CB council gives another nod to Whetstone housing

Timeline for town decision anywhere from four to 10 months

By Mark Reaman

The Crested Butte town council gave a general thumbs up at the March 6 meeting over the big picture concept of continuing to explore possible ways to engage and assist with the proposed Whetstone affordable housing project south of town. Work will continue to analyze a potential water and sewer utility extension to the proposed 231-unit project. Pros and cons of annexing the property to town will also be developed. 

The town council identified questions and issues it wants town staff and Gunnison County, the developer of the project, to address in detail. Generally, there were questions over five main topics: the utility extension, the annexation potential, general growth impacts that will arrive as a result of the project, the specifics of the housing program being proposed and the sustainability mitigations that would be included in Whetstone. Town staff offered a rough timeline of between four and 10 months for council to decide how much to participate in the project. 

Several North Valley citizens reiterated comments made previously to the council or the county. George Gibson asked the council to not put off addressing substantive issues associated with the project but rather to make decisions on issues as the process takes place. He expressed concern that by not making definitive choices early, the process would end up in a “go-no-go” situation. That, Gibson shared, could put pressure on the council to make a poor decision given the impacts of possibly delaying the project. “Focus on engagement now and throughout the process,” he suggested.

Crested Butte Community School teacher Wendy Birchler, a former landscape architect, expressed great support for the project. She encouraged the council “to do something to help alleviate the local housing problem.”

Gunnison Valley Regional Housing Authority executive director Andy Kadlec repeated his support saying the project addressed the community desire and need for such a project. “Being housing insecure is debilitating for people,” he said. “There is still a consistent need for housing in the valley.”

Teri and Tod Colvin own the Creekside subdivision adjacent to Whetstone. While supportive of the project and complimentary of the county effort to work with them to mitigate issues, they again emphasized that if water and sewer lines were extended to Whetstone from Crested Butte and involved an annexation, they had no desire to be annexed. The town council and staff assured them they had no intention of annexing their property or any other property located between Crested Butte and Whetstone.

Jim Starr again said Whetstone was a “golden opportunity to provide workforce housing close to the community of Crested Butte that is desperately needed.”

Crested Butte community development director Troy Russ said data was being collected to analyze both the utility extension and financial impacts of annexation. Public Works director Shea Earley said the utility engineering study is looking at water and facility capacity, taking into account the lifespan of equipment and maintenance costs. He said future climate impacts on the town’s water supply were not being looked at.

Mayor Ian Billick said council wanted to track how much of the town’s water would be impacted by the project along with full buildout of the town. He said if the report indicated the town’s available water supply would still be at a good level with a significant buffer after all expected use, that might make councilmembers more comfortable with the water supply issue, even with potential climate impacts in the future. He also asked staff to look at changes in water availability timing due to climate change based on earlier snowmelt and how that might impact town water rights and supply.

“Personally, as we gather information, I am supportive of the idea of annexation but sensitive to John Cattles’s concern that we not slow down the project,” said Billick. “I don’t think we need to put town architectural standards out there for example. Regardless of annexation, what is the financial model for roads and plowing? That seems to me the main cost into the future. It would be helpful to know the county’s plan and if it would be paid for through property taxes on the units in the project. Will the county just cover it? Who will be impacted by the expense? Where do the costs get loaded up?”

Assistant Gunnison County manager for Operations and Sustainability John Cattles said he could not give an answer immediately, but indicated the county was looking at options for revenue streams that could be associated with housing. “We have to analyze it in the light of all the moving parts,” he said.

Town manager Dara MacDonald said the town has not made any requests of the county that would slow up the project, but had asked the county to pay for an annexation fiscal impact study. Billick and the council said they were open to splitting the cost of such an annexation fiscal study with the county. 

Billick said he thought the roads and plowing would be the primary ongoing operational costs of the project in the future. Russ said there would be other additional costs such as possible expansion in the marshal’s office or parks maintenance department. “That fiscal analysis is the first step in analyzing that,” he said.

Councilmember Beth Goldstone asked if there was room for the town to have input with the county on a basic architectural review of the project as more solid designs were presented. Assistant Gunnison County manager for Community and Economic Development Cathie Pagano said there would definitely be opportunities for “conversations, collaboration and negotiation. It can all be on the table,” she said.

Russ said that while growth in the North Valley would happen with or without this project, he wanted the county and town to come up with an integrated land use and transportation plan for the Highway 135 corridor and the town’s three-mile area plan. That plan would be constructed by both the town and county and could determine how the area surrounding Crested Butte is ultimately developed. 

Councilmember Chris Haver wanted to know what sort of short-term rental regulations would be in place for both the deed-restricted and free market units located in the subdivision.

Councilmember Gabi Prochaska asked when the roundabout and pedestrian underpass would be approved for the Brush Creek intersection. Cattles said that was up to the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT), but they seemed unofficially okay with the concept, which meant funding and timing were the bigger issues.

Billick asked that council not be presented with an overwhelming amount of information at the end of the process. Instead, he asked that the information be broken up into digestible chunks that would not overwhelm the council when it came to making a decision.

Council officially voted to approve the generic success measures and concepts of the five main topics delineated by the staff. The discussion will go on…

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