Numbers matter…but so does thoughtful action

Offseason excitement alert! The call is out to fill the Crested Butte town council chambers Monday evening. I get the feeling advocates for certain outcomes might be pushing the river in Monday’s case since both issues in question—a senior center location and support for tap fee and infrastructure breaks with the Whetstone housing project—are sort of in the middle of the evaluation and decision-making process. But, as in life, it never hurts to show up.

Emails are circulating asking local senior citizens in the North Valley to show up (not necessarily speak) to indicate support to the council to let them use a portion of The Depot for a senior center. The organizers say that the old HCCA offices at the north end of the building would be perfect for such a gathering spot that they envision being used for socializing, meals, informational opportunities and just an all-around community center of gravity. 

Town council is open to the idea but there are some logistics being brought up by staff, including the idea of using that space for some town offices when a renovation of the current town hall takes place at the start of next year. Staff also wants to make sure the seniors understand the reality of the Depot situation and there doesn’t appear to be a super rush needed for a definitive decision on May 20. Nevertheless, I anticipate a room full of wisdom and experience — a great gray-haired gathering —to fill the chairs in the council meeting room Monday.

The developers of the proposed Whetstone affordable housing project also put out a call Tuesday to “all who are interested in the Whetstone project to attend the Town of Crested Butte’s Council meeting on May 20th in the Council Chambers at Town Hall, where the project team will provide Council with a quick project update.”

The development team sent out a press release Tuesday in which they emphasized several times the “collaborative” nature of the project. “The project is stronger thanks to this input, and we invite you to continue to show up and voice support for much needed workforce housing in your community.”

Few will argue the need expressed for workforce housing. How it happens, however, still matters. The development team recently officially asked that tap fees be waived if the town provides water and sewer utilities. They have also made clear that while they will continue to pursue a roundabout and pedestrian underpass at the entrance to the 255-unit development by Brush Creek, they will build and rent the housing with or without that particular infrastructure in place.

One thing to keep in mind is that a council and staff are tasked with not just reacting to a room full of neighbors and constituents, but they have to evaluate all the potential ramifications of any decision and take action based on facts and the future impacts as well as emotion. The Whetstone press release mentioned the “profound collaboration culture” that is part of the Whetstone design process. There has indeed been a ton of outreach and information sharing over the project as there should be given its magnitude. That doesn’t mean everyone has to agree with everything that emerges from the process, and it certainly doesn’t mean future long-term impacts should be ignored to achieve short-term benefits, no matter how valuable.

As I mentioned in last week’s paper, it seems logical that the roundabout and pedestrian underpass should be considered part of the essential infrastructure of this project and not looked at as some add-on that would make the project better but isn’t a necessity. It is. Building 255 units that could house probably 600+ people without making sure the access to transit is easy and safe doesn’t make sense. It’s not like the town isn’t getting pushback over parking issues now and that’s before hundreds of additional people will be invited to be part of the CB community but living two-and-a-half miles from Elk Avenue. Who wants to send their kid across the highway every morning during the Trade Parade even with flashing alert lights and traffic calming devices to catch the RTA or school bus? 

I see too where the development team is asking the town to forego $7.5 million in tap fees for the project. In a nutshell, tap fees are used to essentially replace water and wastewater assets that deteriorate over time. Whetstone will add about 10% more capacity to the whole system, so it matters. If new development doesn’t participate in the fee, the financial burden simply will shift to existing rate payers.

Eliminating tap fees is a huge ask and one the town doesn’t ask for itself with its own affordable housing projects. They write a check from the general fund to the water and sewer fund because they know they need to. And while it would cut down on initial development costs, it would also hinder utility upkeep and future performance. 

Future impacts of poor transit access and unpaid utility fees matter and need to be addressed at this stage of the collaborative development process.

This development could and should be a wonderful place for people to live. Kudos to all those putting in the hours to figure it out. It is an aspirational workforce housing development that has the full support of all the local government entities. But it needs to be based in reality and decisions made beyond just checking a major goal off the list as fast as possible.

As in most of life, showing up makes a difference. Local council members and commissioners are certainly influenced when members of the community take the time and effort to show up and make a point. The skateboard community effectively showed up, expressed the positive potential of a new park and it resulted in a sweet million dollar amenity for the community I see used constantly these days. 

There will no doubt be people showing up Monday at town hall to advocate for both a senior center and workforce housing. Good on ‘em. That is a part of the democratic process. 

It will provide some offseason excitement. But ultimately, hard choices come down to those in the elected chairs who must take into account all the details and impacts of a decision. I trust the decisionmakers will look at the entire picture and what it means weeks and months and years from now when taking action, and not just when they are facing a room full of neighbors.

—Mark Reaman

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