Town and fire district debate property annexation

Do something that will blow people’s minds…

[  By Mark Reaman  ]

While representatives of the Crested Butte Fire Protection District expressed a desire Monday evening to have a new Slate River subdivision North Campus design proposal approved and permitted by Crested Butte in the next 90 days, it was evident that is not a likely possibility. After a lengthy discussion at the March 21 council meeting, the district and the town council are still at loggerheads on even the district’s conceptual annexation request for a 1.9-acre parcel adjacent to the current lot.

The fire district has proposed a three-building campus including a main fire station of 32,000 square feet, a 10,000-square-foot Search and Rescue building and a four-plex affordable housing building. In order to fit everything on the property obtained by the town through an agreement with the Aperture developers, the fire district has entered into a contract with Spann Ranches to purchase another 1.9 acres just north of the town boundary, so the district wants the town to annex the property. 

The town’s concept annexation process is designed to allow an annexation applicant to obtain an informal response from the town to the general elements of the proposed annexation before filing a formal annexation petition. But council was not ready to give the conceptual nod to the fire district on Monday and no vote was taken on the issue.

Town staff brought up two concerns. One was the district’s initial major desire to install sewer service lines and a lift station as part of the upcoming construction that could service potential development on the remainder of the Spann Ranch property. District representative Todd Goulding of Goulding Development Advisors, LLC, said it made more sense to install that infrastructure piece now so that if a development was approved in the future, the paved parking area and fire hall turnaround would not have to be dug up and disturbed. The town staff said the easement that came with the property was there to have the ability to serve such a potential development sometime in the future, but they did not want actual lines in place “to enable a future development…and establish future expectations” for such a development not being considered at the moment. After much back-and-forth, council generally agreed that it would be fine allowing for the installation of the lines in the upcoming construction. 

The larger issue that remains a sticking point is the sustainability and green building standards of the proposal. The town plans to adopt the 2021 International Building Codes this summer. It currently is under the 2015 code. The council has made it clear to the fire district it wants the new campus to adhere to the updated code or at a minimum analyze and share the energy efficiency differences between the two sets of codes. The CBFPD has committed to neither saying both requests would cost them time and money.

“An assessment of the 2021 Building Codes in comparison to what they are building is a reasonable request to understand where their project fits within the Town’s Climate Action Plan,” community development director Troy Russ told the council in a memo. 

Russ reminded the council that the annexation process was a legislative action so it could create any expectation as part of the annexation process. Staff recommended the council approve the conceptual annexation request conditionally if the fire district provided the energy assessment, committed to making the Search and Rescue building entirely electric, and provided one EV charging station for employee or public use as part of the formal annexation petition.

CBFPD chief executive officer Sean Caffrey said the $30 million project was meant to construct buildings to meet future growth and be in place for the next 50 years. “The CBFPD is committed to the climate goals of the town,” he said. While town regulations mandate that new buildings larger than 20,000 square feet must be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified, Caffrey said the intention was to design the Search and Rescue building to similar standards but not get it LEED certified and keep the affordable housing units entirely electric. 

“We have been designing the project using the 2015 building code for more than a year and we are exceeding those codes,” said Goulding. “To pivot now would be very expensive. We are planning to use a high efficiency heat pump system for the main headquarters but we need a back-up on extremely cold days.

“Price escalation is a real factor,” continued Goulding. “Every month we delay the project will result in having to take something out. Time is our enemy given cost escalation. To do the analysis would take probably two or three months and then it would have to go through the BOZAR review.”

When asked by town attorney Barbara Green when the district expected the annexation to be completed, Goulding said the hope was to “have all the entitlements done in 90 days to pull a building permit.”

While no one laughed out loud at that hope, cold water was splashed on that timeline.

“That timeline is optimistic at best,” responded Russ. “You have to file and go through the annexation process and then go through BOZAR with three complicated buildings. From there you can apply for the building permit.”

Russ said after the meeting that the town would work with the fire protection district and allow them to seek BOZAR approval with the condition the parcel is annexed so the two approval processes could run concurrently. Russ said that would still likely mean a building permit wouldn’t be approved until mid or late summer at the earliest.

“For me, I appreciate the LEED certification but I like the idea of the plan being compared to 2021 building standards,” said councilmember Chris Haver. “I want to really understand what it is you are doing with our climate action plan versus a ‘trust us, we’re trying’ plan.”

“We would have to hire a design consultant to look at the building codes and our design team said that will take significant time and resources,” responded Goulding. 

“To be honest, I’m pretty bummed with the proposal,” said councilmember Beth Goldstone. “I want this to be a legacy project, so I don’t want it to be rushed. If it is a 50-year building, let’s not just have it meet the minimum requirements.”

“I have similar feelings to Beth,” agreed councilmember Anna Fenerty. “I get that three or four extra months matters but this is a 50-year building and is huge for the valley. It is worth waiting a bit to do it right.”

“Getting that comparison analysis speaks to me,” added councilmember Jason MacMillan. “Look at the latest LEED requirements and compare the impacts. That is powerful information to have. Is there a compromise?”

“I agree with Beth that a legacy project should push the envelope and be an example for other communities,” said councilmember Mona Merrill. “It is a couple of months for something that will be there 50 years. It is an opportunity to do something that blows people’s minds and not just do something that is typical.”

“Taxpayers can actually benefit with long-term energy cost savings,” said MacMillan. 

“A compromise is the analysis that would help me understand some of the benefits,” said Haver. “It might help me understand how above and beyond the norm your plan is.”

“The whole community is excited for the project,” said councilmember Mallika Magner. “It was approved by the voters. But our climate action plan is important and we all want to see this huge public building meet our climate goals.”

“It sounds like the council wants you to meet our climate action plan goals, but we are open to alternative ways to get there,” summarized mayor Ian Billick. 

Caffrey said “experts” working on the sustainability part of the plan could probably compile some energy modelling numbers to share with the council in the near future. “I feel like the discussion is revolving around the mechanism to achieve best efficiency standards,” he said. 

“Either go by the 2021 building code or show us how you are being aggressive with sustainability,” reiterated Billick. “To be honest, when I read your proposal, I was not impressed. I encourage you to go back and be more aggressive and better explain your energy efficiency measures.”

“You can certainly push the envelope more,” said Goldstone. 

Green made it clear that even if the district satisfied the green building standards for a majority of council, there was a long road to travel in getting the annexation approved. “Don’t leave tonight thinking this is the only issue,” she said. “There may be other considerations during the annexation process. This is just the first discussion to get started.”

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