Kids crossing the highway is the only major concern
Gravity Ranch, a freestyle training center proposed across the highway from Crested Butte South, moved one step closer to becoming a reality last week. The Gunnison County Planning Commission approved a land use change from residential to commercial, in spite of concerns raised by neighbors.
Doug Hudson, owner of Gravity Groms in Crested Butte, asked the commission for a minor land use change on an existing horse arena just south of Cement Creek Road, located on a parcel known as the Bush Ranch property. Hudson and his family intend to live on the property and run an 11,750-square-foot facility where kids can learn to do aerial tricks on skis, snowboards, skateboard, bikes and their feet. Hudson called the facility a place “where athletes and kids and people of all ages can learn freestyle skills in a safe environment, in a progressive environment with the apparatus required to do so safely.” He stressed that the development of the facility would require very few improvements to the property. The Hudsons plan to bring exterior lighting up to code, expand the parking area outside of the arena and increase the width of the driveway per a request from the public works department. “We’re truly talking about a minor impact,” he said. “This is a service business that stands to serve residents, it stands to serve visitors, it serves students and it’s ideally located. It’s equidistant from Western Colorado State University and Crested Butte Mountain Resort and it’s right across the street from Crested Butte South.” At a meeting with the Planning Commission on Friday, February 15, Hudson clarified that there are no plans for motorized offerings (though the family may ride personal motorized bikes on the property), and there will be no such plans in the future. There will be no more than 30 people on the floor at any time, and kids 12 and under must be supervised by a parent or guardian. The room was packed with kids, families and neighbors who mostly spoke in favor of the project. Mt. Crested Butte resident Victoria Blake said she has a nine-year-old grandson who is a BMX rider and has gone to Woodward, a similar facility at Copper Mountain. “I would love to see him here,” she said, adding that she is encouraging one of her own children to become an investor in the project. Eleven-year-old Dane De Frates read a statement he’d written in support of the project, telling the commission that hundreds of his peers would use this facility, and that “personally this facility would mean a world class opportunity to pursue my favorite sport, skateboarding. Not at Copper, not at Tahoe, but in my very own county. I really hope you will rezone this particular property so that my dreams can come true.” His mother, Jenny De Frates, later added, “My feeling is we need to produce a lot more [Aaron Bluncks] that are going to the X Games and the Olympics. I don’t know if my kid is an Aaron Blunck, but I’d like to give him a chance, at this facility, to find out.” Cari Freeman, who owns Crested Butte RV Resort with her husband, and real estate agent Katy Mattson (who is the listing agent) also spoke in favor of the project. A few neighbors, however, expressed concern. Nina Kingsdale, who owns property across the highway from the proposed Gravity Ranch, worried about noise and wanted to make sure there were no planned motorized uses. Crested Butte attorney Jim Starr spoke on behalf of his client, Alan Eines, who owns 72 acres adjacent to horse arena but lives in California. “This is a great idea, a great project. Unfortunately, as far as my client is concerned, it’s not in the right place,” Starr said. He reminded the commission that his client once looked into subdividing his property into seven home sites but was denied due to density concerns. Adding Gravity Ranch appeared to be increasing density, and Starr said the commission should expect his client to reapply for those seven home sites if Gravity Ranch is approved. Starr also asked the commission to consider the precedent they’d be setting by allowing a major commercial use on the highway near Crested Butte South. Rancher Bob Niccoli said Starr had raised most of his concerns. He questioned the structural integrity of the building and the location. “It’s a nice fairly quiet area there, with great neighbors. Everyone gets along and we do not need a commercial entity there. We do need that entity, but not there.” County planner Cathie Pagano reminded the commission that locational standards for residential and commercial properties are different, making it difficult to compare this land use change to residential requests. And in spite of the concerns raised, the Planning Commission voted for the land use change unanimously. Their primary words of caution for Hudson were to be prepared for challenges that come with kids from Crested Butte South crossing the highway to reach Gravity Ranch. Nearly every board member advised Hudson to expect that kids in Crested Butte South will do whatever they can to get to the facility. Hudson assured the commission that a path is planned across the property to the northeastern corner of the property to minimize the time kids spend on the highway. He also said he’s open to working with appropriate partners on signage improvements at the intersection of Highway 135 and Cement Creek Road, and explained that as soon as the business can afford it he wants to implement a shuttle. “Nothing is more important to us than child welfare,” Hudson said.