TELLURIDE — After suggesting slight modifications to an ordinance first passed in January and ultimately rescinded a few weeks later that would change the Land Use Code, Telluride Town Council will hear the first reading of a nearly unchanged version of the ordinance at its next meeting on Tues. March 10.
The decision to move the ordinance a step forward in the legislative process was hardly unanimous. The direction from council to town staff came at the completion of a three-and-one-half-hour worksession held on Tuesday, March 3, filled with impassioned debate from members of the community both for and against the proposed amendments to the town’s Planned Unit Development regulations.
In the absence of Councilmember Jill Masters, who was not present at the end of the meeting to give her final direction, council split 3-2-1 in recommending that either the ordinance be prepared for a first reading in one week’s time, to continue the discussion to another worksession, or to postpone the discussion entirely.
“Is a week enough time?” asked Councilmember Thom Carnevale, who repeatedly throughout the meeting voiced his belief that given the current economic crisis any discussion about the PUD regulations should be postponed.
“I’m opposed to doing this at the next meeting,” said Councilmember Bob Saunders, who was joined by Councilmember David Oyster in lobbying for additional discussion prior to moving ahead with a first reading of the ordinance.
Mayor Stu Fraser, Mayor Pro-Tem Andrea Benda, and Councilmember Lulu Hunt each supported a first reading – a direction cemented by Fraser, who as Mayor is alone vested with the authority to set council’s agenda.
“I have no problem hearing a first reading,” he said.
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 are not required to apply for a PUD under any circumstance. Nor do they have incentive to, according to proponents of the changes, because building to the existing code is more profitable.
The current PUD regulations require that developers mitigate 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 requires no such affordable housing and less demanding parking requirements.
As a result, the rules effectively discourage developers from building more than the minimum commercial space required, instead packing in more profitable residential units, concluded the Planning and Zoning and the Historic and Architectural Review Commissions, which last spring identified a revamp of the PUD regulations as one of their combined top five priorities.
Among the variances to the PUD regulations suggested by the commissions, it is the contemplation of affordable housing mitigation requirements that has consistently remained the most controversial and time consuming.
Its proponents believe the changes are critical to achieving economic vitality in the town’s commercial core, which is lined with the dark windows of unused residential space on its second and third floors.
“If we do nothing, we will get this building, I guarantee it,” said P&Z Chair David Wadley, referring to buildings comprised entirely of residential space save for the minimum required first floor commercial space allowed by right.
“It is still always going to be the highest and best use for your pocket to build that building,” he said. “It’s the easiest path to maximize your dollar so it’s the model we see.”
“It doesn’t do anyone any good to see dark penthouse windows lining main street,” he added.
Critics fear the changes will further erode the town’s already strained supply of affordable housing and, potentially, the community.
“The soundbite of the day seems to be economic vitality- I think it’s really misleading,” said Eileen McGinley. “We need to have a community to have this place be vital. If we lose this community all we’re going to have is storefronts,” she continued.
When it came time for council to give its direction, “I am supporting the P&Z proposal as drafted and redrafted in its latest iteration,” said Benda.
“I want it as is – no modifications,” said Hunt.
“I think we modify it through compromise,” said Oyster.
“I would support some modification to this,” said Saunders.
Carnevale reiterated his opposition to the discussion before stating, “I definitely oppose anything that would alter or decrease affordable housing mitigation.”
“I support the P&Z proposal as drafted,” said Fraser, who directed Town Planning and Building Director Chris Hawkins to prepare the new ordinance for first reading with affordable housing mitigation waived for commercial space beyond the Vitality Setback as P&Z originally suggested.
He added that Hawkins should also discuss with the commission the viability of requiring that 50 percent of commercial space beyond the Vitality Setback also be mitigated based upon public comment on the issue.
Compared to the affordable housing variance, three others proposed by P&Z concerning wetlands, building height, and parking sparked little contention.
Current wetland regulations prohibit fill or soil disturbances within five feet of the area except in cases of hardship that would prohibit reasonable use.
P&Z’s proposed changes would allow for the filling of poorly functioning, manmade wetlands (such as those that develop from parking lot runoff) in exchange for mitigation within the town or on adjacent open space at a 2:1 or greater ratio.
“They are not, in a classic sense, wetlands that you’d really want to save,” said Hawkins.
Satisfied that outside expertise in determining the functionality of a wetland and input from the Ecology Commission would act as satisfactory safeguards, council, save for Carnevale, recommended that the P&Z wetlands revision remain in the new ordinance.
“It seems like we should be encouraging wetlands rather than eliminating them,” he said.
Council directed that P&Z’s proposal to allow a height increase of no more than five feet in residential zone districts in exchange for reduced site coverage or to improve a building’s scale, mass, and character be retained.
It opposed P&Z’s suggestion for a variance that would allow a site-specific parking analysis to be completed as the foundation for requesting a variance to the number of parking spaces required of a PUD. The existing PUD regulations are sufficient, council said, because they already allow for a 50 percent reduction of required parking if certain conditions are met.
Council directed that two new public purposes be added to the currently accepted list of those that developers may choose to satisfy in lieu of a PUD regulation for which they seek a variance.
A land use mix in the commercial and historic commercial zone districts would help further the economic and vitality goals of the Telluride Master Plan through the creation of smaller, incubator retail and commercial spaces, offices on the second floor, and additional commercial space on the first floor beyond that required by the Vitality Setback.
Additionally, a sustainability goal would significantly reduce the amount of carbon generated by a project over the life of the project such as the reuse of an existing building in design.
Another change proposed to the PUD requirements by the P&Z would have eliminated the maximum Floor Area Ratio in the commercial and historic commercial zone districts. The commission suggested that because design guidelines limiting mass and scale are now in place, the FAR maximum was unnecessary.
Ultimately council determined it would prefer to retain a maximum FAR of 2:1 and directed staff to revise the ordinance to reflect that direction.
In the original ordinance P&Z recommended that it retain authority to grant the expanded list of variances for affordable housing, wetlands, building height and parking, with which council agreed.
“There are enough hoops,” said Fraser, who later said he believed the meeting had been productive.
“We’ve learned something, [the ordinance] is better,” he said.