In an ideal world, the property at the top of Elk Avenue would function according to its traditional use as a working sawmill. All of the local Crested Butte workers would live within 500 yards of their part-time jobs which have funded their freedom to ski, ride and play. The 13 acre Whetstone plot south of CB is said to be a scenic prairie filled with wildlife.
Alas, this ideal is not based on current reality. The reality is money, waves of new people who enjoy resort amenities and the gentrification of a former mining town are shifting old uses into more upscale roles like nice homes and affluent businesses. Money is now a major factor in what the city will look like, and the working class needs specific places and special efforts to continue living in the North Valley.
This is where the decisions made today come in to guide growth through smart direction and compromise.
During Monday’s appeal hearing on a minor housing development project at the top of Elk Avenue, Planning Commissioner and Crested Butte council member Jason MacMillan said he could not say. in five years if anyone would have the money to build a house on top of the hill.
He was referring to the strange plot of land at the very top of Elk Avenue that used to be a quarry and sawmill. MacMillan was debating with some of his colleagues whether anyone could afford to build a house on what looks like an unbuildable hill, but would have a prime perch overlooking the city while still being right downtown. God knows it would take major engineering to accomplish and it takes deep pockets. But I think I can answer Jason’s question: No, it won’t take five years when someone with that much capital comes to town. They arrived yesterday.
Whether someone with that much money wants to spend it on this site is another matter. But it’s not the 1990s when the wealthiest of CBers might not have the bank account to pay for engineering, lawyers, and construction that should go into such a build, or when CB enthusiasts realize that a such a decision was not the best for the place they wanted to be a part of. Learning from our sister stations ahead of our curve, the new reality is that there are many people of these means here now and someone with an attitude of owning a unique second (or fifth) home “look at me “wouldn’t be surprising these days.
Not to be all soft with the developers, but it was disappointing to see their appeal fail with CB’s elected officials when the developers suggested two houses on six lots and a guarantee to keep the hillside site line safe from the development in what could be a very visible spot overlooking the heart of CB. It seemed like a reasonable compromise that offered some certainty in a very visible place and believe it or not Don Quixote, compromise isn’t always a bad word. You don’t need to tilt at every windmill if you can win without a fight. Developers and city staff spent 20 months working to find a workable compromise solution and BOZAR and the elected planning commission (city council) were divided on the proposed solution, so it was rejected.
Now, I’ve been there after the meeting was held and to say it would be a tough place to build is an understatement. Nothing seems easy to do on this ground. I have no idea how someone could build a house and enter through the front door if they were building on the hill. Maybe nothing ever happens there. But as seen in other resorts, anything is possible – with enough money. It’s a matter of engineering, concrete, efficient lawyers and creative architecture, all of which would cost the bank. Thank goodness CB doesn’t attract people with money!
Which brings me back to the idea of Whetstone, compromise and certainty…
The proposed Whetstone Affordable Housing Project had a public hearing last week and unlike the Corner at Brush Creek process, this one started with a lot of community outreach and dialogue by the county (congratulations!) that resulted in goals for a livable neighborhood full of workers. Not a single person at the public hearing said the location was unsuitable for housing the workforce. To arrive at the design of the proposed sketch plan, various compromises were reached over months of outreach and discussion. The number of apartments versus duplexes, the amount of green space, the allocation of parking, the need for functional access to public transport, all of this is the result of much discussion and essentially compromise.
Other potential trade-offs could arise as planners determine how far off the freeway major apartment buildings should be to retain green space and make future residents comfortable without urbanizing the CB entrance. How Crested Butte could provide utilities to Whetstone will include a compromise with the terms included. The best way to respect and coordinate with adjacent neighbors will be the result of compromise. But the bottom line at this public hearing was that even when someone raised a point of concern, they all started by saying they supported the spirit of the project.
The weather has also softened opposition to a large number of new full-time residents located within a few miles of CB. Reality versus idealism. The compromise on how best to accommodate the future neighborhood gave rise to new ideas such as a roundabout on the highway. Discussions about the inevitable impacts of hundreds of new full-time employees will include more dialogue and compromise as the process continues. But the bottom line is that being willing to move a little left or right to improve the overall composition of the community will result in a better place for the future of the North Valley, because it changes so quickly. Guiding growth now and not just saying no will have the greatest impact.
Which brings me back to the plot on Elk Avenue. When developers can reduce a deal with city staff that protects a city skyline while reducing (normal) density on a property, it seems reasonable to make a deal. You can bow at every windmill that spawns in the North Valley or you can achieve reasonable protections that will count towards a future crest hillock.
Who’s to say if anyone will be willing to spend seven or eight figures on an opulent home perched high on Elk Avenue five years from now? I’m pretty sure the money part of the equation already exists here, so when a chance to stop that perch opportunity came up but was turned down, it was a little disappointing.
Compromise is not always a bad word. This is how government officials can guide the direction of what is to come with some certainty. The Whetstone process is a good example. The decision for the top of Elk Avenue is not.