Looking for the direction that encompasses one valley…
By Mark Reaman
The Crested Butte town council wants to work with its regional partners like Gunnison County and Mt. Crested Butte for a united vision of the future, and understands it must to be successful when it comes to certain things like regional land use decisions, workforce housing and expanded public transportation. During a March 20 work session, the council stated its priorities in the so-called One Valley Resiliency Roadmap.
Those priorities included a focus on placing affordable housing in or near municipalities where infrastructure was already in place; looking for ways to convert existing housing units to deed restricted housing so as to not just build more units; preserving current deed restricted units; clustering density in the towns while preventing sprawl in the outlying county areas; engaging the community to actively and civilly participate in any such roadmap; and working on ways to help develop the next generation of community leaders.
Crested Butte community development director Troy Russ said the county was leading the initiative and had obtained state grant money during the pandemic to work on planning that would help the regional entities better collaborate.
He relayed that a regional housing strategy along with land use planning, mass transportation issues and infrastructure planning regularly rose to the top of conversations with government entities.
“The reality is that there are a lot of actions we can take outside town by working with our partners,” said councilmember Chris Haver. “What does that actually look like? What are the possibilities? Can we, for example, land bank property for 30 years down the road? Can we go after larger funding?”
“When it comes to housing, we can’t just build our way out of the problem,” said councilmember Jason MacMillan. “I appreciate the goal of preserving existing affordable housing.”
“Crested Butte is doing a good job with its housing efforts,” added councilmember Gabi Prochaska.
Prochaska continued “But it is also crucial for the town to work with projects outside of town like Whetstone. It is a problem for all of us up and down the valley and I would like to see us very engaged in valley-wide solutions.”
“It would be great to figure out the specific housing needs in the north end of the valley and work on locating it here and not just push the housing down valley,” said mayor Ian Billick. “I would also encourage a joint agreement with our partners that addresses workforce housing in new subdivisions. Should we be allocating that 40% of a new proposal be affordable housing? Should it be 20%? Should developers be able to say, purchase units in Whetstone to meet the requirements?”
Billick said a top goal of his was to keep new housing close to the existing municipalities where infrastructure already exists. He noted that the current Mt. Crested Butte Water and Sanitation District could be operating well below capacity while developments are springing up throughout the county where no infrastructure is in place. “The general strategy should be to focus on municipalities in that regard. That helps keep costs down and helps with things like transit. I’d also be looking for ways to unleash private employer capital for housing. There are some businesses going after housing, but others aren’t doing anything. And flexibility and control are important so that the community can adjust to coming changes.”
Assistant county manager for community and economic development Cathie Pagano agreed that it was “important to consider the opportunities in the municipalities. We need to be cognizant of the trade-offs that come with development. It impacts community resources.”
Prochaska supported the idea of focusing on preserving existing housing units for workers. “Why not put energy into that,” she asked. “It is already there and not expending more resources.”
“The more we can address affordable housing needs with existing housing stock, the better,” said Billick. “It is super efficient.”
As for land use planning, Russ said the town staff would begin an “in-fill study” next year that would likely lead to the densifying of Crested Butte. “Can we get Crested Butte South and Mt. Crested Butte to look at that too?” he asked. “It is important to develop an integrated land use and transportation corridor for Highway 135 and the subareas.”
“The reality is growth is happening all around us,” said Haver. “This is the time to develop the future direction.”
“The key is to have concentrated density in the towns and then leave the space in between,” said Prochaska. “I’m not sure how we do that.”
Russ summarized that there was the need to analyze how to put growth where it should go and not allow growth where it shouldn’t go.
“How we drive thoughtful growth is a discussion to have,” said MacMillan.
“I would love to see a strategy where recreation opportunities are located near the towns where appropriate,” said Billick. “Then the valuable conservation easements can be located farther away where large, uninterrupted areas exist. I would also like to see us buy critical parcels not just for open space but for things we might need in the future that deal with things like mass transit or fields.”
Billick said it is likely the regional partners will have to look at major funding mechanisms for mass transit but that could take years to come together.
MacMillan wondered how county sprawl could be prevented. Pagano responded that Routt County has some “interesting land use regulations” to limit the impacts of 35-acre parcels. “There are some tools in the regulatory toolbox we can explore,” she said.
“We should all understand that limiting density in the county will cause some pushback,” Pagano continued. “And so will the idea of making Crested Butte denser. We need to have the conversation with the community about the need for density in towns if we don’t want sprawl in the county.”
Pagano said while there is no desire to zone the county, there could be opportunity to provide more “clarity” about what is appropriate land use near the towns.
Russ emphasized that with the potential changes that could be coming, the need to engage the community in dialogue about those changes is imperative.
Billick said the traditional government model of holding a public hearing on an issue after months of work would probably not be adequate. “The challenge is how do we help the community understand where their leverage points are,” he asked.
Councilmember Mallika Magner said that with the embracing of Zoom technology, citizen participation seemed to be on the rise.
Russ said the task force had been trying to also figure out how to create more leaders in the community to dive into the issues.
MacMillan suggested the council could encourage non-council members to fill roles on various boards. He did say that might take incentives and noted that busy-ness was a barrier for many people.
“As more and more people in town are living here part-time, that shrinks the pool too,” said Magner.
“My thinking is around the discourse we have,” said Pagano. “How can we model and encourage systems for civil discourse? That is important along with leadership training for people.”
“Inappropriate behavior happens, and it wears people down. We saw it during COVID,” said Billick. “Finding positive ways to enfranchise a variety of people is important.”
“Creating and committing to community engagement processes builds trust,” added town manager Dara MacDonald.
While the council was not ready to sign a detailed Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) committing them to a common roadmap with all the regional partners, they were willing to give a nod to the idea of deeper collaboration.
Billick said it would be useful to determine the points of common agreement.
Haver said that having an agreement structure could help facilitate funding resources. “If we can demonstrate to the state that we are working together, they can see us as a functional community,” he said.
“That’s why a good strategy is so important,” said Billick.
“Whether it is through an IGA or resolutions of endorsement, it can be beneficial,” agreed Pagano. “Shared visions and goals can be effective with funding sources.”
The partner discussions will continue.