Prior to being elected mayor in November after a spirited contest with candidates Chance Leoff and Terry Tice, Fraser served on Telluride’s Town Council for the last six years. He said his new job is demanding, but knows that the hard work will pay off.
“So far there have been a lot more demands and more places to be at,” Fraser said in an interview Wednesday. “The job is very time consuming. But at the same time, it is more rewarding as well.”
Fraser beat Tice by a margin of just 15 votes in an election that sharply divided the town. Fraser said that many of his critics, before and after the election, believe he is on the pro-development side of the Telluride political line.
“The only things I have ever developed were my two children. My wife and I have never developed anything here,” he said. “I guess it may be that I am willing to work with people on both sides of the line and try to understand what everybody’s concerns are. It is a hard line to be on between these two sides. Those who are against development don’t like you, but at the same time those who want development don’t like you, either.”
Fraser has assumed the role of mayor in a time of transition on town council, as this year’s election brought three new members, David Oyster, Thom Carnevale and Lulu Hunt. So far, the new town council has held three public meetings, and Fraser said they are beginning to work together toward similar goals.
“I think it is difficult for [the new members] to assimilate and to understand what we have all gone through on the previous council,” Fraser said. “I have met with all the councilmembers individually and found that we share the same goals. We may come from a different mindset but we have similar goals. It’s how we get there that is the important thing.”
Town council has faced a large amount of criticism over preliminary Lift 7 plans presented by Oz Architecture to the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission on Nov. 15. Most of the public outcry surrounded the size of proposed structures, which set the maximum height of the project at 60 feet, the same height that had been allowed for the Element 52 project. The town’s allowed height in that area is 45 feet.
After hearing public criticism of the plans, council decided to take a step back.
“As the process for Lift 7 has gone on, we kept adding and adding density. Like a cup of coffee that gets overfilled, it finally overflowed. We have all agreed it was too big and we have to redefine what it is that we really want out there,” Fraser said. “We want to achieve the most community benefits out of that area. Obviously, it has the potential for a lot of affordable housing and a new medical center. It is a very important part of our future and we need to do it correctly.” Town council will discuss more possibilities at their Jan. 29 meeting.
Meanwhile, the town must also give attention to repairing the rest of the Highway 145 Spur, an expensive project for which the town must find money.
“If we take a look at the Spur, it is a $10 million question for us right now,” Fraser said. “It is critical though, and it will require additional funding, but it is not our number one priority.” That priority spot is reserved for the water main buried below main street atop mine tailings.
A $5 million bond to replace the aging infrastructure failed in November, but remains a concern for Fraser, who has it at the top of his to-do list.
“Our town manager, Frank Bell, is now looking at getting a grant that deals with pipes that have been affected by mine tailings. It is a different approach,” he said. “If that happens, it will give us an opportunity to save a sizable amount of money and would make the problem easier to deal with. It will be an interesting task right now, but that is our number one concern.”
Fraser is also concerned about the impact the water main repair work could have on main street businesses, saying, “although we need to fix it, we must also find a way to do it more efficiently” than previous plans allowed.
He said that while the town must find additional money to fund these large infrastructure problems, the town has “adequate money to do all of the things that need to be done,” including the Coronet Creek project, which includes plans for a new bridge.
Fraser is also keeping his eye on the success of main street businesses. He said recent reports show that the sales tax has been fairly flat, and if inflation continues to increase, main street sales tax will be declining.
“We have more empty buildings on main street than before,” Fraser said. “My hunch is that we are going to end up pretty even with sales tax, and if inflation increases we will be down. We hope that the horizontal zoning that we put in place, the Business Task Force and the new Business Alliance will pay off. We know it will take some time, though.”
And then there’s the upcoming Valley Floor case, which will go in front of the Colorado Supreme Court on Jan. 22. Fraser will travel to Denver for the hearing, during which both the town and SMVC will present arguments. He said he is confident of an outcome in favor of the town.
“It is really hard to believe that after decades we are actually going to know what is going to happen with the Valley Floor,” he said. “We believe we are in a very good position to win.” A verdict is expected several months after the January hearing.
When asked how the town will deal with a loss, Fraser replied, “It would be upsetting to all of us. It has been going on for so long and if we don’t come out on top it will be very upsetting, but we would deal with it.”