Over the coming months Gunnison, Colorado, citizens, planners, and elected officials will be scrutinizing a major project that has the potential to dramatically alter the face of this small Rocky Mountain city.
But let me squeeze in a couple of paragraphs first. Gunnison's a city of 5,400 (in a county of just under 14,000) according to the 2000 Census. It is the "gateway" community to the Mt. Crested Butte ski area, providing much more affordable housing than up in the mountains.
[photos of attractive, modestly sized housing typical of Gunnison]
I spent the day in Gunnision with city planning & community development director Steve Westbay. We were also joined at lunch by a crowd of planners and others from Crested Butte, Mt. Crested Butte, and Gunnison County, including Gunnsion city planner Kim Antonucci; the County's planning director Joanne Williams; and county long-range planner Mike Pelletier.
[photo from left to right: Julie Ann Woods, a private planning consultant with Elk Mountain Planning Group; Joanne Williams; Mike Pelletier; and Steve Westbay; photo below left, Gunnison city planner Kim Antonnuci]
While you can get a more detailed look at the project on the Gunnison Rising web site, in brief it includes several distinct components: about 1,600 units of residential housing (3,500 to 4,000 people); an equestrian center; nearly one million square feet of commercial and office space; a trails system; and an RV recreational resort that could accommodate 500 RVs. The full build out could take thirty years.
If you look at the maps I'm setting out you can get a sense of the scale of the project in comparison to the existing city. First here's the city's urban growth boundary map. Gunnison Rising is the elongated, red colored, L shaped area east of the city (the city is the white area in the center of the map).
Next, a map that shows the Gunnison Rising project, by proposed use. Route 50 is the horizontal line that stretches east-west along the length of the project.
The project does fall within the city's 3-mile urban growth boundary. As Steve said of the project, "it's basically a satellite village development."
For the project to fly, it needs to be annexed into the city -- which would provide it with essential municipal services such as sewer and water.
Colorado law -- at least my current (limited) understanding of it -- provides municipalities with complete discretion to accept or reject an annexation request. Gunnison's planning department has already geared up to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the annexation proposal (i.e., the project). Ultimately, it will be up to the City Council to decide.
One of the concerns I heard expressed is the impact the project would have on what is now a very distinct edge between the city and countryside as you enter along Route 50 from the east. Here's a photo I took showing Route 50 as it heads towards the city center.
There's very little development until you reach the Western State College Campus (see photo below right, and then you're within just a couple of blocks of the center of town.
The part of the project that may be of most concern to local citizens will be a "high end RV Recreational Resort," slated for 118 acres on the south side of Route 50, and capable of accommodating 400 or so RVs. It would be located in the general area shown in the next photo below.
Will having a large number of new "seasonal" residents change the character of the city, where most everyone now lives year round?
The project would also have a major effect on traffic flow, and how to deal with needed improvements to the transportation network will be an important issue.
Of course, there would also be significant benefits from the project, especially financial -- new residents and commercial development will generate revenue for the municipality (in Colorado, the primary source of municipal revenues is from the local sales tax). Also, increasing the housing supply may help keep prices down.
Finally, the development promises an equestrian center, recreational trails, a large amount of dedicated open space, and increased shopping and employment opportunities -- things that many in the city would likely appreciate.
As with the project I described in my post on Pueblo, Gunnison Rising will surely be the subject of intensive analysis -- and negotiations -- over the coming months. The city's web site has a section devoted to it.
It was fascinating to get a glimpse of a project that could change the face of Gunnision. I'll be staying tuned to hear what the City ultimately decides.