How We Cut Babies in Half
by Seth Cagin
Mar 22, 2011 | 5581 views | 9 9 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In Telluride, our battles often come to a head at the end of the ski season. Governments enter a long process of planning, and the schedule of meetings and hearings envisions closure in late March or, because they are running late, in April and May, as if the impending close of the ski area is the natural deadline for reaching a momentous local decision.

So it is this March that there are two classic Telluride showdowns reaching a fever pitch: final consideration of the Mountain Village Master Plan, which would permit an application for rezoning of open space owned by the Telluride Ski and Golf Co. to allow hotel development, and a proposal to allow flights as late as 9 p.m. in winter at the Telluride Regional Airport.

Can you hear the familiar calls?

On the oppositional side: a gross overstatement of likely adverse impacts, driven by fear that our local government is running amok, very possibly outfoxed by or in the pocket of greedy developers. On the proponents’ side: unseemly (perhaps) frustration that months or years of discussion, public comment and what they believe has been reasoned decision-making is now, at the eleventh hour, being strongly opposed by an ill-informed mob of late arrivals to the debate.

And what is the frequent outcome of this typical Telluride polarization?

A lesser outcome. Decisions that make nobody happy. Solomonic compromises that cut babies in half.

Would additional hotel density close to existing density in Mountain Village really destroy the quality of life in Mountain Village, or hurt property values, hurt existing businesses in the core, or even harm the skiers’ experience? Doubtful. Given the state of the economy, it’s even more doubtful that the rezoning would be sought, or if sought that it would be approved, or if approved that it would result in construction anytime soon; moreover, in the distant future, after all of those steps are completed and development could theoretically take place, most of these purported adverse impacts would be even less impactful or would be mitigated.

Why do I say this? Because here in Telluride we should have learned from overstatement. The “excessive height and mass” of the Capella (now the Hotel Madeline), so vehemently opposed at the time of its approvals process, did not, I repeat, did not, destroy the Mountain Village center. But forcing the building to reduce its height did, in fact, lower ceiling heights and diminish the hotel and inhibit its ability to succeed. Just as the flytower at the Palm Theater at the Telluride High/Middle School did not block our view of the mountains and present visitors to Telluride with an unsightly skyscraper as they entered town.

Of course, it is equally true that the Capella (Madeline) did not solve the economic vitality problems in Mountain Village. And the flytower at the Palm did not produce a performing arts center that has made Telluride much more of a cultural oasis than it already was.

But, then, just as the Capella could have and should have been just a little taller, the region’s performing arts center should never have been built at the high school, where it is subject to ownership and management by a school board. That unfortunate outcome happened because of vehement opposition to locating it in the center of town on the same grounds: that its flytower would be too high and would destroy the town’s historic character.

Not too high where it did end up. Didn’t ruin the town or our views in that location. Wouldn’t have ruined the center of town, either, in my opinion. But handicapped forever by its out-of-the-way location at the school.

I could go on, but that would just unnecessarily provoke the naysayers, so I will stop reviewing our past follies here and will address the two present controversies.

Would a couple of extra hours of inbound and outbound flights at the Telluride Regional Airport in winter really be so dangerous, or so noisy, or would they so egregiously represent a violation of past representations about flights after dusk that such flights should be prohibited? These fears and objections are all wildly overstated, in my opinion. On the other hand, would allowing these flights help the airport succeed? Would they support our struggling economy? Couldn’t hurt, that’s for sure. To be able to leave TEX early in the morning or arrive after dark would not only help attract service, but would dramatically cut down on the time it takes to get here and to get away from here, as well.

How about rezoning in Mountain Village? Perhaps not quite so clear-cut, but the oppositional arguments sure sound overstated to me. Do we need new locations for future bedbase? I think so, because our biggest problem in achieving economic sustainability is that we suffer from too little body heat too many months of the year and ultimately, at some point, more bedbase is the only solution. Are the proposed locations the right ones? We don’t have a lot of options, but generally I believe new density should go adjacent to existing density, hence in Mountain Village and Telluride and not in outlying precincts. Will bedbase be built even if it is permitted by the new master plan, if there is never any demand for it? Doubtful. Could the Telluride Ski and Golf Co. benefit if they win the rezoning? Possibly. That’s what businesses try to do – they seek development entitlements to property in order to create value for themselves – but a benefit to Telski is not a reason, in itself, to stand opposed.

Instead, the question for the Mountain Village Town Council ought to be: What is in the best interests of the town and the community? Will the community benefit if the new master plan includes various elements? Just as this ought to be the question for the Telluride Regional Airport Authority Board of Directors: What is in the best interests of the region? Will the community benefit from more commercial air service, enabled by after-dusk arrivals and departures?

These are difficult enough questions to work through without being complicated by overheated and misleading debate.

In both present cases, decisions may come down either way within a few weeks, or may be postponed to another season, possibly this summer or beyond, in the interest of allowing fuller discussion. I feel entirely confident in predicting that whenever decisions are reached, either way, the sky won’t fall, despite the present noise and fury. But if history is a reliable guide, and if the decision-makers resolve the controversy by cutting the babies in half, making Telluride less than it might have been – and by less, I mean less thoughtful, not necessarily smaller in size; not necessarily less impact, but possibly less functional – we will all be just a little worse for it.

Comments-icon Post a Comment
March 23, 2011
Whoops, meant to say RFP (not TFP)!

March 23, 2011
TFP is 100% on target.

This hardly some grass roots movement, but our own local brand of astro-turfing. If it were some organic movement, maybe we'd see some faces other than the typical "players" in the local marketplace who are possibly just seeking to advance their own special interests.

Again, TFP is spot on re: pounding that circular peg into the square hole ... my belief is that Telski/Riley might have adopted such a position that if one keeps filing away at the corners of the square hole, the circle will eventually fit & one never needs to change the circular peg (i.e. lower prices).

If you do accept that this is a real possibility, then yes, every turn needs to be opposed ... since as far as I'm concerned, it's an extreme position to stake out whereby one seeks to manipulate their environment to suit their own goals/objectives - often at the expense of other specific people and more importantly, the common good as a whole.

While some of these apparent attempts to manipulate the environment to suit one's agenda are larger than others, it is clear that a most effective strategy would be to never cross the line too severely ... less one's explicit hand is tipped to the greater population as being a "ploy" of sorts. So, what are they left with? Essentially, the Chinese water torture approach. Waterboarding would be rejected on the face of things ... so it's chip here, chip away there.

I don't believe there's an actual "smokey room" for either "side", but I do believe there's a tangible dichotomy of idealism at play ... which I think you've touched upon Seth in terms of polarization. Unfortunately, as long as there are fanatics (or those who might seek to manipulate the game) then there will always be a "joker in the deck" & the entire population (on either "side") needs to be cautious at every turn. Unfortunately, these dynamics are not unique to Telluride; however, by engaging in such "games" here ... it doesn't help matters where the stakes are much more serious (i.e. Middle East). I think these sorts of entrenchments related to issues of trust move about the planet in waves ... akin to one domino falling on another and another. If you don't think this is true, ask yourself how you feel the next time you're visiting LA or Denver and are caught in bumper to bumper traffic & are cut off by a few inconsiderate people and wind up lashing out at someone else later in the day.

In any case, thank you Seth for restoring access to your website! The technical glitch must have been resolved (much to the chagrin of some).

March 23, 2011
Nice op piece, Seth. One thing I've learned after 13 years in Telluride is that we all have too much free time to sit around and debate such things, simply because none of us are ever that busy....slow town. (Not necessarily a bad thing.) However, the "If you build it, they will come" approach hasn't really paid off for us, has it? I would argue that we need one of the two elements that other resort towns have - a big city close by, or a large national park close by. We should all put our efforts into growing Montrose into a bustling metropolis or turning Lizard Head wilderness area into a huge national park...sort of joking here, but not really...

-Your upstairs neighbor, Ted
March 23, 2011
Neil, I would have to disagree with your analysis of King Solomon's motivation and point in the biblical "cut the baby in half" decision.

While your intrepetation is often cited by those opposed to meditation and compromise, it is not accepted by most Judeo-Christian scholars. To simply take one portion of King Solomon's life, without studying his writings and philosophy, and then decide to bend and twist it to fit ones personal belief system kind of nullifies the whole purpose of both the Old Testament and New. Don't you think?

Using your thinking process I could read about Jesus becoming angry at the pharasees in the temple and justify being angry all the time.

Mediation causes people to think (well, outside of Telluride), thinking leads to understanding, understanding leads to knowledge. Knowledge solves problems much better than stubborn pride.

Have a great week.
March 22, 2011
Seth Cagin sez: Thanks Neil. Didn't know my Biblical stories well enough to avoid slandering poor King Solomon. But I'm glad my point got through my metaphorical manglings! Yes. Let's be more, not less Solomonic!

March 22, 2011
Dear Mr. Cagin,

King Soloman threatened to cut the baby in half in order to determine who was the real mother. He didn't actually do it. In fact Soloman's suggestion was that the compromise did not accomplish anything good. We could still use some Soloman thinking here. What's the point of having an airport if we compromise the flights? And when you address a municipal 30 year plan, it's myopic without addressing the changing environment and that skiing will be under 90 days' year in the next 30 years, and arguably much less. Ouch! We're still considering only a tiny little village and forgetting that it needs more people than 60 days' year to stay viable.
March 22, 2011
We will all be better off if we quit dancing around the elephant in the room.

Here the Master Plan is a sop to TSG - more hot beds for the two or three weeks when we are 100%.

The airport is a sop to TSG..better infrastructure (and with some ancillary effects on tourism).

In both cases, the people paying for the sop are the neighbors of the airport and tangent personal residences to the core.

Lets just tell the elephant to price the ski ticket lower to drive up demand and then when we have demand..we will have increased market value and better employment for the least amongst us.

Why do we dance around this? Telluride is not Aspen and not Vail...and the prices should reflect this and lets quit asking for neighborly contributions until our beloved steps up too.


March 22, 2011
Well written Seth. Many in Telluride still think that we don't have to compete with other Colorado resorts and they have always been wrong. Tourists have choices and we have been losing that game for years.
March 22, 2011
Spot on Seth! I know it is difficult for a newspaperman to take definitive positions because of whom you might alienate, but I wholeheartedly agree with this article. Best, Steve