Crested Butte council gets an earful over town’s alleys

Preserving pedestrian pods? Over maintaining?

By Mark Reaman

The questions of how to philosophically use and physically maintain the 72 alleys in Crested Butte are not going away and the town council and staff feel they are two separate issues that need more discussion and direction. The alley topic came up at the Tuesday, September 5 meeting, and discussion is expected to go more in depth as part of at least three future discussions: as part of the town’s revised transportation and mobility plan, as part of the goals and actions budget review and in January, when there appears adequate time for council to delve into the alley discussion.

Crested Butte community development director Troy Russ admitted that he and public works director Shea Earley made each other’s professional lives more difficult when they made different recent alley decisions. 

As part of the Town’s regular alley maintenance, Earley’s department graded and smoothed out several block sections of the alley between Sopris and Whiterock, upsetting some neighbors. Russ has included the idea of using the alleys more for residential vehicle access as part of the ongoing transportation plan discussion. Mayor Ian Billick and councilmember Mallika Magner both said that they are getting “buttonholed” by citizens wanting to talk about the alleys in town.

Both the maintenance and cultural ideology behind the alleys were addressed by long-time residents in the public comment section of the council meeting. “We are trying to get ahead of the work session council has over the transportation plan. We want to save the historic alleys. The most offensive statement in the proposal is to have the town purposely divert traffic to the alleys,” said resident Angie Hornbrook. “That is just taking away an area that is already pedestrian. This aspect of the plan goes against all the stated objectives of the Community Compass.”

Hornbrook also said that plowing the alleys has resulted in water pipes freezing. She said she experienced that firsthand and is aware of other residents who had to deal with the situation. “I would like to see the alleys designated as pedestrian by the town,” she suggested. “In the winter maybe store snow in the middle of the alley so people don’t drive end-to-end. I feel like I’m beating a dead horse but the alleys in Crested Butte offer more authenticity than Elk Avenue does these days.”

Jerry Deverell said he has lived for 40 years on the alley that was recently graded by the town. “I am very unhappy my alley got graded a couple of weeks ago,” an emotional Deverell told the council. 

“It doesn’t look the same. The town took out the raspberry bushes and destroyed the nice green patches. They are all gone and I’m not happy about that.”

The council touched on the alley issue several times during the council meeting. While presented with a proposal for the goals and actions for the 2024 budget and a review of the draft five-year capital plan by finance director Kathy Ridgeway, councilmember Anna Fenerty suggested adding the protection of the alleys under the strategy titled “Retain the unique character and traditions of Crested Butte.”

In the same discussion, Billick said the council needed more detailed information on the costs associated with maintaining the alleys as part of the budget. Magner wanted a more detailed staff explanation of how the staff treats the alleys.

In the “other business” portion of the meeting, alleys again came up. 

“I love the alleys and it seems like people living near the alleys were not told when the alleys would be graded,” said councilmember Jason MacMillan. 

Earley explained that maintenance of the alleys falls under the streets budget and alley and right-of-way improvements are made year to year. “It is based on the use we see in the alleys,” he explained. “A few alleys are paved and take priority. Some alleys are scheduled for improvement every five or every 10 years. Others are never scheduled. The focus is on drainage for example depending on the location. We have done work on Jerry’s (Deverell) alley before.”

“Maybe we need to do a better job of explaining what we are doing and why and communicate that better,” suggested MacMillan.

Billick asked if that was part of the transportation plan. Town manager Dara MacDonald said the maintaining of alleys is not part of the plan but encouraging parking in the alleys has always been part of the transportation plan.

“We opened the conversation about the alleys so now we have to deal with it,” said Billick.

“I feel we need a deeper conversation about the alleys,” agreed Magner.

“It’s an emotional topic for people,” noted MacMillan.

“Janae [Pritchett] wrote a good letter about the alleys,” said Fenerty. “We can learn from the reaction we got about the alleys.”

Pritchett, who lives on Whiterock Avenue, said in her letter that there are a variety of alley types in town that deserve individual attention based on the individual circumstances and the town should be listening to the thoughts and concerns of impacted homeowners.

“It is hard to untangle the issue, but maintenance is different from the pedestrian aspect,” said Billick.

“It is hard to appease everyone, but we also get calls from people wanting more alley maintenance,” said Earley.

“If plowing alleys in winter results in water mains freezing, that’s not a good idea,” said Magner.

Councilmember Beth Goldstone agreed with Fenerty’s suggestion to add protection of the alleys to the long-term goals of the town’s five-year capital plan. “If we add it to the list of historic things in the plan, it will keep it in front of us,” she said.

“There are lots of moving parts to the alleys,” said Billick. “It seems council needs to be brought up to speed and we should schedule a discussion.”

Russ indicated that the idea of having more vehicles park in and access their property through the alleys will come back to council as part of the transportation plan. MacDonald said the staff could find time for the deeper alley maintenance discussion probably in January.

Billick said that it would work to have a limited discussion tied to the transportation plan and then take a “deeper dive” in January.

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