Service on the
Crested Butte Town Council
After many years of environmental advocacy, usually trying to influence government officials, I decided it was time to sit on the other side of the table. In 1995 I ran for election to the CB Town Council and won with the second highest vote count. The ensuing four years were difficult and rewarding.
During my four-year term, the Council grappled with Crested Butte’s largest expansion since it was born, the subdivision of rancher Tony Verzuh’s land just east of town. Tony defined “crotchety” and often attended Council meetings and yelled. Everyone knew the value of his land and our environmental ethic said, “If we must grow, this is the place, right next to town.” So when he died in the mid-90s, there was no question of “If”, just How that land would be developed.
Because we feared all sorts of potential poorly designed developments, and we had no rules governing big projects like this, the Town Council embarked on making rules for subdivisions. If a developer wants to annex into town and get our fresh water, sewer, and other services, they would have to follow our rules. I felt that the law we developed was pretty good as it called for affordable housing mixed in with all the other houses. And it would have blocked development on the more beautiful half, across the river away from the urban grid. But when the developer came to us with a plan, it called for concentrating the affordable homes into one block, the land closest to our sewer plant. And they created a 35-acre subdivision and sold a high-priced parcel in that eastern zone.
The Council acceded to most of their plan and ignored our new subdivision regulations. I voted “no” because the affordable housing is concentrated, not mixed with everyone else, and because of the eastern development. The vote was 7-2 so today Crested Butte has expanded in pretty much the way the developer planned it. We did get a nice recreation trail through the property that connects to the ski town, Mt. Crested Butte.
The time of most tension and anger came when some locals, including our publicly funded chamber of commerce, called for a boycott of a local small business that opposed the expansion of the ski area onto Snodgrass Mountain. Many in town also opposed the expansion, but the idea that our Chamber would want a boycott of one of its members outraged me and others. The Council threatened to take the special sales tax money, which earlier Councils had dedicated to the Chamber, and spend it elsewhere. I vividly remember a hot and heavy Council meeting. I remember speaking directly to one of the prominent business leaders, asking him something like “have you no principles, no sense of civic honor? Can’t you accept different opinions within the community?” I felt like I reached him. After that meeting, there was no boycott and tempers diminished.
Years later, the U.S. Forest Service put the k’bosh on Snodgrass, a great victory for High Country Citizens’ Alliance and ski area opponents everywhere.
Another big element of my Council term was development of new transportation plans for Gunnison County and the Town of CB. We did the planning processes separately and together so they were consonant. I led the Council’s transportation committee. For me and many citizens, the top issue was the projected immense growth of automobile traffic through town. State Highway 135 from Gunnison is our gateway to the world. In town it has a 25mph speed limit, governed by the state, versus our 15mph everywhere else in town. With the number of lots platted for new houses and condos at the ski area, it was easy for transportation planners to estimate a tripling or quadrupling of car trips from Crested Butte to Mt. Crested Butte.
To address this, we planned to build an “intercept” parking lot near the place where the Hwy 135, comes into town, with a gondola, like in Telluride, that would take visitors to the ski area. We knew we did not have the money for this, but the plan said we need to at least preserve a corridor of land for that gondola. That never happened. Almost right away people built houses right where the gondola would go. So today, Crested Butte still faces the threat of a giant increase of travel through town. It’s probably happening right now, subtly increasing year by year. Eventually, we may need to install the town’s first stoplight to regulate cars at 6th St. and Elk Ave. We also never found the money to do a circulator bus that could help locals get around town without driving, so today there is excessive use of cars in Crested Butte, as in the rest of America, along with attendant need for parking those land-hogging vehicles. See the plan’s table of contents.
I felt and still feel that I did a good job as a Council member. But it took SO much of my time, with a pay rate of $200/month. I felt constantly frustrated that I could not devote more time, but the need to make a living kept getting in the way of achievements in public policy. Plus, there was hardly any time to play, and why did I live in this tiny mountain town if not for bicycling, skiing, and hiking in the mountains? Maybe I could have become mayor, with a salary of $400/month. But burn-out prevailed and I chose to not run again. A year after my term ended, I moved to Boulder.