TELLURIDE – After an extended but relatively peaceable worksession on Tuesday, Telluride Town Council arrived at no decision concerning controversial changes to the town’s Land Use Code beyond scheduling a special meeting for March 3 in order to continue public discussion on the matter.
The worksession arose as the result of council’s recent rescinding of the short-lived ordinance approved in early January, passed by a 4-3 vote, it made what many in the community viewed as unreasonable changes to the LUC.
Citizens threatened to veto the ordinance, which would have allowed for the waiver of some affordable housing mitigation requirements for developers who agreed to provide additional commercial and office space in Planned Unit Developments located in the downtown commercial core, by holding a referendum.
“The purpose of this worksession is to provide the council, the Planning and Zoning Commission and the public with an informal opportunity to discuss the proposed PUD regulations as envisioned by the council’s recision of Ordinance No. 1300,” said Mayor Stu Fraser, opening the discussion.
“The goal is not to bury this; the goal is literally to bring it back through the public process,” he continued, explaining that were the discussion to provide enough direction for a new ordinance to be drafted, then the first reading of that ordinance would be scheduled for council’s next meeting on March 10.
The purpose of a PUD is to allow for design and development flexibility that represents a departure from the town’s basic zoning requirements in exchange for significant public benefits such as the provision of common open space, affordable housing and historic preservation, among others.
But developers have not been required to apply for a PUD under any circumstance. Nor did they have incentive to do so, according to proponents of the original changes, because building to the existing code was more profitable.
The existing PUD regulations require that developers mitigate an ultimately cost-prohibitive amount of affordable housing and parking in proportion to the building’s total area of commercial space (including a required 35-foot minimum Vitality Setback from the front façade), while residential space in the same zoning district required no such affordable housing and less demanding parking requirements.
As a result, the rules effectively discouraged developers from building more than the minimum commercial space required, instead packing in more profitable residential units.
Amendment supporters viewed the rescinded ordinance as a means to improve the town’s economic vitality, while its detractors categorized the changes as a “giveaway” to developers, a forfeiture of council oversight of town planning matters, and incomplete.
Councilmember Thom Carnevale questioned the pace of the process, pointing to citizen opposition and troubled economic times as reasons to slow it down.
“We were facing a referendum three weeks ago, and now here we are,” he said.
“I wonder why we’re jumping right back into the fire again,” he continued, proposing that a straw pole be cast among council to determine whether or not to proceed with the discussion.
“Where is the pressure coming from to push this issue?” he continued.
“Apparently there’s something going on behind the scenes that I as a councilperson don’t know,” he said.
“If there’s something going on behind the scenes then I don’t know about it either,” Fraser responded, clarifying that the matter came about in April 2008 when the P&Z and the Historic and Architectural Review Commissions together identified a revamp of the PUD regulations as one of its top five priorities.
“Doing nothing is not an option,” he said.
“I don’t see why slowing it down a couple of months, not a couple of years,” would be detrimental, Chance Leoff weighed in.
“We all saw what happened when we had to bail the banks out really fast…now we don’t even know where the money is and we don’t have a right to ask.”
“A lot of people are concerned that this is going to be voted on right before off-season,” said Eileen McGinley.
“I think this is really, really important to do this sooner than later,” P&Z Vice Chair Kathy Green offered in a different point of view. She elaborated that new PUD regulations are needed to convince developers beyond subdivision and use by right development.
“Use by right is least sustainable, least green development there can be,” she said, adding that the state of the economy shouldn’t be a reason to postpone the PUD changes.
“Whatever economy comes back to us we need to be ready, and this is a piece to being ready.”
“I think this is the perfect time,” P&Z Chair David Wadley agreed.
“Lets keep our eye on the ball…we need to just get it done and finish it,” he said.
“Then if people think council is nuts they can go to a special referendum election.”