Last Chance for Leadership

via Gunnison Country Times

In the face of the most contentious issues, effective leaders have a way of bringing people together. If there is any such need at the moment, it’s over the contentious housing project known as The Corner at Brush Creek. The fate of affordable housing efforts in the valley for years to come rides on it.

How so?

Look no further than the affordable housing property tax question bound for November’s ballot. The two issues are not directly related. Should the tax pass, it would not help pay for Brush Creek.

However, voters — particularly at the south end of the valley — may not be convinced of the need to reach in their pockets while north-valley residents are fighting tooth and nail a developer-funded Brush Creek project.

Alternatively, a successful Brush Creek project would send the message that all are willing to sacrifice something and bridge a rift that Brush Creek has further exacerbated.

In short, voters may be much more willing to chip in — if not in November, then at some point in the future — to help solve the problem.

After nearly a year of Gunnison County Planning Commission reviewing the proposal, staff has produced a draft recommendation for approval, and a vote is slated for tomorrow, Aug. 3. At 64 pages in length, a modest three pages are devoted to conditions for approval.

While virtually all of those conditions are requirements pertaining to the next, “preliminary,” phase of review in the county’s three-stage process, one particular condition sticks out like a sore thumb. In fact, it’s a condition proposed by the developers themselves.

Prior to the submittal of a preliminary plan, it’s required that Gatesco obtain consent for the project from three of the four parties controlling the land. There’s a perplexing history on this topic alone.

In 1998, the towns of Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte, Gunnison County and Crested Butte Mountain Resort provided the funding to purchase the property on which the Brush Creek project would be located. Last year, the partners unanimously agreed that Gatesco was most qualified to develop affordable housing on the parcel.

However, after the developer submitted plans, the partners’ views diverged.

Specifically, town councils in Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte have declined to vote in favor of transferring ownership of the property to Gatesco because they oppose the proposal in its current form. County attorney David Baumgarten has attempted to mediate a solution that appeases all parties but thus far a solution hasn’t materialized. Help is needed.

Unless things change, that single condition in the draft recommendation will keep the project from coming to fruition. Brush Creek is not a done deal, no matter what happens tomorrow before Planning Commission, or how County Commissioners vote next week.

Without the majority of parties controlling the property agreeing to its sale to Gatesco, the applicants’ own self-imposed condition can’t be met, and the Gunnison Valley loses out on an opportunity to receive a sizable chunk of needed affordable units at no additional expense to taxpayers.

While the challenge may seem daunting, we see opportunity for leaders at the north end of the valley to brush petty infighting and extreme views to the side and find a solution that works — one that keeps Gatesco at the table and results in the Corner at Brush Creek coming to fruition in some form. We recognize that some elected leaders at the north end of the valley have aligned themselves with the most ardent opponents of the project. Perhaps this isn’t a job for them.

However, for others, whose views may be more nuanced and who have earned the trust of north-valley residents (hint, hint, County Commissioner candidates), duty calls.

The draft recommendation for approval states that the sketch plan stage of review is intended, “To encourage the consideration of alternatives and to allow the Sketch Plan to evolve, detailed engineering plans and other overly detailed information shall not be required nor accepted by the County.”

In fact, the project has evolved. The draft lists eight modifications to the original application, including greater setbacks, decreased building density, lower building square footage and fewer buildings. And there’s nothing preventing additional modifications even after the plan is approved at the sketch plan phase.

We’ve said before and we’ll say it again: Affordable housing solutions require sacrifice, but sacrifice from both sides would mean a win for all.

(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.)

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