Gone are a “big box” store and monolithic housing options.
A revamped design for the Gunnison Rising annexation calls for diverse homes, a walkable neighborhood, smaller retail stores and a space for entrepreneurs.
The newly drafted “Concept Plan” for the 633-acre property at the city’s east end was presented to County Commissioners and City of Gunnison leaders Tuesday. The property was annexed into Gunnison in 2009, yet no development has occurred on the property since. Chief among the obstacles is how to pay for infrastructure — such as sewers, roads and utilities — in the grassy meadows adjacent to Hwy. 50.
Earlier this year, Gunnison Valley Properties (GVP), the owners of Gunnison Rising, decided to take a fresh look at the project’s master plan. GVP asked for support from city and county officials as well as leaders at Western Colorado University. Each agreed, contributing financially to the planning process.
GVP principal Dick Bratton then engaged Cascadia Partners LLC of Portland, Ore., and managing partner Alex Joyce to redesign the property.
The redesign process
Representatives from each of the partners met over an eightmonth period to provide input on project goals, development priorities, major catalyst projects and obstacles to be overcome.
Joyce said it is a rare opportunity to collectively craft the vision for such a large piece of property that is well positioned with such natural beauty and amenities.
“The big picture is all about creating a logical, smart plan for the growth of Gunnison as a buffer community,” Joyce said. “This is the most substantial growth opportunity for the city hands down, so you want to make sure you get it right because it’s a generational profit.”
The “big ideas” planned for the neighborhood include the incorporation of a “Canal Trail,” connecting homes to parks, trails, Western and downtown Gunnison. It also will limit commercial frontage to three primary intersections, avoiding long stretches of commercial property along the highway. Landscaped berms, fencing and trails will line the highway between the intersections. A community gathering place — called “The Barn” — will include amenities such as a cafe, bar, food hall and marketplace.
Finally, a Maker’s District will provide space for small-scale entrepreneurs — such as ski and bike manufacturers, brewers and distillers. Possible live-workshops with studio apartments above the creative spaces may be incorporated. A designated state park could be established as well.
Joyce noted that the property would be developed in phases over a long period of time.
The Concept Plan will be used as a guide as GVP asks the city for changes to the existing Planned Unit Development (PUD) for the property. The plan also will be provided as the city updates its Comprehensive Plan — a document which provides a long term vision for the community, and is up for revision. Joyce also has been hired by the city to review its Land Development Code.
County Manager Matthew Birnie asked if the developer would wait until the city’s Comprehensive Plan was completed before pursuing the PUD change. Joyce said, “Probably not.”
Joyce acknowledged that a major amendment to the PUD would take time, and the Comprehensive Plan would be well into the public input phase before any action would be taken on the PUD.
“We’re hoping there will be opportunities to tweak (the plan) here and there if other big ideas come up,” said Joyce. “At the beginning of this we all hoped to be well into the (comprehensive) plan by now, but that’s life.”
A long-term vision
Joyce and Bratton also presented the Concept Plan to Gunnison City Council Tuesday. City leaders were receptive to the concept, in part, for providing greater connectivity to the community.
Councilor Mallory Logan expressed approval of the idea for the Canal Trail, which incorporates a waterway for the community to travel. However, she questioned whether public transportation — such as bus routes, stops and related parking —had been considered.
Joyce responded that discussions with the Gunnison Valley Rural Transportation Authority (RTA) are far in the future. For problems such as parking, Joyce sees the streets themselves as providing parking.
Another concern for council was the effect on the city from additional density — including as it pertains to the school district. While there is not school within the Concept Plan, Joyce assured council that the idea is not something that’s out of mind.
“We want to have a school, why wouldn’t we embrace that with open arms?” Joyce said.
County Commissioners asked Joyce if he was investigating financing through the designation of Gunnison as an “Opportunity Zone.” The federal program provides a tax incentive for reinvestment of unrealized capital gains into low-income urban and rural communities. Joyce said the ideal investor would be someone who knows the valley and wants to make a long-term positive impact.
“Luckily, this valley has people with the means to make those kinds of impacts,” Joyce said. “It’s just convincing them of the long-term value of doing something like this.”
(-Chris Rourke and Kate Gienapp, Times Staff Writers)