CB South growing pains part II: grappling with growth

By Katherine Nettles

Editor’s note: This is the final in a two-part series on complex development challenges underway in CB South. Last week we ran Part I: CB South multi-family projects face challenges. We will continue to follow these issues for future coverage.

As the Crested Butte South Property Owner’s Association (POA) tries to keep pace with unprecedented growth and changes to its governing board and regulations over the past several years, numerous petitions and appeals filed against approved projects in CB South have been a source of increasing conflict and mounting frustration for both builders and POA members. Additionally, builders who want to create housing density for affordability are at times struggling to get projects through in a timely and efficient way, and some feel the POA’s land use change process is difficult to follow.

Some believe a relatively small group of POA members filing appeals and petitioning against multi-family homes are motivated by a “not in my backyard” (NIMBY) or anti-growth philosophy. POA staff attest that the protests and lawsuit over the past five years have cost the POA hundreds of staff hours, tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees and developers have been unfairly waylaid on plans that were initially approved. 

 “The original petitions predate my time on the board,” explains POA board president Andrew Sandstrom. Sandstrom came to the POA board in 2020 and has tried to steer the board and staff through other challenges with a full staff turnover and a controversial covenants vote in 2021, then a revote in 2022. He says CB South is still undergoing some needed changes and he is confident that the work the POA has done and continues to do will ultimately create a stronger and better community for the future. But he says the approach of some to the development process has been challenging. 

“South Butte, LLC has been trying to develop since they put in an application in 2019,” reviews Sandstrom, of the first project that a group of 12 CB South homeowners petitioned against and eventually appealed all the way to Gunnison District Court. The project included two duplexes on Cement Creek Road.

“The initial appeal attacked proper noticing of the development application,” says Sandstrom. The POA’s bylaws declare that a public notice for meetings, such as those held by the POA’s design review committee (DRC) to assess building applications, must give 14 days of notice to the public beforehand. The Crested Butte News publishes such legal notices each week which hits newsstands on Thursdays around dawn, but the publication date is printed as Friday. Sandstrom says that one day difference made the opposition’s case for opposing the DRC decision to approve the project. 

Next, those opposed to the project appealed the DRC decision to grant a driveway variance for the project. The POA denied the appeal, as did Gunnison County, which then led the petitioners to Gunnison District Court where it is still under review. 

Meanwhile, South Butte, LLC came back with a new proposal to develop only one of the lots with a triplex. The petitioners appealed that approval on a number of grounds as well, and the POA voted to deny the appeal in January. An appeal was filed to Gunnison County in late January, and the county has determined it will schedule the matter for public hearing—at a date yet to be determined.

“The board decided that appeal did not hold weight and it [the triplex] is clearly an allowed use within our regulations,” summarizes Sandstrom. He notes that the petitioners are also protesting other projects in CB South on the basis that they are not appropriate projects for the location within the neighborhood, and that the POA has not followed a proper review process. 

The costs of these protests and appeals to the POA are adding up, explains Sandstrom. 

“Some of our fastest growing budget lines have been insurance and legal fees,” he says.

“This is a four-plus year cost, I would guess is in the six-figure range which is a quarter of our [POA] annual budget,” says Sandstrom. 

He says the petitioners’ objections are going too far. “It is very clear in our documents that this is an allowable use of the land and they [the petitioners] are using process to slow down and stop any build which they do not like. It initially started as they did not want it in their backyard, and now they have extended that beyond their backyard,” says Sandstrom.

A February newsletter from POA manager Derek Harwell sent to all POA members expressed a similar sentiment.

“Gripes about the various aspects of building in CB South, whether how out of control it is or how onerous and ‘not CB South’ it is,” wrote Harwell, was part of a January grind  he experienced. Another part of that grind, he continued, was “expensive and time-consuming petitions and appeals of multi-family projects, based on misinterpretation of our governing documents or outright misrepresentation.” 

His March newsletter did not paint a much brighter outlook. “Virtually everyone working for and volunteering with the POA has expressed that we have been talked to and treated in ways not experienced during any other time throughout our careers. To state the obvious, this is not ok and needs to be addressed by our broader community beyond just the responses of those of us in official roles within the POA,” wrote Harwell.

Gripes from a builder

Scott Dobias, a builder who had architectural plans and was working through the engineering study to build a fourplex along Teocalli, says he pulled his project  application based on previous disagreements with the DRC over a duplex he built on Blackstock Drive and a sense that some of their perspectives are anti-growth or anti-density. 

However, DRC members say that Dobias was out of compliance with his duplex.

According to DRC manager Theresa Henry, Dobias’ application for the duplex was approved in November 2019, and it was then discovered that the project was not being built according to the approved design. “There were several issues that were brought to the DRC in April 2022. The DRC made recommendations to the applicant to help bring the duplex into compliance. The applicant, Dobias, did not agree with several recommendations given (as a courtesy) to the applicant. The DRC, as another courtesy, allowed Scott to provide the DRC with alternatives to their recommendations for review and approval,” summarizes Henry.

Dobias came before the DRC again in November 2023, and the DRC asked him to come back with viable options for a horizontal break on the rear elevation of the building. He came back in January 2024 agreeing to provide shed roofs, according to DRC records.  

Dobias says he feels the details have gotten in the way of affordability. “In my own opinion the CB South community was originally intended to be for the lower income workers, people who lived here full-time. And I think there’s a lot of people in the CB South community who now want to take the perspective of ‘not in my backyard,’” he says of some petitions and the regulations around open space and protecting neighboring views. 

“I think we’re going through some growing pains in CB South. That runs up the cost of construction and scares away the developers. I’m zoned for four units, and I had so many interactions with the DRC over details such as ‘what color brown?’ and issues of view preservation that I decided to walk away.” Dobias says he believes restricting denser housing is keeping locals from being able to live there. “We have no more room in Crested Butte, and Mt. CB is financially out of reach for so many. So it’s either CB South or Gunnison.”

Dobias believes that the Commercial Area Master Plan (CAMP) has conflicting language around its zoning, and points out that CB South doesn’t have a very large village center. “We need restaurants and we need a little retail, and a fuel station and a hardware store. For a community to be a community you have to have those things.” 

But Dobias argues that it doesn’t need to be where people live. “And I actually think they did a really good job in 2020 when they created that plan [CAMP]. But I didn’t read it as carefully at the time and it turns out it does say some things that are more limiting. Filing 2 should be zoned for multi-family units.”

Dobias’ Blackstock duplex is now rented long-term to two young families. “I was planning to do the same thing on the corner of Escalante and Teocalli. That’s the project that I started on and that’s the project that I pulled the plug on because of arguments with the DRC,” he said. He is now altering those plans to reapply for a fourplex building permit at Teocalli.

“If we continue to go with needing more open space and less height, we are going to run up the cost of building properties. And if we do that we are not incentivizing housing. We cannot continue to rely on the bigger entities and governing boards in Gunnison County to do it. We need the small developers that can build properties that make sense financially. No one is going to build a rental if it’s too expensive to offer reasonable rent.”

Ultimately, Dobias says, “I think our POA manager, our POA directors have a pretty good handle on things.” But he doesn’t see eye to eye with some DRC decisions. 

“I would like to see a more transparent and clear set of requirements for reviewing projects. There’s so much conflicting, misleading and confusing information in those documents that leads to a lot of interpretations.”

Long-standing DRC member Ben White says he understands the frustration some builders have when their projects don’t work out the way they want, whether due to site constraints or disagreements with the DRC board. This might also be true of neighbors who don’t like what is proposed to be built near their homes. 

“The entire process of the DRC is meant to be as open and transparent as possible. If that process creates a negative experience for someone, that too is transparent,” says White.

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