The San Miguel County Board of Commissioners unanimously approved on Wednesday the wording of a letter to Telluride Mayor John Pryor and the Telluride Town Council supporting the proposed annexation of the Valley Floor into the Town of Telluride.
"The San Miguel County Board of Commissioners appreciate the open forums and information that has been disseminated to the public concerning the framework for the settlement of the Town's condemnation action and the preservation of the Valley Floor," the letter states. It goes on to advise that the commissioners "support the annexation" and that the BOCC "applauds the Town Council's decision to refer a ballot question on the essential elements for the annexation and preservation of the Valley Floor to the voters of the Town of Telluride."
The letter further advertised a public forum that the BOCC will hold on Wed., Jan. 25 from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Michael Palm Theatre. The purpose of the forum is to provide information about the county's Master Plan for the Telluride region, which includes the Valley Floor, and about the zoning and the county's planned unit development process as they may relate to the Valley Floor, as well as what development approvals could potentially be applied for and considered through the county land use process. In the event that the Telluride proceeds with its condemnation case against San Miguel Valley Corporation, owner of the Valley Floor, a case that has been temporarily stayed by the Town Council, and either loses its case or, if victorious, is unable to pay the price ordered by the court in a timely fashion, then future development of the Valley Floor could be subject to county review and approval.
Oil and Gas Update
The upcoming quarterly auction of oil and gas lease rights in San Miguel County by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management scheduled for Feb. 9, most of it centered on the mesas surrounding Placerville, will be the largest it has ever conducted in Colorado. It is expected to be followed by similarly-sized auctions in the future. Some 14,000 acres of land currently nominated for lease are so-called "split-estates," meaning that the surface rights are owned by private citizens while the subsurface mineral rights are held by the federal government. Concerned in particular about the lack of notification to property owners who may be affected by potential future drilling, and prompted by what County Planning Director Mike Rozycki characterized as "lots of inquiries," the San Miguel County Commissioners considered on Wednesday the feasibility of a protest letter. The deadline for such a letter is Jan. 25.
Rozycki advised the commissioners that he was unsure of "what basis there is for protest," as the legal requirement of the BLM to notify property owners is unclear. It appears that the BLM satisfies any requirement by merely posting notification at its office and on its website. County attorney Steve Zwick told the commissioners that, in effect, "there is no requirement."
Commissioner Art Goodtimes acknowledged that he was "unsure of a protest," but recommended a letter of concern be sent to the BLM and to U.S. Representative Ken Salazar.
"There is clearly inadequate notification to owners," said Goodtimes. "The notification process is insufficient." He added that he thought the federal government would be "loathe to change" the process as oil and gas leasing represents for it "a great boon," but said the government "needs to fix" the problem.
Goodtimes also voiced concern about the nomination process which usually involves gas and oil industry players who remain unknown to the affected land owners until after the auction.
Questioned by BOCC chairperson Elaine Fischer, Rozycki explained that no assessment or evaluation of possible mineral resources attends the nomination of land. He said that the BLM, once a nomination is made of a property, does nothing more than review published plans and documents, often old and out of date, and then puts the property up for lease.
Rozycki revealed that the BLM website was frequently down at the end of the year and that BLM staff "admits they are overwhelmed with this auction."
After discussion, the commissioners agreed to send a letter of concern to the BLM and Salazar with copies to all congressional and state representatives, the Secretary of the Interior and the BLM Resource Advisory Council.
A letter was also approved to be written to the Colorado Land Board, which is holding an oil and gas lease auction on Feb. 14. That auction involves seven tracts of land, four of which are in mapped Gunnison Sage Grouse habitat. Only one of the tracts is not split-estate. To this point, the CLB has resisted efforts by the Colorado Division of Wildlife and others, including the BOCC, to restrict rig placement on split-estate property or to limit lease areas in order to avoid the grouse habitat.
"Remind everyone that we're supposed to be doing everything possible at the state level," Goodtimes directed county staff concerning the approved letter. The CLB notification deadline is Friday.
New Members, Alternates Named to County Planning
Lee Taylor, currently an alternate member of the San Miguel County Planning Commission, has been named a regular member. Taylor will replace outgoing member Jerry Greene, who had applied to remain on the board. Taking Taylor's place as an alternate member will be Brian Ahern.
After many years on the board, including a term as chairperson, Oak Smith has stepped down and his regular member position will be filled by Curtis Odom. A senior alternate seat vacated by Peter Lundeen will be occupied by Joel Coniglio. The appointments were unanimously approved by the San Miguel County Commissioners on Wednesday, following public interviews with all the candidates.
To each of the planning commission applicants, BOCC chairperson Elaine Fischer directed one question: "What is your vision of the Valley Floor?" In posing the question, Fischer advised the applicants that, should the Town of Telluride resume its condemnation case against the San Miguel Valley Corporation, owner of the Valley Floor, and either lose the case or not be able to fund the court-ordered price of acquisition in the event that it wins, a development application by SMVC could come back to the county. The county's PUD-R zoning for the Valley Floor has been previously approved by the county but has never been enacted. That zoning would allow one home on every seven acres. The underlying zoning under state statute, requiring minimal local review, is one home for every 35 acres.
"I think we need to do a better job of educating our constituency, so we don't take heat for one-for-35," answered Taylor. He went on to say he favored "the minimum development possible, within code," and added, "Whatever gets done out there has to be fair."
Odom, self-described as a "mixture between architect and attorney," said he thought it would be "unfortunate" if SMVC opted for one-for-35 zoning. "I don't think their (SMVC's) development plan would be in concert with what Telluride residents would want to see," he said, and stated that he thought "planning controls" were needed.
Coniglio, a builder who lives on Wright's Mesa, answered Fischer's question by saying, "It's a pretty unique opportunity we have to decide exactly what the world sees as they arrive here." Coniglio asserted that the Valley Floor should be "preserved as much as open space as possible, without squashing, too much, people's rights."
Ahern responded to the question by saying that he saw the Valley Floor issue as "a very scary situation but a great opportunity." He said that he "would not want to see any development, ideally."