Discussion Divides Council, Angers Real Estate Community
TELLURIDE – Determining the best mix of office space and retail establishments on Telluride’s main street continues to be a source of controversy for the Telluride Town Council.
Besides a direction to staff to draft language that would clarify certain aspects of Telluride’s “horizontal zoning” regulations, no consensus was found by members of council as to whether the town’s current limit on service commercial space (professional office space) on main street should be limited even further in an effort to keep retail space, including shops, restaurants and bars, more prevalent in Telluride’s commercial core.
Of the 2,950 lineal frontage feet of Telluride’s commercial core on main street, the town’s Land Use Code currently limits service commercial space to 625 feet of that total, equaling about 21 percent. Since this limit was enacted in 2007, it has not been reached and the ordinance has not been triggered.
Tuesday’s work session discussion comes after a December 2011 meeting where council directed the Telluride Planning and Zoning Commission to revisit LUC’s language to explore whether the limit on service commercial spaces should be reduced from 21 percent to 16 or 18 percent. Since that time and after several meetings, P&Z has recommended LUC amendments but decided to let council decide whether to reduce the limit on service commercial space.
Councilmembers wasted no time on Tuesday morning in getting to the heart the controversial issue.
“One of the things that prompted this ordinance in the first place is we were looking at a trend in which there … more and more offices on main street,” Councilmember Bob Saunders said. “With more and more offices, there were fewer and fewer retail establishments. If there is not a vibrant business community, nobody is going to want to buy [real estate] here.”
Saunders went on to say if you take away unbuildable spaces from main street’s total lineal footage, like parks and open space, the current allowable office space is more like 31 percent of the total.
“We have 31 percent as office space,” Saunders continued. “Nobody is going to want to stay in a town that is one-third office spaces. That is what we are looking at and that is way too much. We need a business district that has places for people to go shopping.”
Councilmember Chris Myers was in agreement with Saunders.
“This is not an attack on real estate,” Myers said. “Town council is looking at balancing the needs of this community. What are we and how do we recreate that for the community? I have heard time and time again that people are missing a shopping experience in Telluride. Where is that best? On main street.”
While further limiting the amount of service commercial spaces on main street could affect banks, lawyers and other office-oriented, only members of Telluride’s real estate community were present to speak out against any new limitations on Tuesday.
“Real estate walk-in business in resort areas is very vibrant in all of Colorado, including this one,” broker George Harvey said, adding that since 1981 the real estate community has brought over $60 million to the area in Real Estate Transfer Assessment revenues. “What is this solving? Potentially, it is an inhibitor to good paying jobs in town. Yes, people should be able to shop for clothing and pots and pans and stuff but they also should be able to shop for real estate.”
“I feel like the real estate community is continually targeted,” broker Sally Puff Courtney said. “It always seems to be about the real estate community. We do bring in a lot of money for the town. My biggest problem here as a property owner of commercial on main street is my property rights are being taken away from me. I don’t think that’s right. I am not a lawyer but if you are going to take a right away from me, you better be ready to compensate me.”
“If you guys are worried about the vacancy rate, you should be putting your energy in getting people in and filling those spots instead of trying to limit the amount of real estate” broker Michael Ward told council.
Both Mayor Stu Fraser and Councilmember Ann Brady agreed that horizontal zoning regulations, as they currently are, should be left alone.
“The heart of the matter is we want more people on main street,” Brady said. “This isn’t going to do it. This is something that hasn’t even been triggered and we are arguing over it. Give the real estate people their due. They work hard in this community. Folks, this is a hollow argument in my opinion.”
After hearing from the public, council took an informal poll to see if there was enough consensus to move forward with drafting further limits to service commercial space. Council did not reach consensus and no direction was given to move the issue forward. Council did however direct staff to move forward in drafting amendments to the language of the LUC (per P&Z recommendations) to clarify the ordinance. Those amendments must go through a two-step approval process at the council level.
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