Crested Butte council debates big picture for town’s commercial zone
Written by Mark Reaman   
Wednesday, 06 February 2013

Will it erode the character of town or has the horse left the barn?

Over the past two meetings, the Crested Butte Town Council held a philosophical discussion over zoning and its value to the character of Crested Butte. Is holding on to light industrial uses inside the town boundaries through zoning a worthwhile endeavor? Specifically, the council discussed whether allowing medical and dental offices in the town’s commercial zone (C-zone) would chip away at the overall character of town.


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The council was faced with a request to allow such uses in the C-zone in the old Radio Shack building near the corner of Fifth and Belleview. The C-zone essentially runs up Belleview on the southwest side of town. The five councilmen at the meeting on Tuesday, January 22 were split over the idea. So they rehashed the topic at the February 4 meeting with all seven councilmen in attendance. Ultimately, they chose to not change the zoning code to allow such dental and medical uses in the zone but it was not without spirited discussion at both meetings.
The owner of the building, Dennis Goree, was asking the council to amend the town code to allow such uses in his building. Goree had originally approached the Board of Zoning and Architectural Review (BOZAR) with the idea but that board split 3-3 over the issue and therefore didn’t make a recommendation either way.
The town’s intent for the C-zone according to its code is to “allow the use of land for limited commercial purposes and limited industrial uses…”
Councilperson David Owen said at the January meeting that since a veterinarian’s office was located in the zone, he could be comfortable with a medical or dental office in the same area.
But councilperson Glenn Michel disagreed. “Zoning in the town of Crested Butte is set for specific purposes,” he said. “Medical and dental offices, for example, have different standards than, say, auto shops. I see this as a slow eroding of the zone being taken over by professional offices. We want things like auto shops and places for heavy equipment in our town.”
“I agree,” said Councilman Shaun Matusewicz. “A mix of zoning in town is important to the community. I don’t want to push out the businesses that zone was intended for.”
“Things like a vet’s office are already there,” pointed out Councilperson Roland Mason. “There’s a big mix over there already. I’d be willing to look into it more.”
“It doesn’t seem like a big stretch to include medical offices,” added Owen.
“It seems to me that when we talk Crested Butte and zoning, we can’t carve out just little blocks of areas,” said Mayor Aaron Huckstep. “Office uses are already allowed in that C-zone. This request isn’t a big black line between office use and medical office use. I think it is important to respect a business owner’s decision. It’s not hard for them to understand what they’re getting into by putting an office there.”
“You’re missing the larger point,” countered Michel. “These individual decisions are not a big deal. But 10 or 20 years from now, the wood shops and the auto shops might get pushed out of that zone and thus out of town. An auto shop probably can’t compete with the rent you would get from a medical office.”
“It’s an empty building at the moment,” said Huckstep.
“It’s a zone for light industrial uses,” said Michel. “There’s dust and noise not associated with a professional district. If you allow these zones to dilute, there could be more conflicts among the users. The wood shop is literally right next door and that may become an issue with a doctor and his patients.”
Because councilmembers John Wirsing and Jim Schmidt were not at the January meeting, the discussion was held again Monday, February 4. And by then, some of the councilmembers were less sure of their position.
Resident Bill Coburn owns property in the C-zone and favored expanding the allowed uses. “The cost of building medical offices is significantly more expensive than constructing regular office space,” he said. “Land in the C-zone is less expensive than B-1 or B-2 zoned property. It makes such medical buildings more affordable.”
“My initial reaction is to support it,” said Schmidt. “It was originally meant to be used for light industrial but we’ve allowed more and more uses over there.”
“It comes down to—Does the town value leaving light industrial businesses inside town?” said Matusewicz. “If we allow this, rents will go up and doctors can generally pay more than auto mechanics. There is space in town for these dental and medical uses already. There is a real advantage to having a C-zone in town. You can drop your car off to get fixed and walk home. It’s part of the community. Keeping the zoning says that light industry is important to town.”
“I agree,” said Michel. “Zoning is important and this council should respect the zone.”
“What Glen and Shaun say would make sense if it really were more strictly light industrial,” countered resident David Leinsdorf. “But the code right now allows things like yoga, healing arts, government offices, spas, beauty shops and more similar uses as a matter of right. Shaun’s argument sounds good but that horse has already left the barn.”
“I’d rather go closer to the original intent of the zone instead of further away,” responded Michel.
“I’m not sure where I’m at,” said Wirsing. “Shaun makes a good point that there are places already available for medical purposes. Are we inviting more conflicts between different uses?”
“I’m more undecided now than last meeting after listening to Glenn and Shaun,” said Owen.
“I too have moved to the middle, like David,” added Mason.
“Light industrial isn’t the primary use over there anymore,” said Huckstep. “There are things in there like Irwin and Adaptive. The reality is that given the market, new industrial is heading to Riverland. The aggregate uses tend toward office space.”
“Maybe we do need to preserve the light industry over there,” said Wirsing. “It’s good to have a start-up ski shop like Romp over there.”
“Light industry isn’t totally dead over there,” said acting town manager Bob Gillie. “Things like the medical marijuana distributors are over there because the town didn’t want them in other places in town.”
“The town runs on sales tax and office uses don’t bring in as much as light industrial uses,” pointed out Owen.
“There’s no doubt the C-zone has changed over the years and I just don’t see a dental or medical office as being that different from what’s there now,” said Schmidt.
“I actually thought they were already allowed,” said Coburn.
“I feel strongly we shouldn’t push out the guys like Bob [at CB Auto] or Spence [at Dragon Sheet Metal] because the rents start rising,” said Michel. “They are part of this community. I’m not willing to give up on that.”
The majority of the council agreed and did nothing to move toward changing the zoning code. Basically, Goree’s specific request was denied and generally, the council did not want to expand more uses for the zone, in an effort to keep industrial shops operating within the town boundaries.