Community Compass document to be considered at next meeting

How much should tourism element be a focus…

[  By Mark Reaman  ]

A final draft of the Crested Butte Community Compass planning document was presented to the town council at its last meeting and the staff will make a few more tweaks to the plan before asking the council to formally adopt the Compass at the November 7 council meeting.

The Compass is designed to be a guide and comprehensive plan for the council and community in general that will help with decision-making for issues that come before the town. After months and months of public outreach, the Compass is described as “the manifesto of the Town of Crested Butte. The document publicly declares the intentions of the Town and provides a framework for the Town to navigate its future in a way that is aligned with the values of our community.”

The town staff is adamant that the document will not be relegated to a dusty shelf now that it is completed, but rather that it will be an integral tool used to navigate Crested Butte’s future for years to come. Decisions will be based in the four “Core Values” of Crested Butte being authentic, connected, accountable and bold. 

The Compass document includes a five-year strategic plan that outlines goals on how to deal with growth and changes coming to the community. Some points include pursuing infill development to increase density in town while deploying programs and policies that ensure the local neighborhoods are full of neighbors. The goal is to retain Crested Butte’s unique character and traditions while de-emphasizing cars and focusing on walking, biking and transit. Strategies also include ways to address climate change, protect the nearby natural surroundings, and accommodate growth in ways that maintain the valley’s rural feel. 

The Compass calls for deep regional collaboration with partners like Gunnison County and Mt. Crested Butte. The decision-making process is meant to provide extensive opportunity for community feedback and participation.

“The engagement with the public has been exceptional,” said councilmember Jason MacMillan. “Good job hearing all the voices out there and incorporating that feedback into the document.”

Mayor Ian Billick said he was a little nervous to include a five-year strategic plan as part of the Compass document.

“The strategic plan is not set in stone,” said town manager Dara MacDonald. “But it lays out the priorities we foresee.”

She said it includes a major review of the town code based essentially on land use in the town. It includes a review of how to evaluate infill development opportunities and more density within town while maintaining historical preservation. Community development director Troy Russ added that the staff will be reviewing ADU (Accessory Dwelling Unit) policies once the short-term vacation rental issue is completed later this year.

Councilmember Gabi Prochaska said she too appreciated the incorporation of public feedback into the Compass document but expressed that the document might be too long. “Is there a shorter, more concise version that would be easier for the public to use?” she asked.

Crested Butte long-term planner Mel Yemma said that the executive summary might fill that role.

Councilmember Anna Fenerty said she has heard from constituents that the process has taken a lot of time for a plan that may not impact them directly and could end up not being used to the extent the staff is expecting. “I have also heard that some feel the values expressed in Compass seem a little narrow and geared to (the CB stereotype of) extreme sports and outdoor sports,” she said. “There is less acknowledgment of people living here who might instead prefer to read a good book and just wander in the woods. I’ve heard that some of the pictures used seem a bit ‘tokenist’ with the emphasis on our Olympic athletes and flamboyant characters.”

“I appreciate your point but like having photos of the people we know,” said Billick.

“I’ve worked on a lot of comprehensive plans and most end up being 200 pages of boring,” added MacDonald. “I feel strongly that the decision-making framework of the Compass is the take-away from this, the commitment to community engagement. The strategic plan will always change. It will be different in six months but going back to the community values will be important.”

“If it is done well, we will be talking about it in a few years,” said Billick. “If not, it won’t matter. This helps start a conversation effectively and efficiently.”

“I appreciate how it is already being used,” said councilmember Beth Goldstone. “I find it helpful to see how decisions fit into the bigger picture.”

Compass advisory committee member Laura Puckett Daniels said she was skeptical about the process at first but has come to appreciate the Compass. She said by using a process that shows a timeline for how decisions are made will really benefit the public process. “We’ll see where it is used in three years,” she said.

Goldstone said it would be interesting to see how the collaboration piece with regional partners ends up working. Councilmember Chris Haver agreed and in response to some county feedback, made clear the town has no desire to take anything away from the role of the county government.

Billick suggested that more acknowledgment of the tourism aspect of Crested Butte be included in the final document.

“I agree that is needed whether we like it or not,” added councilmember Mallika Magner.

“Are we a town or a town with a tourism piece?” asked Goldstone. “That will be an interesting discussion. Crested Butte is more than that. We have a school and a library for example. Mt. Crested Butte is more purely tourist oriented and that’s great. Tourism is part of who we are, but I would prefer to focus on other aspects of the community.”

Fenerty agreed the focus should not be on tourism.

“As the owner of a bed-and-breakfast, I hear that a big attraction of Crested Butte for tourists is the authentic community they want to visit,” said Haver.

“I agree that the heart of the community is central to the document, but the impact of tourism is important. As we saw in March and April of 2020, the idea of not generating sales tax could be awful,” said Magner.

“I see Beth’s argument but explicitly acknowledging tourism is not a bad thing,” said Prochaska. “We have a school in part because of tourism. There is no need to make that confrontational.”

“Maybe it is better described as an amenity-based economy,” suggested Billick. “It is a complex issue that won’t be decided tonight.”

Council will consider adopting a final Community Compass document at the November 7 meeting.

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