Density of Brush Creek project receives scrutiny
Times Staff Writer
Density is good.
That’s the message developers of The Corner at Brush Creek — a proposed affordable housing complex south of Crested Butte — delivered to Gunnison County Planning Commission during a work session Friday, Dec. 1.
They argue that density prevents sprawl and allows for designation of nearby open space — in addition to helping solve the affordable housing conundrum at the north end of the Gunnison Valley.
But opponents of the project — planned for a 14.29-acre parcel two miles south of Crested Butte at the corner of Hwy. 135 and Brush Creek Road — counter that the development as proposed is too dense and not compatible with the surrounding neighborhood. They fear the project would forever change the highway corridor.
Gatesco, the Houston-based company proposing the development, filed a formal land-use change application with Gunnison County in late August. Gunnison County Planning Commission is currently reviewing the proposal.
Under the plan, 65 percent of the project’s 240 planned would be targeted for residents who make 180 percent or less of the Area Median Income (AMI). AMI in Gunnison County is $56,700 for a household of two in 2017.
A memo prepared by Community and Economic Development Director Cathie Pagano notes that the county’s Land Use Resolution (LUR) allows for greater density under certain conditions.
They include developers providing additional open space, essential residences, clustering of residences and participation in public transportation — all four of which Gatesco’s proposal would offer.
The memo indicates that the Brush Creek plan includes 55 percent open space, which is greater than the 30 percent required for residential uses, according to the LUR. Residences within the project would be clustered among a total of 23 separate buildings, spanning from duplexes to structures containing 24 units.
A comparable glance
Prior to Friday’s work session, Planning Commission toured developments at both ends of the valley, looking at building sizes and number of residents housed to get an idea of the scope of the Brush Creek plan.
The tour included The Lofts, Mountaineer Village Apartments and Van Tuyl Village in Gunnison, as well as four relatively high-density projects in Crested Butte South. Commissioners also visited Skyland Lodge and subdivision south of Crested Butte and Anthracite Place in Crested Butte as well as the Pitchfork subdivision in Mt. Crested Butte.
Brush Creek's gross density is estimated at 16.8 residences per acre. That would be lower in density than four of the developments — including Anthracite Place in Crested Butte, North Star Condos in Crested Butte South and Mountaineer Village and Van Tuyl Village townhomes in Gunnison — toured by Planning Commission.
Following the tour, Brush Creek project team members explained how landscaping and architectural design can reduce the appearance of large structures and high density.
Horizontal and vertical planes and balconies are planned to be used with a mix of pitched roofs to offer visual interest, explained architect Andrew Hadley. Berms are planned to reduce the height appearance of three-story buildings. Eight-plex units are grouped together into larger buildings which will allow for more open space and "enhance the livability of the space," he said.
"I think a lot of the other high-density developments in the county that you guys have looked at — I don't know if any of them have this kind of central park space that we've gone to here," Hadley said. "We probably could have reduced our building sizes more and done more of what the Pitchfork development has but they have no open space."
Project manager John O'Neal said density is often viewed in a negative context. However, his team is trying to show that it allows for greater energy efficiency, is beneficial for residents accessing public transportation, prevents urban sprawl and is necessary to help solve the housing crisis in the north end of the valley.
Opponents critique comparisons
Yet, project opponents told Planning Commission that Gatesco had "cherry picked" subdivisions to compare to its project, and Brush Creek residential density has been underestimated.
Bob Pannier, president of the Friends of Brush Creek, said two acres dedicated to a transit in the proposal do not count toward the acreage on which project density had been calculated. He also argued that at build-out, the project would more than double the population of full-time residents in the Brush Creek corridor.
Additionally, nearby resident Mike Wright contended that the tour of other projects did not offer Planning Commission an "apples-to-apples" comparison — that the highest density developments are located within municipalities, whereas The Corner at Brush Creek would be in the unincorporated county.
"What is the guideline or precedent for how much additional density (is allowed)?" he asked. "We seem to have rocketed right past a little bit of additional density and just blown everything out of the water based on the fact that they have provided some deed-restricted housing."
Others complained that the commission was not giving opponents enough time to voice concerns.
However, commission vice-chair Jack Diani reminded the room that the work session was not a public hearing, and that more time would be dedicated for comments at a later date.
(Chris Rourke can be contacted at 970.641.1414 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)