County moves forward with Whetstone affordable housing

Sketch plan submitted to planning commission 

[  By Katherine Nettles  ]

A major step has been taken this fall for developing a large community housing project in the North Valley. Earlier this month the Whetstone project team quietly submitted their land use change sketch plan for the Whetstone Community Housing project for review by the Gunnison County Planning Commission and Board of Commissioners. 

The project timeline suggests possible planning commission review sometime between October and December. The process will include public hearings and several rounds of discussion and review between the two boards. If approved for the next phase, preliminary plan, on the journey to a final plan, construction could begin as early as 2023.

The Whetstone project proposal is located on a 13-acre, county-owned parcel on the west side of Highway 135 across from Brush Creek Road. The three project goals as stated in the sketch plan application are: “Supporting the local economy, with reliable housing for the workforce; Providing housing security for essential members of the community who have been facing housing challenges such as overcrowding, low quality/high utility cost, rising rents, or being frequently forced to move (due to home sales and conversions to short term rental); and Supporting environmental goals by reducing commuting and improving energy efficiency through green building and modern construction techniques. 

The sketch plan for a major impact development submitted on September 9 includes 231 units spread across eight separate zones, with a central “greenway” of continuously landscaped area running throughout a series of open spaces. There will be connectivity between the greenway, a central park, a natural landscape area, and pedestrian paths as alternatives to the neighborhood streets. 

The homes are designed to be a mix of various types and sizes, for both rental and ownership purposes at different income levels. The largest number of units and parking spaces would be a series of 85 to 100 apartments to the north, closest to Highway 135 and public transit with 120 to 140 parking spaces. The homes for rent would be intended for households earning below 120% area median income (AMI), and homes for sale would be for households earning below 200% AMI. 

The sketch plan application shows higher density in the center of the site and alongside the highway. Lower density would occur along the eastern, southern and western borders. Home types range from one to three bedrooms. 

Gunnison County issued a press release on September 27 formally announcing their application had been submitted, and assistant county manager for Community and Economic Development Cathie Pagano said she is reviewing the application and has also sent it out for referral agency comments.

The Town of Crested Butte and the county have entered a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to assess town water and sanitary sewer infrastructure capabilities to serve the development. That assessment identified capacity and some challenges, and the county has requested a more extensive analysis and review process to determine if the town would permit a connection or if one of the two identified water and sewer alternatives have to be pursued.  

Pagano commented on the lack of discussion in recent Gunnison County commissioner meetings prior to or immediately following the application submission to begin the land use change process. “It has not come up in recent BOCC meetings because the BOCC will also be the final decision maker on the project and we seek to maintain appropriate legal boundaries,” she said in an e-mail on September 26. “The Board is aware that the application has been submitted and that it will begin the land use change permit process.”

The project team has since also updated the project website, which can be viewed at  https://whetstonehousing.weebly.com/learn.html 

It is not on the planning commission’s October 6 agenda, but the commission’s October 20 agenda is not yet finalized. Pagano said, “We’ll know more next week once we’ve received the referral comments back and I can determine if the application is ready for a work session.”

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