Town board rejects appeal of BOZAR decision on Elk Avenue

Votes not there and no desire to continue the hearing

[  By Mark Reaman  ]

Votes taken Monday night by the Crested Butte town council acting as the town planning commission to both approve and deny a minor subdivision for the lot at the top of Elk Avenue did not garner the four votes needed to make any motion effective under the town code. The failure to get four votes either way essentially denied the developer’s appeal of a 3-3 BOZAR (Board of Zoning and Architectural Review) vote on whether to grant waivers to allow two houses on the six lots located at 15 Elk Avenue. 

Only five members of the council participated in the appeal as Ian Billick recused himself from discussion and Anna Fenerty did not attend the hearing. A simple majority of the attending commission members was not enough to carry the day for the proposal that basically was asking to subdivide the six lots on the parcel into three — two residential building sites and a so-called “hillside preservation parcel” that prohibited any building on the upper part of the property. 

To be granted the subdivision, the developers needed waivers from the town code on maximum lot size, the width of the alley and the building grade. The developers had agreed to limit the size and heights of the two future buildings and gotten approval from the Crested Butte Fire Protection District on how firefighters and EMTs would respond to the site if needed. The Crested Butte planning department staff had recommended the planning commission approve the waivers and approve the minor subdivision request.

Town planner Jessie Earley provided the commission with the history of the proposal and the compromises reached between the developers and the town. Community development director Troy Russ explained that as currently platted the parcel, that was originally used as a town quarry and sawmill, was entitled to one house but that under normal circumstances, three houses are permitted on six lots throughout town.

Development team architect Gary Hartman of Sunlit Architecture reiterated much of Earley’s presentation and admitted that “it was a challenging site and we knew that coming in,” he said. “We have been at this for 20 months and have dropped the original density. It is a difficult site that requires out-of-the-box solutions. Some waivers will be required for any proposal. We have concluded the two-house solution that protects the hillside is the best plan.”

Hartman said not only had the original proposed density been lowered but that the developers were willing to install needed water and sewer infrastructure that would benefit the whole block. It was estimated that would save the town between $300,000 and $400,000. He said the neighbor’s concerns had been heard and added mitigation measures included in the design. Guaranteeing there would be no building high on the hillside was a primary community benefit, he said.

Written public comment came in against the proposal from some neighbors citing the impacts on the alley that would be used to access the new homes. Attorney Aaron Huckstep represented neighbor Neal Mendel and he reiterated many concerns about vehicle congestion in the alley and asked that the appeal be denied.

“Do not take the threat of what can happen there in the future,” he told the commissioners. “There is a reason it has been on the market for 15 years. There is no use by right for multiple homes on that site. It is allowed for one structure.”

Neighbor Alan Hegeman agreed with Hartman that having two houses “was best for this site. I would support this. There will be a number of additional checks to oversee the structures when actual buildings are proposed,” he said. 

Commission member Gabi Prochaska said she saw the preservation of the hillside site line as a public benefit.

“I feel uncomfortable saying that is a public benefit when right now it is zoned for only one house,” said commissioner Beth Goldstone.

“The house could be located anywhere on the site,” clarified Russ. “It could be on top of the hill for example. It would just be a matter of engineering.”

“So, there is public benefit in protecting the site lines and hillside along with them putting in the waterline improvements that saves the town money,” said Prochaska. 

“I agree with the benefit of the hillside preservation and impact on the town’s enterprise fund by saving the town $300,000,” added commissioner Jason MacMillan.

“But two houses instead of one? It is clear all the easy lots in town are developed and this is a super challenging lot,” said commissioner Mallika Magner. “Considering future possibilities, it is hard to build there. The proponents struggled to find something that works.”

“The parcel is six town lots which is normally equivalent to allowing three houses,” said Prochaska. “Density-wise, it’s a reduction.”

“Why is it challenging for one house to be built on the flat part of the parcel?” said Goldstone.

“I can’t say that in five years someone will have the money needed to build on top of the hill,” said MacMillan.

Town attorney Karl Hanlon reminded the commissioners that they were to focus on the appeal and the waivers being proposed and the possible public benefit of any amenities being provided.

“Our decision is whether the public benefits make it worth subdividing this,” said commissioner Chris Haver.

Prochaska moved to approve the minor subdivision and she, Haver and MacMillan voted for the motion while Magner and Goldstone voted against it. 

Hanlon then explained the need for four affirmative votes to enact a motion. He asked if a motion denying the subdivision could be held. It was and the same result occurred with Goldstone and Magner voting to deny the subdivision and MacMillan, Prochaska and Haver voting against the motion.

Hanlon said that with neither motion passing, the commission could leave the appeal as it was, which would effectively be denied, or choose to wait for Fenerty to attend an appeal hearing. Again, a vote was taken with three votes, Goldstone, Magner and Haver, not wanting to continue the appeal hearing.

The proponents have a right to appeal the town’s decision to State Court if they so choose.

Mineral Point waivers quickly approved…and traffic concern noted

The planning commissioners spent much less time approving requested waivers over the new Mineral Point affordable housing project. Seeing the development of an additional 34 affordable housing units across from the Gas Café was cited by both BOZAR and planning commission members as a reason to grant the waivers. 

During the brief discussion it was pointed out by a neighbor of the project that having the parking lot empty out onto Butte Avenue near the Gasser could cause major congestion for the area, especially in the summer. The commissioners/councilmembers said that concern should be considered as plans evolve but the Monday meeting was meant to focus on the waiver request and not the design elements of the project.

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