CB agrees to start Paradise Park housing

Discussion over where to focus…

By Mark Reaman 

While acknowledging there was not an infinite amount of money to be spent on affordable housing projects, the Crested Butte town council agreed on May 29 to proceed with the Paradise Park Phase 1 housing project to be built by contractor High Mountain Concepts (HMC). The nine-unit first phase development will cost about $5.1 million and construction will begin in mid-June. John Stock of HMC told the council he was confident the units would be ready for a temporary certificate of occupancy by next March. The second phase will include five more units. Both phases will be financed by a so-called certificate of participation (COP) bond of approximately $8.1 million.

The town council held a long philosophical discussion over how best to fund workforce housing projects in the region. Mayor Ian Billick said he had been struggling with the decision to proceed with the Paradise Park development. “There are several big projects trying to get going in the valley simultaneously,” he said. “There’s this one, Whetstone, the Homestead project. Everyone wants it all. There has been a lot of talk of local stakeholders working collaboratively to accomplish goals and to me seeing all these projects coming to fruition at the same time without coordination on financing indicates a failure to work collaboratively. I am struggling with this. The town has also spent a lot of money on capital projects like the skate park, reducing our financial flexibility. There is a lot of uncertainty with Whetstone, and I think we should consider using our limited financial resources to perhaps contribute to Whetstone.”

“I understand your turmoil,” said Stock. “There is a price difference between this and Whetstone. Local workers make more than those coming in from out of town. They have to in order to live here. I hope you understand the impacts of a project like this. Local people are counting on this project. To kick them off to bring in people to work out of Denver or from out of state, which is what Servitas will do to keep the costs down, is impactful to local workers. Remember that people who work here also spend their money here. I hope you take that into consideration when you contract with the people making all these promises.”

“I would add there is a real premium to building affordable housing in town,” said Billick.

“John makes a compelling argument, but I have a similar dilemma as Ian,” said councilmember Jason MacMillan. “I don’t think that because Servitas is bringing in workers from out of town makes it a less important project. I think Whetstone is needed and required for the valley. I have found the county to be really collaborative in the last year and I don’t want to undermine their work.”

Stock said he wasn’t sure anyone could be certain over the timing and costs of the Whetstone project at this point.

“Everyone really does want it all. If we dig deep, are there strategies to use so that we could do this and make a significant contribution to Whetstone,” Billick asked town manager Dara MacDonald.

“Yes, absolutely,” she said. Examples include agreeing to a waiving or reduction in tap fees, letting the Whetstone developers pay the tap fee charge over several years, issuing debt to make a contribution to Whetstone to be paid with existing revenues or selling some town assets and putting the funds toward Whetstone.

“I believe a meaningful contribution to Whetstone would work its way down the food chain and benefit the larger housing market,” said Billick.

“Again, there was a proposed tax to fund affordable housing on the ballot a few years ago and it failed. Now we are looking for a consistent stream of money to fund affordable housing,” said councilmember Beth Goldstone.

MacMillan tossed out the idea of somehow leveraging the Ruby Bed & Breakfast building that the town bought a few years back for seasonal workforce housing. 

MacDonald said that could be considered, “but it’s full of town staff members.”

“It is easier to just want it all,” quipped Stock. He also pointed out how Whetstone’s rental rates would be more expensive than the Paradise Park project. Crested Butte Housing director Erin Ganser confirmed that the town project would end up with less expensive monthly rents on average.

“There have been a lot of gut-wrenching decisions in the past that have allowed people like me to live here,” said councilmember Anna Fenerty. “It wasn’t just luck. When I first heard about the idea of going into debt for this project, I thought it was crazy. But I feel it is important to have working people in houses as quickly as possible and I want to continue with this project and with HMC.”

Stock said he too has experienced the dramatic price increases in housing costs noting that he is now building a house that is costing more than twice what it would have 10 years ago. “It is scary, and I don’t know what to make of it,” he said.

“We have declared a housing emergency and this project can start in two weeks and be close to ready by next March,” said councilmember Kent Cowherd. 

“Can we do both?” asked councilmember Mallika Magner.

“There are trade-offs but yes,” said MacDonald. “Something will get postponed. We can look at the Ruby or the post office project or the marshal’s office. We can look at other ways to contribute to Whetstone.”

“Kent’s argument is compelling to me and I haven’t thought at all about somehow leveraging the Ruby,” said Billick. “At some point we will have to make a hard decision. There is a lot of uncertainty around Whetstone and I want the town to help. Maybe something like the Ruby can help bridge the uncertainty. But be aware that I will come back hard and heavy for a meaningful contribution for the county and Whetstone.”

“I agree and appreciate the argument of the importance of using local subs, they are our friends and neighbors,” said MacMillan. “If we have to sacrifice something it will still be important to push hard for Whetstone.”

“I struggle with the idea of sacrificing the Ruby,” said Magner. “I wasn’t a big proponent, but it seems to be working for a segment of the workforce. It’s really tough. I feel like if there are other funding options out there and we can do both this and Whetstone, we should.”

“We haven’t vetted any of the other strategy alternatives,” said Billick. 

“Having 14 units with Paradise Park is really important,” added councilmember Gabi Prochaska. “I’ve adjusted to the price tag. Whetstone however is important to me as well and I want to support it. We really need to talk about the heavy tradeoffs in order to help the county get to where we need to get with Whetstone.”

“I’m in favor of Whetstone too,” said Stock. “It is just a different thing from this project.”

As for the county wanting a major contribution from the town, Gunnison County assistant county manager and community and economic development director Cathie Pagano said while not necessarily expected, the county would certainly accept a contribution toward the project. “The County understands that our partners at Mt. Crested Butte, Crested Butte and Gunnison are all working on housing projects within their jurisdictions. Any of these projects are challenging to bring to fruition so we didn’t have an expectation that other jurisdictions would necessarily be able to financially support Whetstone,” she said. “We have been in communication with various local funding partners to identify opportunities for support and will continue to explore those opportunities both at the local level and at the state and federal level. We appreciate any support the Town may be able to provide as it will help make rents more affordable for our community members.” 

The council voted to proceed with Stock and the Paradise Park Project which should break ground June 19. 

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