CB maneuvers to retain voice in land transfer

Contract calls for $100,000 sale

By Mark Reaman

In an effort to keep the town’s options open when it comes to transferring or preventing the publicly owned land at Brush Creek from being sold to a developer, Crested Butte councilman Chris Ladoulis took the step last week to officially file with the county clerk the memorandum of agreement approved in 1998. The MOA outlines the partnership and potential uses approved for the land. Having the MOA on file could raise a red flag for a title company and cause a reevaluation of the deal, should the land proceed to sale. It could also strengthen the town’s legal position if it came to such a situation.

The MOA was signed in June of 1998 by the towns of Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte, Gunnison County and Crested Butte Mountain Resort but never filed with the clerk. While the title to the property is held by the county, all the parties in the MOA contributed money or land to the property that was meant to be used for parking and/or affordable housing.

Filing could throw a cloud on any potential sale of the property to Gatesco Inc., which has a proposal in the county process to develop the 14-acre property with 240 rental units. The development company would like title to the land before finishing the county LUR (Land Use Resolution) review process. The Crested Butte Town Council has objected to such action.

“There’s no question we need affordable housing. This project may or may not provide the answer,” Ladoulis said. “My concerns are with the process. The town sent a very reasoned letter asking the partners in the property to slow down the process so we could gather more information and get more public input, especially before the property is sold to Gatesco. That wasn’t happening and in fact it appears that [county manager] Matthew Birnie sent Gatesco a purchase agreement Thursday before the public meeting held on the topic at the Center for the Arts. That is extremely disappointing.”

The county did indeed submit a sales contract proposal to Gatesco. Birnie is on vacation this week but county attorney David Baumgarten said “negotiations are ongoing.”

The Crested Butte News obtained a copy of the agreement sent to Gatesco and the sale price in the proposed contract is $100,000 with essentially a buy-back clause for $200,000 if the project is not approved by the county or  if the project is not started in a timely fashion.

Gatesco spokesperson John O’Neal said the development team is looking over the proposed agreement. “We are in the process of reviewing the contract,” he said. “There is no expected timeline at this point.”

Ladoulis explained that the MOA was not “recorded” in 1998, which may have been an oversight, or an indication that all four partners were in alignment at that time on how the parcel should be used.

Crested Butte town attorney Barbara Green said Ladoulis, or anyone, could have recorded the document with the county clerk so no council approval was needed to take the action. “No one knows why it was not recorded before or since but that is not the type of agreement typically recorded,” Green said.

“Here we are 20 years later, trying to discern meaning from certain clauses, in particular whether the intent was to use the parcel for any more than affordable housing and parking, and if an amendment to the MOA is required to effect that change of use,” Ladoulis said. “The current proposal has significant free market housing included in the plan. In light of these questions, I felt the failure to record the MOA could be misinterpreted. That inaction could have been viewed as an acceptance of our partners’ plan to sell the parcel without an amendment, over the Town Council’s objections.”

Last week the council renewed its objection to the parcel being sold before all partners discuss an amendment. Ladoulis feels the council’s request has been essentially dismissed by Mt. Crested Butte and ignored by CBMR and Gunnison County.

“If we are serious, we should be prepared to take further action to prevent a sale without an amendment,” said Ladoulis. “An MOA personally recorded by an elected official may get more attention. Maybe not. But if it encourages a title company to talk to the town before a sale, we could retain a seat at the negotiating table, where we belong. There are significant impacts of a 240-unit, 700-person development two miles from Crested Butte, and these would primarily fall on us. This action gives us the option to stand behind our stated objections, and become more directly accountable for the end results.”

The council will discuss the situation at its meeting scheduled for this Monday evening.