Guest Commentary: Irony Over Brush Creek Inescapable

By Paul Holden
via Gunnison Country Times

Last week I attended the hearing on Brush Creek at the Planning Commission. It was an interesting although not altogether edifying experience.

The meeting was held in the County Commissioners Room and was attended by a large number of people, with standing room only. Glancing around the room, two things were evident. Few if any of the people that affordable housing is supposed to help were in attendance. (They were probably working.) Second, the average income of most of the attendees was several multiples of the annual minimum income that would qualify for affordable housing.

The atmosphere in the room bristled with tension as speaker after speaker attacked the concept behind the project, the motivations and character of the developer, the disasters that would befall drivers on Brush Creek road in the winter. Others claimed that rising building costs would bankrupt the developer leaving Crested Butte with a slum.

The attorney for the “Friends” of Brush Creek (it is interesting that whenever people organize to oppose a project in the Gunnison Valley, they attach the “Friends” moniker to their group) impugned the “free market” for reasons that were unclear except that he appeared to object to the project being privately funded. A woman arose to say that the proposed population density of Brush Creek will be unbearable for all the residents, which greatly raised my sympathies for the inhabitants of Manhattan.

There were few advocates for the concept as it stood. One business woman from Crested Butte spoke eloquently of the problems faced by her large number of employees and supported strongly the project. She was the main proponent, but she attracted little support as the large mob of opponents continued to berate every aspect of the project.

Friends of Brush Creek, claim to be deeply concerned about the plight of those who need affordable housing – so concerned, in fact, that as part of the conditions that must be fulfilled to elicit their support is that all kitchens in the apartments must have solid granite counters – a particular characteristic that I had not realized was necessary for housing to be affordable.

I guess that until this happens, some workers will have to continue to live in campers. The opponents of Brush Creek appeared to be unaware of the irony inherent in putting this requirement into the list of non-negotiable demands that must be met before the project can go ahead.

Thankfully, this is the last phase of hearings on the process to determine whether the initial phase of the project will go forward. However, as I listened to the County Attorney and the members of the Planning Commission outline the next steps of the project, It sounded as if the process, which has already dragged on for a year, will take a very long time to be completed before construction can even commence. Where additional accommodation will come from in the meantime is anybody’s guess. Maybe providing affordable housing is not as pressing as everybody claims it to be.

Further, there were several unspoken issues that underlay the discussions. What nobody said, but should have, was that the County has a developer willing to supply 15% of the estimated housing shortfall of housing in the Gunnison Valley without any use of public funds. However, he is being vehemently opposed by a small group of up valley residents on any pretext that they can come up with.

The Mayor of Crested Butte said that he was “insulted” by the suggestion that Crested Butte should provide an affordable housing subsidy yet appears to be comfortable with all the property owners in the county providing the same type of subsidy through a property tax. Others expressed concern about the use of water by the development, failing to note that it is within a short walk of a golf course that uses a vastly greater amount of water.

The hearing revealed several issues that impinge on our democratic processes. First, it was striking how a small group of vocal people opposed to the project were able to wield a disproportionate influence on the hearings. Second, neither the Planning Commission, nor the County Commissioners asked for more input from those whom the project would benefit.

Third, the potential effect on housing availability of more than 200 new houses on the supply of dwellings in the Gunnison Valley did not come up. Finally, the irony of opposing Brush Creek while advocating for a tax increase to supply affordable housing appeared to have escaped all those present.

As I said at the beginning of this column, the experience of the hearing was not edifying.

(Paul Holden is an international economist who runs the Enterprise Research Institute)

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