Raw emotion surrounding a plan for workforce housing south of Crested Butte has reached an embarrassing tenor. Relationships have suffered, personal attacks have become commonplace and compromise seems a distant idea.
Perhaps it’s best that Gunnison County Planning Commission continued to a future date a public hearing on the 240-unit Corner at Brush Creek proposal this past Friday. Everyone, it seems, needs a little time to decompress, unwind and — hopefully — leave the hostility behind.
Buttons worn by some of the less belligerent attendees of Friday’s meeting urged a commendable yet ambiguous goal: “Let’s Do It Right!”
On that note, to be clear, The Corner at Brush Creek doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. There are a myriad of ways government leaders and project proponents could meet in the middle on density and other aspects of the development to ensure time, money and — most importantly — a will to address a real and pressing problem are not wasted.
For instance, chief project proponent Gary Gates says 240 units are what’s needed for the project to pencil out. However, under the current plan, Gatesco would cover the cost of infrastructure. The company also would shoulder the expense of a transit center.
If local governments at the north end of the valley were willing to bring something to the table, it stands to reason that the number of units could be reduced.
There are likely countless other ways that an acceptable plan could be produced, if elected leaders in Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte are serious about addressing housing — and not merely content with joining the anti-Brush Creek chorus.
Yet, talks between Gates and town leaders apparently haven’t broached such opportunity for compromise — if they’re taking place at all.
A plan worthy of approval
In the absence of leadership aimed at striking a middle ground, the current proposal would continue through the county review process, including a likely vote in coming weeks before Planning Commission for whether to recommend approval of the sketch plan — the first, big-picture step in a three-phase review process.
In our estimation, Planning Commission would be hard pressed to grant anything but a “thumbs up” to the project at this stage — especially considering the lengths the developers have gone to meet or exceed county requirements.
The county’s Land Use Resolution has long offered numerous incentives that set the stage for a project like Brush Creek. That includes allowing for greater density than is typical if developers provide additional open space, workforce residences, cluster residences and participate in public transportation — all four of which Gatesco’s proposal would do.
Additionally, Gatesco has conceded to community and commission concerns by increasing minimum setbacks; decreasing building density, count and square footage; reducing bedroom count; and increasing parking.
On paper, the plan, even in its current form, presents a dreamlike solution — hundreds of much-needed housing units without an additional dime of public investment — to a problem with which the valleywide community has grappled for years. A problem, no less, that is impacting Gunnison as much as the north end of the valley.
Gunnison feels the pinch
As Gates has pointed out, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, the number of people residing in the Town of Crested Butte in the 25-29 and 30-34 age groups each declined by more than 100 from 2000-2010, while those age 55-70 experienced notable growth. Similar changes are reflected in data for Mt. Crested Butte.
Also, from 2011-2017, average daily “commuters” on buses, according to data provided by Gunnison Valley Rural Transportation Authority, have increased from about 80 to 320.
The data reflect the long-held fear of a “hollowing out” of the north valley community — with retirees and second homeowners displacing working people — has been occurring for more than a decade. Gunnison is increasingly providing residences for up-valley workers.
Yet, it’s no secret that housing is a valleywide problem that demands numerous projects in a variety of locations. Leaders from each municipality, the county and housing authority began work on a plan for a pipeline of possible projects last fall at a housing conference in Glenwood Springs.
While projects elsewhere are being tossed about as potential alternatives to Brush Creek — including a 17-acre site in Mt. Crested Butte — those projects are already included on the list for future feasibility. And all of them are needed to address the problem.
In 1998, the towns of Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte, Gunnison County and Crested Butte Mountain Resort pooled their resources to purchase the property on which Gatesco is proposing The Corner at Brush Creek — with affordable housing serving as one possible use of the land. Today, that location makes perfect sense for such a project — located centrally in the upper valley between jobs in Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte, and up the highway from Crested Butte South.
A need for middle ground
So, what if the current plan for 240 units is granted approval to proceed to the next level of review? The towns of Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte — two of the four parties that purchased the land two decades ago — have blocked transfer of ownership to Gatesco. Without that transaction, the project can’t be built, and Gates hasn’t yet committed to seeing the county review process to completion without a contract for sale.
Because the four parties voted unanimously in selecting Gatesco to submit its proposal last July, we fear the lack-of-sale debacle will only result in litigation. That stifles any meaningful attempt at providing housing, and ensures the problem will only become worse while legal wrangling ensues. A situation in which no one wins.
We understand that, primarily, the number of units under Gatesco’s plan are too much for many at the north end of the valley to bear. Let’s not forget, however, that the wheels were set in motion by a consortium of well-meaning leaders — including those from the towns of Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte — through the purchase of land, search for a qualified developer and selection of Gatesco to pitch the 240-unit project. To all of which the towns agreed.
If there’s any hope, first off, for stemming the tide of discontent so pervasive at the moment and, secondly, maintaining momentum to meet housing needs, pride must be swallowed. Cool heads must prevail. And compromise must be given a chance.
(This article represents the opinion of the Times editorial board, comprised of Editor Will Shoemaker, Publisher Chris Dickey and Staff Writers Chris Rourke and Kate Gienapp.)