TELLURIDE – A controversial ordinance that proposed modifications to the Land Use Code viewed by some as a giveaway to developers and by others as necessary for attracting commercial development in Telluride’s downtown core failed on its first reading Tuesday when a split Telluride Town Council delivered a 3-3 tie vote (Mayor Pro-Tem Andrea Benda was absent) that doomed it to defeat.
The vote on the ordinance, which would have waived some affordable housing mitigation requirements for developers who agreed to provide commercial space beyond that required in Planned Unit Developments located in historic and historic commercial zone districts, went along the current council’s “party lines.”
Mayor Stu Fraser and councilmembers Lulu Hunt and Jill Masters voted to approve the ordinance, while councilmembers Thom Carnevale, David Oyster, and Bob Saunders voted against it.
“Where it goes from here is really up to council,” said Town Planning and Building Director Chris Hawkins, after the vote.
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). 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.
“The ultimate goal is that every building that is ever built in commercial district is 100 percent PUD,” said P&Z Chair David Wadley.
But, “No one wants to use it so they get around it.”
The commissions began revising the PUD code and met for joint worksessions over the summer to hone the details, crafting amendments they believed would improve the town’s economic vitality by providing developers with incentives to build additional commercial space beyond the minimum requirement.
Council approved the second reading of the ordinance, No. 1300, by a 4-3 vote in December after a heated and protracted debate.
It then rescinded the ordinance to allow for more public discussion a few weeks later in early January after citizens threatened to veto it by holding a referendum.
After nearly six hours of impassioned debate on the issue that took place over two worksessions held in February and early March, council directed town staff to prepare what was ultimately a nearly unchanged version of the rescinded ordinance for a first reading this past Tuesday, March 10.
The decision was hardly unanimous. 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 (Fraser, Benda, Hunt), to continue the discussion to another worksession (Oyster, Saunders), or to postpone the discussion entirely (Carnevale).
Fraser swayed the essentially tied vote as he alone, as mayor, has the authority to set council’s agenda.
Noting that compromise had generally been reached between the two sides concerning other contentious issues including parking mitigation and wetlands, Fraser asked that Tuesday’s conversation focus on affordable housing.
And focus it did, for two-and-a-half hours.
Former HARC member Chris Myers told council that the commission he served on never intended for affordable housing mitigation to be relaxed for commercial development without adding mitigation requirements for some residential development.
“We’ve cut out the balancing proportion that HARC originally intended,” he said.
Greg Craig implored council to reject the notion “[t]hat our community is a zero-sum game where every new thing is a threat to an old one,” and to pass the first reading.
“It seems you have taken away the checks and balances,” said Dana Ivers, who owns the Colorado Ave. building that houses The Sweet Life.
She urged council to vote down the ordinance.
“It is just giving [developers] the red greed card,” she said.
Bob Dempsey, who owns the Colorado Ave. building that houses La Cocina and the neighboring courtyard that the Mexican restaurant expands onto joined by The Coffee Cowboy, made it clear that the future of that sun-filled patio where locals linger over lattes is in peril.
With the current regulations, “We have to build a building there,” he said.
“With the new regulations I can see us able to preserve that courtyard,” he continued. “But we need some carrots.”
By the end of the meeting it almost seemed as though the ordinance would move to a second reading as council negotiated and added conditions to the proposed motion, but the give and take that appeared to be flowing smoothly was not enough.
“This started out as a way to try and get affordable housing mitigation on larger houses and it got off track; until we get that half back I don’t think it’s going to work,” said Saunders. “I’m not willing to give up affordable housing.”
“I actually felt like we were getting very close to resolving the affordable housing issue,” said Fraser. “It surprised me when the first reading didn’t pass.”
Nevertheless, the issue does not appear dead.
“It’s too important to the commercial core to let a year’s worth of work not be used,” he continued.
Nor did Saunders believe the conversation has concluded.
“They’re going to keep bringing it back,” he said.
Nevertheless, “We can’t just give [affordable housing] away to allow some developer to make more money on their project,” said Saunders.