Residents of Telluride are so preoccupied with the War of the Floor that we may scarcely notice that the residents of Mountain Village are on the verge of a civil war of their own. The flashpoint (of the moment) is the long-in-the-works Family Adventure Center, approved for inclusion in a very large new condominium-hotel project at the gondola plaza. Opponents of the project have forced a special election on May 22, which should be the final word on whether or not the project is built.
Anyone who doesn’t live in Mountain Village is bound to wonder: Why all the animus?
The answer, as might be expected, goes far beyond the wisdom of building the rec center or the approval of the Silverline project.
It could be attributed to the predictable growing pains of a community as it evolves from a company town to … a company town?
Yes, what is happening in Mountain Village is not exactly as it appears. The sale of the Telluride Ski and Golf Company, and a lot of real estate, from longtime owners Ron Allred and Jim Wells a couple of years ago, could have been expected to involve disruptions in Mountain Village business-as-usual. Allred and Wells, the town’s founders, created a governmental structure aimed at giving a large degree of influence to the ski company, in perpetuity. Here’s how it works: Most of the money flowing into the town’s government comes from Real Estate Transfer Assessments to the Mountain Village Owners Association, which is the HOA that all property owners in the town are members of. The MVOA bylaws give Telski three out of seven seats on the board. Telski gets a fourth seat by virtue of its control over commercial votes. Residential homeowners get only two seats, and Telski can vote a large number of those so-called “residential density” votes, too. (Lodging gets the seventh seat.) So, in effect, Telski can direct the lion’s share of town spending.
For years, this worked out fine because everyone in Mountain Village was on the same page. The town council and the MVOA board included many of the same individuals, rotating back and forth sometimes. MVOA simply transferred RETA revenues to the town, or outsourced its activities to the town.
Now along comes Chuck Horning, Telski’s current owner, with some ideas of his own. And one of those ideas is that the community rec center – long planned and long envisioned – is a boondoggle. Horning’s major activity as Telski’s owner over the last three years has been to work overtime to kill the rec center. One might even say he is obsessed by it. And he has succeeded, through his control of MVOA, in creating a giant controversy.
The question is why. Horning says that the rec center was rammed through the government by Wells and his cohorts with no regard for the long-term community interest. But was it? By my recollection there were countless public meetings (many of which I attended), numerous studies (which I mostly read), and two highly publicized elections (which I covered).
Horning says the biggest issues facing Mountain Village and Telski are too few hot beds and too little workers housing. Agreed. So why isn’t one-tenth of the energy he’s put into killing the rec center going to solving those problems?
Horning says his objective as the controller of MVOA is to represent the property owners and voters of Mountain Village, even if Telski’s business interests take a back seat. And yet he has exercised his undemocratic control over MVOA without the slightest remorse.
It is, to me, a complete mystery why the owner of the ski company has become so invested in killing the rec center, especially when you consider that much of the benefit will accrue to his business. Horning’s inability to explain himself fosters paranoia. Is there an ulterior motive? (Some suspect he hopes to gain enough control of the town government to enable Telski-owned open space to be rezoned for hotels.) In any case, the price to the community of his obsession has been to provoke the aforementioned civil war.
And now the town’s voters, many of them second homeowners, are being asked to weigh in. They are being bombarded by facts and fictions, emails and ads, on the one side urging approval of the project and its rec center on the grounds that it has been thoroughly planned and studied and is not only viable but a crucial community benefit. On the other side they are being told that the rec center is being built on a foundation of shaky if not fraudulent financial assumptions and that the overall Silverline project has been granted far too much in the way of variances in exchange for including the rec center.
In effect, they are being told, the Silverline project is the product of a Mountain Village government was irredeemably corrupt – until Horning’s allegedly cleansing intervention. And yet Allred and Wells never exercised their control of MVOA as blatantly as Horning has, though, to be fair, their control was so complete that they never really needed to.
In this day and age, voters, when confronted by so much confusion, often just say no. It is the advantage opponents of any government initiative have that all they have to do is sow seeds of doubt.
In this case, a no vote would be a shame. In fact, this project has gone through an intensive public planning and review process. For voters to reject it now would be to sharply repudiate that planning and that process. And why should they do that? The only explanation I can come up with is, for reasons unknown, Chuck Horning has devoted his considerable energy and power to stirring the pot, and stirring it, and stirring it again. His agitation has agitated others.
Mountain Village voters can do themselves a big favor in this election. They can not only approve a rec center for themselves, for the region, and for our tourist economy; they can also vote at the same time against the war against a democratic government in their town.