So reported the San Miguel County Commissioners, along with County Planner Mike Rozycki and County Attorney Steven Zwick at an open forum Wednesday.
Currently, SMVC has two probable paths to development approval through the county process. One would be to subdivide its holdings into 35-acre lots, a use by right granted by state statute that actually requires no county subdivision review or approval process. Under such a scenario, it would fall to the county solely to approve the siting of homes on the lots and enforce design guidelines. Depending on the actual extent of undevelopable wetlands, and unbuildable wetland buffer zones, there could be between 14 and 17 homes built on the south side of the Valley Floor under the 1-for-35 zoning. Those homes could exceed 12,000 square feet, with 2,000-square-foot caretaker units, either attached or detached, and additional supporting structures could be allowed.
The second path would involve development under the terms of the zoning district currently in place on the Valley Floor known as Planned Unit Development in Reserve. An outcome of planning efforts in the late 70s and early 80s, PUDR zoning was given to the SMVC property as well as to Aldasoro and the West Meadows. It allows for both low-density residential development and high density. In order to proceed with high-density development, the landowner is required to provide substantial impact mitigation in the way of alternate transportation, recreational amenities, and affordable housing. If the landowner is unable, or unwilling, to meet all of the mitigation standards, he can apply for low-density development approval that comes with far less onerous requirements.
Under the County Master Plan, maximum density on the Valley Floor is 1,770 people. Low-density development effectively translates to one residence per every seven acres. In the case of the south side of the Valley Floor, again depending on wetland boundaries, build-out would equate to roughly 50 homes.
Over and above, and around, those two likeliest cases, however, there swarm a maddening host of other possibilities that would range between the high density and low density cases, with possible clustering of residential uses, and could, potentially, lead to commercial development in the way of offices, retail and a hotel.
"There's a wide range of possibilities," conceded Rozycki. "I don't think we know what the outcome would be under the county."
One guiding light would surely be shone by precedence. In the case of Aldasoro, whose developers found it unfeasible to meet all the mitigation requirements of the high-density zoning designation, the land was re-zoned to a low-density PUD of 166 residential lots that range in size from roughly two to six acres, with a mean size of between three and three and a half acres. Rozycki and the commissioners, as well as county attorney Zwick, said that it would be difficult, in any legally defensible way, to stop SMVC, at a minimum, from developing the Valley Floor in a similar manner. Given the proximity of the SMVC property to the Town of Telluride, moreover, as well as its owner's resources, meeting the complete mitigation requirements for high-density zoning would probably not prove as much of an obstacle.
In terms of overall good planning, Commissioner Art Goodtimes expressed no doubt that the matter of the Valley Floor best belongs with Telluride, not with the county.
"The Valley Floor needs to be under Telluride control," said Goodtimes. "My personal view is that I don't think we could do as good a deal." He asserted, further, that the county is "reactive," saying, "We don't make deals," and added that he was "afraid we will not get anything better" than what was approved for Aldasoro. Goodtimes said that his belief, in concert with the thrust of the Master Plan for the Telluride region that has been in place for 15 years, is that the whole of the region should come under the town's sway. To turn down the mediated settlement proposed by the Telluride Town Council, which involves annexation of the Valley Floor to the town, "would be giving up the greater vision" and "a terrible loss," he contended.
"Telluride would become frozen as a very small urban entity while Mountain Village grows, possibly becoming the dominant political entity in the region. Telluride's voice would shrink," Goodtimes predicted.
On the subject of condemnation, an alternative means by which the town might own the Valley Floor, Goodtimes was emphatic. He said he felt the political climate, especially at the federal level, was unfavorable for a condemnation case, and conjectured that SMVC would not hesitate to appeal a condemnation victory by Telluride to the federal level. The company has already demonstrated its political clout and savvy at the state level by its influence in 2004 on legislation aimed at prohibiting home rule municipalities from condemning land outside their borders for open space purposes.
"The game is very complex," said Goodtimes. "We're not in a time that bodes well for this kind of action."
Speaking as a member of the public, town councilperson Roberta Peterson said that it was virtually guaranteed that SMVC would appeal a condemnation ruling in Telluride's favor and asked, rhetorically, "How sympathetic will an appeals judge be after Telluride turned down a 91 percent open space negotiation?"
Goodtimes also pointed to severe problems the county has countenanced in trying to effect a far simpler condemnation in the west end. In the case of the Valley Floor, with "a hostile landowner, with good attorneys and deep pockets," Goodtimes said he foresaw "lots of problems."