CB council changes course to allow buildings like heated garages

Final vote scheduled for February 21

[  By Mark Reaman  ]

After a long discussion Monday evening, the Crested Butte town council shifted direction and now appears ready to approve an ordinance that will allow construction of heated and plumbed accessory buildings like garages, offices and studios in town. A moratorium on even considering such accessory buildings was implemented in September of 2021, extended once, and is set to expire in early March.

An ordinance that will go back to allowing such buildings as a conditional use in certain town zones as they were before the moratorium was implemented will be in front of the council on February 21. The new ordinance will add incentives to waive building permit and review fees for accessory dwelling units (ADUs) as well as subsidizing the full tap fee cost of $29,460 to encourage construction of ADUs that can be rented to local workers. That is a 180-degree turn from council direction given to staff at the last council meeting to craft an ordinance eliminating the possibility of heated and plumbed accessory buildings like a heated garage. The majority of council shifted positions at the February 6 meeting to focus on incentivizing ADUs rather than prohibiting heated and plumbed accessory buildings.

Through deed restrictions tied to ADUs, council is also considering an incentive to permit property owners with ADUs to rent them to qualified local workers for eight months a year while then allowing the property owner to use the ADU for their own purposes such as providing accommodation for visiting friends and family the other four months. Such flexibility incentives will be fleshed out by the staff and brought to the council before the end of the winter.

Mayor Ian Billick said the council had received a fair amount of written comment on the move to prohibit things like heated garages, and individual councilmembers indicated the public had reached out to them with concerns. The Board of Zoning and Architectural Review (BOZAR) had officially looked at the proposal and could not garner an adequate number of votes to either recommend approval or denial of the proposal. Staff recommended the draft proposal be adopted by council.

Crested Butte resident Paul O’Connor addressed the council in person and made it clear he was adamantly opposed to an ordinance prohibiting heated and plumbed accessory buildings. “I bought property on Whiterock with the idea of building a garage there and I would like for it to be heated,” he said. “I like doing projects, things like working on my bike. My kid is ready to do that type of thing and it would be great to go out there and hang out with him.

“I won’t spend more money to build an ADU that would add to my mortgage,” O’Connor continued. “And I think not allowing me to build a heated garage will decrease my property value. Is that the council’s intention? I don’t think it is the residents’ responsibility to provide housing for the workforce. I am the workforce. I strongly urge you to go with option one that returns things to the way they were before the moratorium. This second option to prohibit such building is not the answer to the problem.”

Several councilmembers expressed a change of heart from the last meeting. “My thoughts have shifted a bit,” said councilmember Beth Goldstone. “I’m more inclined to wait and see what is determined in the upcoming “infill study” the town will be doing. I am very interested however in adopting the incentives that are listed that could encourage ADUs. I am not ready to take away the entire ability to have things like a heated garage. I am leaning more toward option one with more incentives.”

Councilmember Chris Haver said he still had more questions than a clear vision of what the result would be from prohibiting accessory buildings that are heated and plumbed. He said he fears that if the moratorium was dropped and council waited to take action until after the ‘infill study’ was completed, property owners would quickly line up to apply for heated and plumbed accessory building permits without considering ADUs.

Councilmember Anna Fenerty suggested that ADUs be prioritized and incentivized in residential zones that currently have few such buildings to spread out the accompanying density through town.

Councilmember Gabi Prochaska said given construction costs, ADUs would be built by those who want to help solve the local housing problem and not because financial incentives like waiving tap fees made it worthwhile. 

Billick said he continued to be in favor of option one. “Most of the opportunity is with empty lots and there aren’t many of those remaining. All the feedback I am hearing is to go with option one,” he said. “I am worried about unintended consequences and the loss of goodwill if we start prohibiting such building.”

Councilmember Jason MacMillan said using partners like local architects to educate property owners could help encourage more rental ADUs. 

Crested Butte planner Nick Catmur said one local architect had mistakenly interpreted the town code to say it allowed ADUs to be long-term rented for six months but then could be used for whatever the property owner wanted the rest of the year. That, Catmur said, is a mistake since the minimum long-term lease for an ADU was for six months but if a tenant moved out after that time, a landlord had three months to fill the vacancy. Still, he admitted that the misunderstanding probably was appealing to some property owners.

Goldstone took that idea and suggested people who build ADUs be mandated to rent to qualified local workers for at least eight months and then be allowed to use the unit however they wanted, for example providing a place for family and friends to visit the other four months. The rationale being that such flexibility was a significant incentive for property owners and would benefit seasonal workers.

Councilmember Mallika Magner said financial incentives probably wouldn’t be effective given current building costs but she worried that going with Goldstone’s incentive idea would be a hardship for local renters who would lose lodging most likely in the summer and during the winter holiday period.

After further discussion and some suggestions by councilmembers that more time was needed to gather more information, Billick said the council’s job was to make decisions and the moratorium had been in place for well over a year.

Magner moved to extend the moratorium, but no one seconded her motion. Billick pointed out that option two basically accomplished the same thing.

Goldstone suggested a motion intended to lift the moratorium and continue to allow heated and plumbed accessory buildings as a conditional use as before the moratorium. She wanted to make sure financial incentives waiving fees on ADUs were included, that ADUs would be rented to so-called qualified residential workers and that the flexible incentive for property owners to rent an ADU part of the year while using it personally for the remainder of the year was included.

Councilmembers began delving into possible details of how the deed restriction incentive would work and that again bogged down the conversation.

Community development director Troy Russ suggested the council give the staff time to vet and consider the ramifications of such a flexible incentive and come back to council with an analysis of such a deed restriction. 

Council agreed with that idea and voted 5-2 on first reading to go back to allowing heated and plumbed accessory buildings while providing financial incentives to encourage ADUs. The understanding was that further incentives through deed restrictions will be considered in a separate ordinance later this winter. Magner and Fenerty voted against the motion.

The council will take public comment on the issue before considering and voting on the ordinance at the Tuesday, February 21 meeting.

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