A lot of the emerging core values are naturally in conflict and need to be discussed,” said councilmember Mona Merrill. “For example, the love of open space versus the need for affordable housing.”

“That’s a crux situation,” agreed Magner. “The idea of losing the open fields filled with cattle is heartbreaking. Losing open space for housing would be a conflict.”

“An issue I have tonight is the term ‘sustainable tourism’ being used,” said Fenerty. “Sustainable tourism isn’t a thing. It’s not sustainable especially where we are headed climate-wise. Tourists have to drive or fly here. That’s not sustainable. We shouldn’t call it what it can’t be.”

“And think of not being able to be a ski town when this place might not have any snow in 50 or 75 years,” added MacMillan. “Is there a need to focus on a more diverse economy?”

“I agree with Anna that ‘sustainable tourism’ might just be a buzzword phrase,” said Billick. “Tourism is the old-style economic model. When you think about it, a lot of people now come to live here half-time for the amenities.”

“What about the people who come for two days in a weekend for the amenities?” asked Haver.

“Tourism isn’t a distinct category as we’ve traditionally thought of it anymore,” said Billick. “People come here for two days, or 30 days or 180 days or 365 days for the amenities. It’s not a tourism economy anymore. It’s an amenity economy. People choose to be here for what is here.”

As more people make that choice, density of both traffic and people led to a long council discussion. “We all came here in part because it wasn’t dense with vehicles or people. Now that’s not the case,” said Goldstone.

“In the middle of summer, the density feels oppressive,” said Fenerty. “And density will continue as more people come here.”

“Adding density certainly has byproducts,” said Russ. “Is it something the community wants?”

“How do we build a community where density is not negative?” asked Goldstone.

“Understand that a lot of the vehicle density, the traffic, is us,” said Russ. “The consequence of that is that it leads to the politics of convenience versus mobility trade-offs. Those decisions will be difficult for you.”

“Should we be thinking about a different aspirational goal? Framing it as where the community is one of lifestyle where you embrace the idea of going to get your mail and you understand it will take a long time. You’ll run into people you know and have a conversation. So, it would be a community that does not prioritize convenience but embraces a different lifestyle where you take the time to talk to people and are late to the meeting.”

“That still is an authenticity about this town. Being more present,” said Merrill. “That’s been lost in places like Breckenridge.”

“It feels like density is an important theme,” said Haas.

Watering it down too much?

Smoothing out Crested Butte’s rough edges was another long discussion topic. “It’s all tied to the politics of convenience,” reiterated Russ.

“I was at a cemetery committee meeting and it was brought up how most other cemeteries are manicured and ours is wild,” said Fenerty. “That applies to the town as well. People can wander around town. There are still some edges here. We walk in the streets and not on sidewalks. We keep it slow and small enough to do that.”

“The rough edges are a big piece of this,” said Goldstone. “A lot of people I talk to feel the town could start plowing at six inches of snowfall instead of three for example.”

“Part of what makes Crested Butte powerful is a sense of discovery,” added Billick. “You can wander the town and find new and interesting things you don’t expect around every corner.”

“Some things in town have gotten so popular they get watered down,” said MacMillan. “I think about the Fourth of July parade for instance.”

Russ said the scale of such events eventually leads to such changes. “Density is a part of it,” he said.

Magner pointed out the Vinotok celebration as another example of a local event that got too big but returned to its roots and was scaled down positively during the pandemic.

“We keep hearing that intimate, grassroots, small gatherings are important so we should go with that,” said Merrill. “It is hard to stay authentic when things get too big. The biggest challenge appears keeping things intimate enough to keep them.”

“That’s the theme of how we want to live,” concluded Graham. “Sustaining authenticity seems to be a consistent undertone.”

Other quick notes from the council included making sure second homeowners were included in the discussion, considering allowing a broader architectural perspective with new houses, and understanding the important role local non-profit organizations played in the vitality of the town.

February and March will be dedicated to in-depth stakeholder sessions to drill down into the focus areas. A draft Compass document should come to the council in May and that will get refined to a final plan in July.

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