“Slow it down, answer the questions, make it smaller seems to be a summary…”[ BY MARK REAMAN ] (Editor’s note: For a longer version of this story with additional comments go to www.crestedbuttenews.com)
A two-hour meeting on Thursday, October 5 packed the Crested Butte Center for the Arts with more than 200 people anxious to comment and raise questions on the proposed Brush Creek affordable housing project. They did. The vast majority of the comments and questions were on the “against” side of the public meter but the developers attended the meeting and promised to consider all the questions and concerns and address them before the county Planning Commission work session scheduled for October 20. Houston development company Gatesco has proposed building 240 rental units on 14 acres located at the corner of Brush Creek Road and Highway 135. Gatesco is in the process of striking an agreement to purchase the property from Gunnison County for $100,000 while they are in the sketch plan phase of the county Land Use Resolution (LUR) review process. The county holds title to the property but a memorandum of agreement (MOA) was signed between the county, the towns of Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte, and Crested Butte Mountain Resort to control the property in 1998. Crested Butte has raised several objections to the current process and agreed to hold the public meeting to gather input from citizens to aid them in forming a comprehensive response to the county Planning Commission. Facilitated by town manager Dara MacDonald and broadcast on KBUT, the meeting was civil and controlled for most of the two hours. MacDonald provided some background on how the proposal has gotten to the current point and gave a basic overview of the proposal. She said most questions wouldn’t be answered that night but would be recorded to include in the town’s comments to the Planning Commission.
The following is a sampling of comments, questions and summations of lengthy quotes. We hope we are close with the spelling of t he names…
Summarizing why he felt the project was essential to the town, John O’Neal of Gatesco said it is the people of the community who make the place magical. “When people leave we lose some of the magic,” he said. “Lots of things are changing in the community and we can’t do anything about many of them. But we can make room for more locals. This is what this project attempts to do. We need enough affordable housing to keep Crested Butte the special town it is. It is a big project but we’re in a deep hole. I think this project does something to keep the community special.”
“Is this really in response to the need for housing brought up in the Needs Assessment report?” asked Tom Hamilton. “If the goal is affordable housing, is this really affordable? Truly affordable housing at 60 percent or less of AMI [Average Median Income for one person is $48,200 so 60 percent AMI would be $28,920] would apply to only 33 of the units in this 240-unit project. That’s about the same as Anthracite Place. And it will really have huge consequences on the upper valley and places like the school. It makes more sense to spread it out—say 50 in the south valley, 50 in the mid-valley and 50 in the north valley. In terms of solving affordable housing it falls short with a large number of units set aside for people making more than 100 percent of AMI. This proposal is visionary but it also misguided. It is too much, too fast and not the right next step for this community.” Mt. Crested Butte mayor Todd Barnes tried to shed some light on the AMI and units that would be restricted to renters making less than 180 percent of AMI ($89,230 for an individual or $127,440 for a four-person household). “So 156 of the 240 units would have a deed restriction on them,” he said.
Price of units
“What is the wisdom of selling the property [below market value] before a plan is approved?”’ asked John Stenmark. MacDonald said the Crested Butte council has asked for an appraisal of the property. “When residents leave and come back to the valley there are some ‘awe moments’ when driving in. This doesn’t fit into that,” noted Woody Sherwood. “The LUR is supposed to keep development in context of the neighborhood. Ownership opportunities where people buy into the community would be good. Entry level housing is a better idea and that will open up other places.” “The Needs Assessment is a double-edged sword everyone is dealing with. The last big project at the ski area had a lot of the workforce stay in the valley,” said John Stock. “Plus there are guys in the valley who could do a third of the project. In the last year, new county codes have raised the costs of individual units by about $10,000. That pushes people out. The battle needs to be fought on every level.”
Rental versus owning
“I think the affordable housing is great but if there is no chance to move up from rental to ownership what are the local benefits of people living there?” asked Jessie Ludwig. “If the units are not rented out, what happens?” asked Sally Jandrall. “The Needs Assessment predicted 200 people would be moving to the north valley, not 800. If it’s built and not rented, does the developer just walk away with millions of dollars?”
“I can’t imagine taking half of Crested Butte and putting it on 13 acres,” said Debbie Brannian. “The traffic issues will be big and complex. We all want to make Crested Butte an even better place and we need to think of the future.” “Do the four partners in this land have access to other parcels to spread this out more and meet the needs?” asked Oscar Horan. “How does this plan fit into Crested Butte’s three-mile plan?” asked Leah Williams. “Public property being handed to a private entity is a concern. People living here come with varied backgrounds and economics but we are all neighbors here. I’m in favor of dispersing affordable housing throughout our neighborhoods. This looks like a standard procedure project from the last 30 years.” “With no zoning in the county the LUR relies heavily on surrounding neighborhoods for context,” said Mike Wright. “This is ten times the density of Larkspur which is the densest neighborhood out there. The LUR allows higher density for a developer that includes affordable housing but additional density is still supposed to be appropriate for the area. There are also unintended consequences to consider. There are two big parcels of property a stone’s throw from this property so will they be allowed to build to this new density? Is it a precedent for future developers? I find that concerning and am afraid it opens a door and is a real game-changer for the north end of the valley. “I have older kids and employees and subcontractors that are struggling to find places to live up here so I understand the need for affordable housing,” he continued. “But I’m for responsible affordable housing and this isn’t it.” “These are the types of developments that change communities,” said David Bremmer. “The density is an issue but so is the height. Thirty-eight-foot tall buildings will destroy the feel of the community. “Having been on the Land Trust when we sold the property, we never felt there would ever be this many units on that size space,” relayed Glo Cunningham. “It is a lot of buildings and I think whatever is out there should be 100 percent affordable housing.” “The sketch plan map brings up all our fears. And it makes us afraid. It is too much,” said Monica Bilow. “What power do we have in a small town to influence this? We need affordable housing but this is scary. I want to continue living in peace here.” “I’m disappointed in how the local governments did this process,” said John Hess. “It is dividing people, not uniting people. If we keep building affordable housing like this over and over and over shouldn’t there be open space impacts included, like an acre per unit. Not necessarily on site, but it is growth. Density should remain similar to the neighborhood and this much density should include commercial space. It’s the size of the town in the 1990s The county track record on affordable housing isn’t very good. There were once deed restricted houses in Skyland but the county eliminated the restrictions on some of them. How do we know the deed restrictions will be maintained over time? Six hundred people deserve things like ball fields and a school site—or is that expected to be handled by the town?
Susan Sweetra said the water and sewer issues were major concerns. “The town was running out of water last summer and asking people to stop using it,” she said. “We’ve had some dry years and junior water rights have come close to being called and the water could be shut off. And after seeing 100 inches of snow in ten days last winter, they really want to build big buildings with flat roofs? Seriously? “It is too big. But if it is that big, where are the renewable resources like solar panels?” she asked. “It should work economically and environmentally for the whole community. It should be done in an environmentally conscious manner.” “If they treat their own sewage, it will be dumped into the Slate River. That’s a big environmental concern,” said Rosalind Cook. “I’m concerned with the placement of the sewage treatment plant,’ said Linda Roberts. “Will we be greeted by a sewage smell on the highway into town? What about the units near the plant?”
“My big beef is they need more parking for the residents out there. People might take the bus to work but they’ll use their car to run in and get a half gallon of milk,” Grant Bremer said. “There’s just not enough parking for the numbers. “The name of the property on the MOA was the ‘the parking lot parcel,’” continued Bremer. “There are 300 parking spaces for 600 or 700 people. Most people own cars. The proponents suggest residents will walk, bike or ski to town. The path they show to town is on Skyland Metro District property. The bridge on the path is owned by Skyland. The path goes through Riverbend property. No one asked those property owners to use the paths. What if Skyland goes all Trump and builds a wall? A big, beautiful wall. I’m not saying it will happen but…” “Think about the pets,” said Carol Webb. “There will probably be 200 dogs expected on the property. I’m concerned with the animal issues. Poop, the space to exercise. Dogs running into the street and the highway.” “What happens when an additional 200 to 300 kids show up to the school that is almost full now?” asked Clay Berger. “Who pays for traffic infrastructure like the stoplights? The developers or the taxpayers?” asked Jackie Kingsdale. “This changes the idea of maintaining an open corridor coming into Crested Butte.”
On the pro side:
“I’m 28 years old and can’t afford to live in Crested Butte. I think this is a good idea,” said Zach Smith. John said he has rented for years and has to keep moving around so, “I like the development. Why not make VRBOs illegal so owners will be more inclined to rent long-term,” he asked.
Wrapping it up
Gatesco principal Gary Gates addressed the crowd saying he was motivated by reading in the paper how much the county needed affordable housing. His company owns and manages a total of 6,000 apartment units. One of his children runs the Painted Pony Café in Crested Butte. Gates said he works 66 hours a week because he can’t find employees in part because of the housing situation. “What motivated us was seeing the need for affordable housing,” he said. “It’s a real issue. We knew we needed members of the community on the team. The issues brought up tonight are real issues so come by the Painted Pony and we would love to address the concerns and work through them. We want this to be a project done in a collaborative way and work with the community.” “It seems to me that what is going on here is the project is too big, the process is moving too fast and people feel in the dark so have a lot of questions,” concluded Jeff Isaac. “So the message is to slow down, answer the questions and make it smaller. That seems a summary from tonight.” “It baffles my mind that the county hasn’t done a meeting like this,” said Laura Irwin. “I’m grateful the town did do it and that Gatesco is here to listen. Once this development is done it is there forever. We need a lot of discussion on this.” Gatesco attorney Kendall Burgemeister said the development team would address the questions brought up at the meeting and put the responses on its website before the October 20 meeting with the county Planning Commission.