Project now appears to be at impasse

The future of the Corner at Brush Creek — a proposed affordable housing development south of Crested Butte — may be in jeopardy following the failure of four stakeholders to reach an agreement on the sale of jointly controlled land.

However, Gatesco owner Gary Gates — the Houston-based developer proposing the project — said Wednesday morning he will continue to pursue the development and proceed with a joint public hearing with Gunnison County Planning Commission and the Board of County Commissioners scheduled for next week.

“We’re going to continue on because we feel it is the right thing for the community,” Gates said Wednesday morning.

Tie vote results in ‘no’

Mt. Crested Butte Town Council Tuesday night failed to approve the sale of the 14.29 acre parcel at the corner of Hwy. 135 and Brush Creek Road in a split vote, 3-3. Council members Janet Farmer, Nicholas Kempin and Danny D’Aquila voted to approve the sale contract. Mayor Todd Barnes, and council members Ken Lodovico and Lauren Daniel voted against the sale. Council member David O’Reilly was not present for the vote. Per the town’s charter, a tie vote results in a “no.”

“The council people who voted against (the contract) were most concerned about density,” said Town Manager Joe Fitzpatrick. “Even though we weren’t voting on the project — that’s the (county) process — they still wanted to send that message.”

Town Attorney Kathleen Fogo said a lengthy debate on the project followed an executive session.

“It was a really productive discussion,” Fogo said. “But in the end, three-to-three doesn’t get you there.”

The Brush Creek parcel was purchased in 1998 jointly by Gunnison County, the Town of Crested Butte, the Town of Mt. Crested Butte and Crested Butte Mountain Resort. It was bought specifically for eventual use in affordable housing development.

Gatesco was chosen by the four entities as the project’s developer after completing a Request for Qualifications and Request for Proposal selection process.

In exchange for a below-market purchase price for the land, Gatesco has proposed to devote a percentage of new units as affordable housing tied to Area Median Income (AMI).

The developer has filed a formal land-use change application with Gunnison County which is currently under review. As part of the proposal, more than 62 percent of the 240-unit development was to be deed restricted for residents making 180 percent or less of AMI.

However, disposition of the land is subject to an agreement among the four parcel stakeholders. Gunnison County and CBMR have approved the sale, while the Town of Crested Butte did not. Mt. Crested Butte was the deciding vote.

County Manager Matthew Birnie — who could not be reached for comment this week — previously said the disposition of the land is subject to the agreement among the parties, and that a majority of the parties would have to approve the terms of the sale for it to proceed.

Councilwoman Farmer — who voted to approve the project — confirmed for the Times Fitzpatrick’s assertion that council was concerned about the density of the project, and the members asked Gatesco owner Gary Gates to reduce the project size, even if that meant cutting the number of affordable units.

She said no one at the meeting wanted to see the project die — council simply wanted to consider a smaller project.

Farmer said she realized her “yes” vote may not be popular with constituents. Still, she said, she felt it necessary to make a tough call in favor of affordable housing.

“I think everyone struggled. None of us took it lightly,” said Farmer. “We were all aware of the consequences of our vote. It was hard for everybody.”

Sending a message

The future of the Brush Creek project remains unclear. Wednesday morning Gunnison County leaders declined to comment on the decision by Mt. Crested Butte council on the land deal.

“It’s always been that each entity within the MOU has the ability to voice their opinion and vote on the contract,” explained Gunnison County Commissioner John Messner. “As I have not heard the details of their conversation, nor has anyone from council or staff from Mt. Crested Butte contacted me, I can’t comment on their decision.”

Community and Economic Development Director Cathie Pagano confirmed in an e-mail to the Times that the land use change permit is still active and in progress, and that the joint public hearing is still scheduled to be held.

“Unless and until the application is withdrawn or consent from the property owner (Gunnison County) is withdrawn, the application will continue to proceed through the land use process,” Pagano wrote. “I imagine that the vote of the Mt. Crested Butte Town Council will certainly impact how the applicant decides to proceed forward.”

Gates told the Times Wednesday that he will not walk away from the project, but that he also won’t continue to pursue approval without a sale contract.

“This certainly lets me know why I don’t want to go any further without a contract — I can’t continue to spend money,” said Gates. “It’s in the hands of the county right now. If I get a phone call from (Birnie) that says, ‘Hey, it’s over,’ then it’s over. It’s really out of my hands at this point.”

Gates remained optimistic about the impending public hearing, saying he hopes to appeal to those who attend. Yet, he said he cautioned Mt. Crested Butte town leaders about the consequences if the deal falls through.

“You’re going to find it difficult to have anyone else step up to the plate here when I went through a process, I followed the rules and I got picked unanimously and everyone knew it was going to be 240 units,” Gates said. “I have faith in people and I hope that there are going to be those who come (to the public hearing) with an open mind and will listen to reason.”

Project manager John O’Neal said the company still has options to pursue and that he felt the vote by Mt. Crested Butte council was not intended to defeat the project, but simply to send a message.

“I think there are options to move forward and we are exploring all of them,” O’Neal said. “I did not get the signal that the town of Mt. Crested Butte was trying to kill the project or shut it down with this vote. I think they were trying to say, ‘Hey, we’re not sure our voice is being heard.’”

Tuesday night’s vote was just one of the bumps in the road for the Brush Creek project.

Crested Butte Town Council Monday night approved a letter to Gunnison County Planning Commission recommending it deny approval of the project’s application for a major land use change. As of press time Director Pagano said that letter had not been received.

The joint public hearing on the Corner at Brush Creek will be held Friday, Feb. 16 in the Ballroom at the Lodge at Mountaineer Square, 620 Gothic Road, Mt. Crested Butte.

(Chris Rourke can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or at chris.rourke@gunnisontimes.com.)