Preliminary plan application expected toward the end of the year[ By Katherine Nettles ]
A major workforce housing project proposed for the North Valley made a significant stride this week as both the Gunnison County planning commission and Gunnison County commissioners signed off on the sketch plan application. The county’s Whetstone Community Housing project is set to begin the preliminary plan stage for a major impact project according to the Gunnison County Land Use Resolution (LUR), which will include selecting a developer, finalizing utility plans and establishing more concrete engineering plans for the site.
The project team has proposed about 231 units on a 15-acre parcel along Highway 135 located just south of Crested Butte and across from Brush Creek Road. The units, primarily apartments and townhomes ranging from one to three bedrooms, would be a combination of rental units and some available for purchase.
The sketch plan was submitted in September 2022, and the planning commission held work sessions throughout the last four months to discuss the project’s various design elements, traffic impacts and essential housing characteristics such as a minimum number of essential housing units and potential deed restrictions.
A joint public hearing last month with both the planning commission and county commissioners was continued to February 2, during which time the planning commission discussed the public comments they had heard and any remaining questions and concerns they had before agreeing unanimously to recommend sketch plan approval to the board of county commissioners. County commissioners then had the agenda item on their regular meeting agenda a few days later.
In a brief discussion on Tuesday, February 7 commissioners expressed their comfort level with the process so far and decided to forego an additional public hearing.
“All three of us were able to participate in that joint public hearing process,” said commissioner chairperson Jonathan Houck. “It allows us the insight to hear the full and robust discussion, to hear the back and forth, to have our questions inserted…I’m not seeing or hearing any new or different information,” he said of the process and comments that have been submitted in the week since. “So, to me there is no need for another public hearing.”
Commissioner Laura Puckett Daniels agreed. “It seems like there has been a lot of opportunity for the public to participate,” she said. “I feel okay moving forward, partly for that balance of public input but also efficiency for the applicant.”
Commissioner Liz Smith echoed with similar remarks. “While there are common themes related to concerns with the project… I feel those concerns were very thoroughly addressed,” she said. “I see a real commitment to the project working.”
Commissioners then unanimously approved a motion to forego an additional public hearing and proceeded to approve the sketch plan.
The next step is for the project team to begin working toward a preliminary plan application, which includes more technical and detailed plans for utilities and would also include public hearings. An expedited review process in place for essential housing will ensure fewer administrative delays, but John Cattles, Gunnison County assistant manager for sustainability and operations, estimated the next stage of the application process will be intensive and take most of the year.
“We will technically be starting the process of preliminary plan development once we have selected a developer to partner with us on the continued evolution and development of the plans,” he commented to the Crested Butte News after the meeting. “We need four to five months and maybe longer to develop the preliminary plan but that won’t start until we’ve selected a developer to partner with us for that pre-development work.”
Cattles said that the project team has not yet released a Request for Proposals (RFP) for a developer but plans to do so in the next week.
“The selection process will take some time; we intend to ask for detailed responses from developers and they will need time to produce those responses. We expect the process to run through the spring and have a developer selected by June,” he said. An application for preliminary plan would not be ready for submission until late in the year.
Meanwhile, commissioners and staff took a moment to appreciate the process up to this point.
“It’s always good to pause and say thanks. And we appreciate the community’s involvement as well,” said Houck. “There is a fair amount of deep, thorough, technical work that will be coming forward.”
Cattles concluded, “it is a big step and it’s been a long road to get to this point. We still have a long road ahead of us.”