It may not be much in the grand scheme of things, but City of Gunnison leaders have agreed to pony up $10,000 to help facilitate a multi-pronged land exchange which would generate about $2.5 million for affordable housing in the Gunnison Valley and permanently protect a popular swimming hole at Long Lake near Crested Butte.
City leaders were approached last Tuesday by proponents of the project who requested a much larger contribution of $250,000 to aid the effort. While city leaders indicated they were unable to fund the full request, it’s hoped that the project would result in financial support of affordable housing efforts in the city.
Many residents of the Gunnison Valley are familiar with Long Lake located southwest of Meridian Lake subdivision north of Crested Butte. A steep trail climbs to a spot with a rope swing and it’s the next best thing to a beach. However, the land surrounding Long Lake is owned by the U.S. Forest Service, because it’s bordered by private property is slated for disposal by the agency, potentially through an auction.
The situation sparked an idea for the Crested Butte Land Trust, a nonprofit dedicated to preserve lands for vistas, wildlife and ranching to acquire ownership of the property.
The proposed land exchange between the Forest Service and the Land Trust involves several moving parts. First, the Crested Butte Land Trust would purchase 628 acres of land in the Fossil Ridge area from the Trust for Public Land and transfer the property to the Forest Service along with an additional 15-acre parcel owned by the Land Trust near Copley Lake.
The Land Trust would then take possession of the 120 acres surrounding Long Lake that is now under Forest Service control. Public access to all three parcels would continue to exist.
Following the land exchange, Trust for Public Land would donate proceeds from the Fossil Ridge sale — paid by the Land Trust — to the Gunnison Valley Housing Foundation to the tune of approximately $2.5 million.
Housing a long-term vision
The Fossil Ridge property was donated to Trust for Public Land in 2010 by longtime Gunnison residents Butch and Judy Clark. The gift included a stipulation that if and when the property was sold once more, the proceeds would go directly to the Housing Foundation.
Project costs total about $3.3 million, for which the Land Trust is currently in the midst of fundraising. The Land Trust has raised $2.1 million to date, leaving $1.2 million remaining to raise by the end of May.
Major contributions thus far have included $1 million from the Town of Crested Butte, nearly $300,000 from private donations, $250,000 from the Gunnison Valley Land Preservation Fund and $50,000 from the Town of Mt. Crested Butte’s affordable housing fund.
While the Housing Foundation has no specific projects in the pipeline, the funds will be used to pursue three priorities outlined by the foundation’s board, said Chair Jim Starr.
“This would increase the amount of money we have to leverage for whatever projects or loans by three-fold,” explained Starr.
One of the top priorities involves land-banking — or the purchase of land that would be available to potential developers of affordable housing. The second goal is to grant funds to governmental entities to be used for future projects, and the third priority would be to lend money to private developers for building affordable housing, said Starr.
Gunnison City Manager Russ Forrest indicated that the city currently has approximately $218,000 in its strategic fund, and as a result could not provide the full $250,000 requested.
“If I was really honest we’ll need every penny of that to make Lazy K work at the end of the day,” said Forrest of the most recent housing project in the City of Gunnison.
However, Forrest noted his interest in a continued partnership with the Housing Foundation in light of challenges faced by communities such as Gunnison in developing housing.
Following the failure of a measure aimed at providing a dedicated revenue stream for affordable housing in the Gunnison Valley this past November, local leaders have since been scrambling to find creative solutions.
‘A very creative approach’
Given the city’s current budget, the Housing Foundation asked for a much more modest contribution to aid in the exchange at the amount of $10,000 — an amount they play to request from the city again this coming fall to further support the project.
“Their $10K now could turn into six figures in the future in terms of supporting a housing project,” Forrest noted.
Housing Foundation Executive Director Darin Higgins also offered a sales pitch to city leaders.
“We want to pick up either where red tape is cost preventative for the city or you’re just short on funds,” said Higgins, extending his support for the Lazy K project, for which Crested Butte-based developer John Stock plans to break ground this year.
One of the biggest costs for the project is public roads and utilities that are still needed on site, said Forrest of the ways in which the Housing Foundation could offer a helping hand.
“I live in the City of Gunnison and I really felt that the city has underutilized us compared to other entities,” said Higgins.
He pointed to several examples for aid of affordable housing — such as planning for the Lot 22 project on land owned by Gunnison County in the north part of the city. Without the financial assistance from the Housing Foundation, for example, the county would have spent nearly six months securing funds and approving an architect, Higgins said.
“It’s a very creative approach that frees up a lot of money for housing in the valley which is our most critical concern,” opined Councilor Mallory Logan of the land exchange.
(Kate Gienapp can be reached at 970.641.1414 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)