Council punts decision on controversial accessory buildings in CB

Everyone can talk about it again on March 6

[  By Mark Reaman  ]

Members of the Crested Butte town council can’t seem to make a board decision on what to do with the moratorium on accepting applications for reviewing, approving or issuing permits for nonresidential heated and/or plumbed accessory buildings that is currently in place but about to expire. At the latest town council meeting, some councilmembers again said they had changed their minds on the issue and wanted more information, although no new major questions emerged from the long discussion. 

That moratorium has been in place since September of 2021 and basically prohibits things like new heated garages. The idea was to give staff and council time to research how the accessory building issue could possibly result in encouraging the construction of more Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) for local workers. As of the February 21 meeting, some councilmembers said they still had a lot of questions about how to proceed. The moratorium has been extended once and is scheduled to expire on March 7.

Council had directed staff in January to prepare an ordinance eliminating the possibility of heated and plumbed accessory buildings. 

They did so, but in early February the council changed its mind and directed staff to continue to allow things like heated garages in certain town zones as a conditional use but to prepare an ordinance on the matter that also included incentives for the construction of ADUs by waiving building permit and review fees, along with providing a full $29,640 subsidy of the required tap fees. Staff was also instructed to research more incentives for ADUs beyond those financial benefits and pursue development of a property management program to support homeowners with rental assistance.

But at the February 21 town meeting, council again floundered with the direction after being unable to pass several motions, so they kicked the can to the March 6 meeting. A frustrated mayor Ian Billick asked that the councilmembers consult with staff to get all their questions answered and find tangible direction to present a motion that would complete the discussion before the next meeting. 

Some of the council’s change of mind came after a letter from community members was sent to them and published in the Crested Butte News (see February 17 issue) suggesting the implementation of a permanent prohibition on such heated and plumbed accessory buildings unless they included an ADU or were very small. The letter writers, led by housing advocate Jim Starr, also suggested the town provide a $200,000 subsidy to property owners to help pay for the ADU.

“How outrageous would it be to explore that subsidy?” asked councilmember Gabi Prochaska. 

Crested Butte community development director Troy Russ said staff is looking at a variety of ADU incentives and planned to hold a work session on the topic in March. “Frankly, that would be more of a budget discussion though,” he said. “But it’s not outrageous and might be spot on.”

Billick said he has been asking for the direct cost to the town of building an affordable housing unit but hasn’t received a definitive answer. “It is a complex equation, but we need to know that number to make an educated decision,” he said.

“Since the last meeting I’ve changed my mind a little bit on how feasible incentives like flexible occupancy would be,” said councilmember Jason MacMillan in regard to the incentive idea that owners of new ADUs be allowed to rent the space to local (seasonal) workers for say, seven or eight months and be allowed to use if for personal use like housing visiting family and friends the other months of the year. “I’m worried it might make things more complex,” MacMillan said.

Councilmember Anna Fenerty said enforcement should be a priority with any new ADU regulation passed by the council. “It has to be overseen. We can’t just pass something that is not enforced to feel good,” she said.

Billick said he has an ADU on his property and has often been sent notices to make sure it is certified and being used as the affordable deed restriction mandates. “So, while enforcement could be better, it is happening,” he said.

“Enforcement is hard, and we may need more teeth with regulation,” said MacMillan. “If we explore things like more flexible usage of ADUs enforcement gets harder the more complicated we make it.”

Russ said Crested Butte housing director Erin Ganser was investigating how best to enforce long-term rental situations in ADUs. 

Fenerty did not like the flexible usage incentive. “ADUs fill a niche with couples and single people,” she said. “They are typically rented to someone you know who lives here full-time. I don’t want to eliminate that.”

Crested Butte resident David Gray said the council should not lift the moratorium. “I support the letter that was sent. You obviously have a ton of questions that are unanswered and that’s a reason to leave it in place,” he said. “We need every small thing that addresses the housing issue and ADUs are one such small part.”

Starr told the council that the housing emergency is getting worse every month. He said he talked to all the individual councilmembers in the previous week or two, “and one thing you were all consistent about was that incentives alone will not result in more ADUs.” He suggested that heated and plumbed accessory buildings be allowed but only if an ADU is included. “Also, put out the $200,000 incentive to attract those building expensive houses in town,” he said. “One of the best things about ADUs is that is spreads workforce housing throughout town.”

Starr said he disagreed with continuing the moratorium but said the council should give clear direction to staff on how to update regulations and incentives for ADUs.

Resident Lindsey Freeburn agreed with Gray that the council had too many unanswered questions on the issue to lift the moratorium. She also said rental leases on ADUs should be at least a year.

Citizen Sue Navy said some current ADUs were not being rented. Town manager Dara MacDonald said the town could enforce that if it knows where, so she asked Navy to provide further information.

Councilmember Chris Haver said it was his understanding that extending the moratorium a second time could be legally questionable. MacDonald said it could pass the litmus test if town was working on the issue.

Billick said it appeared council had three choices at the February 21 meeting: 1) Let the moratorium expire and have the heated and plumbed accessory building regs go back to being a conditional use; 2) Approve an ordinance with the original staff recommendation of eliminating heated and plumbed accessory buildings without ADUs; or 3) Adopt the ordinance that was presented at the February 21 meeting to allow such buildings along with providing financial ADU incentives.

Councilmember Beth Goldstone said she had shifted positions in January and still felt providing significant incentives for people was the most effective way to obtain ADUs. “I would be hesitant to live in an ADU that someone didn’t want to build,” she said.

Fenerty disagreed with that framing. “We’re not forcing anyone to build an ADU,” she said. “They don’t have to do it. But if they want a heated garage or a warm workshop for example, then they have to help with the housing issue. I think we should focus incentives in areas of town where there aren’t a lot of ADUs.”

“There are still a lot of questions. Would it be wrong to approve an ordinance with the understanding we will work on it more?” asked Prochaska.

Fenerty said any such ordinance will likely change once the town conducts an “infill study” of the town and with new information is analyzed. She said she would be in favor of passing the original ordinance prohibiting such accessory buildings.

Haver suggested limiting heated and plumbed accessory buildings to being no more than 400 square feet, about the size of a two-car garage. Normally, they can be between 400 and 1,000 square feet.

“It’s our job to make hard decisions. The worst thing we can do is keep spinning this in a circle forever,” said Billick.

Fenerty moved to pass the original ordinance not allowing heated and/or plumbed accessory buildings and that was seconded by MacMillan. Those two voted for it while Billick, Prochaska, Goldstone and Haver voted against it. Councilwoman Mallika Magner was not at the meeting.

Goldstone moved to pass the ordinance that would allow the buildings and that included ADU incentives but limit the size of the buildings to 400 square feet. 

“Do we really want to encourage households to have two-car garages?” asked Fenerty. Russ said that would be large enough to put an ADU on top of the garage.

“It is not a perfect solution, but it might encourage someone to build an ADU,” said Haver.

Goldstone, Haver and Prochaska voted for that while MacMillan, Fenerty and Billick voted against it.

Russ reiterated that the staff is intent on working on new deed restrictions and more ADU incentives that don’t need to be part of an ordinance dealing with the heated and/or plumbed accessory buildings.

Fenerty moved to continue the discussion to the next meeting when she hoped all seven councilmembers would be present to vote. Everyone but Billick voted for that motion.

And so the discussion continues…

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