Pryor and other officials from the region's government meet quarterly to discuss regional issues, foremost among them this month the region's daunting needs for new facilities.
San Miguel County Commission Chairperson Elaine Fischer said that the cost to bring just the county facilities "up to where they need to be" over the next 10 years will amount to some $18 million. Fischer called the cost of other regional facility needs "huge" and asked, "Where's the money going to come from?"
"It makes me very nervous," Fischer said. "What are we doing to our community?"
Telluride Town Councilmember Stu Fraser urged that a task force be formed to "start talking about what we need to survive 20 years from now from a facilities perspective." Fraser said such a planning commission should "involve the entire region," and added that, "we really need to come up with some answers." County Commissioner Art Goodtimes concurred and suggested that facilities planning become an agenda item at every intergovernmental meeting.
A straw poll indicated unanimous agreement among all the regional government representatives and Fraser, Pryor, Fischer, Mountain Village Mayor Davis Fansler and Mountain Village Town Councilmember Rube Felicelli were all nominated as members of the to-be-formed commission.
"Let's start implementing," said Felicelli. "Talking is great but we have to take the next step."
No 'Single Silver Bullet' for Affordable Housing Woes
One problem, among many, that confronts local employee housing efforts, is that little of the county is actually zoned for affordable housing developments. To change zoning is a laborious and time-consuming exercise that involves altering both the county Master Plan and its Land Use Code. Over and above such technical and administrative issues, however, there is the question of public sentiment toward affordable housing projects outside of town limits.
"I don't see the willingness of the citizens of this county to wrestle with affordable housing," said San Miguel County Commissioner Art Goodtimes at an intergovernmental worksession on Monday. "We can rezone something, but every opportunity that's come up, there have been a zillion reasons thrown up not to do it."
Goodtimes said that zoning decisions made over the past 20 years "have put us in a very tenuous spot" by clustering affordable housing zones strictly around Telluride and Mountain Village, which have now become largely used up.
"Norwood does not want to be a bedroom community only," Goodtimes said. "We've heard from Rico, they don't want it," he added, saying that he feared "all of our employees are going to live outside the county."
County Commissioner Chairperson Elaine Fischer pointed to Norwood's "fragile water system" as a deterrent to affordable housing projects there and lack of a central sewage system Down Valley. "You run into these clashes," Fischer said and affirmed that building in proximity to the county's two main economic centers, with access to their infrastructure, was optimal.
"We are facing a really huge dilemma," said Goodtimes, indicating that market forces would soon drive affordable housing solutions to Nucla and Naturita, which "is going to serve that need for us in a way we're going to be very sorry to see."
Speaking from the audience, local real estate broker and developer Dirk dePagter said, "We seem to have a knack for transporting our problems elsewhere." DePagter said that the Valley Floor, that is expected to cost tens of millions of dollars and be protected from any development if current condemnation efforts by the Town of Telluride are successful, is "the elephant in the living room." Pushing workers farther from the towns, he said, translates to "more people on the road, more gas burned, more rubber extracted from somewhere." Saying there is no "single silver bullet," he said that "the problem's going to be huge."
Habitat for Humanity Comes to Telluride
A local branch of the international organization Habitat for Humanity has been formally established. Known as Habitat for Humanity of the Telluride Region, Inc., the new non-profit company is charged with eliminating substandard housing conditions and homelessness for people in the greater Telluride area. According to boardmember Curtis Odom of Norwood, who spoke to local government representatives on Monday at their intergovernmental worksession, there are some 1,000 families within San Miguel and Ouray counties and Rico who are living in substandard housing or who are "rent-burdened." Odom said it was likely that many of the families could qualify for assistance from his non-profit company that stipulates a maximum income of 50 percent of the area median. In return for at least 200 hours of labor, either to help build their home or assisting Habitat administratively, successful applicants receive a $100,000 mortgage at 0 percent interest that, Odom said, equates to a monthly payment for a roughly 1,200-square-foot home of $287.
To help meet local need, Odom called for "land, volunteers, contributions and support." He showed the intergovernmental representatives preliminary plans for a new Habitat development in Norwood. Located at the corner of Pine and San Miguel streets, the lot to be developed is just over one acre and will accommodate six homes as well as a communal organic garden and, possibly, a farmer's market.
Mountain Village Councilmember Jonathan Sweet said that Habitat "takes a different niche" than the local affordable housing authority and he commended Odom for his efforts as well as those of Mike Dorsey who has been a primary force in bringing Habitat to Telluride. Sweet said that Dorsey, former lead counsel for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, has been "an incredible resource."
Despite Legal Wrangling, Power Line Talks Are Positive
"Everyone's talking, it's positive, it's cooperative," said Mountain Village Councilmember Bob Delves describing progress between 26 local mesa landowners and Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, the region's wholesale provider of electricity, on issues relating to Tri-State's planned development of an upgraded back-up powerline from Nucla to Telluride.
Delves was addressing local government officials on Monday at an intergovernmental worksession.
The landowners, he told them, supported by the San Miguel County Commissioners, want the powerline to be undergrounded for approximately 10 miles where it crosses scenic mesa properties. Tri-State, backed up by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission, prefers to place an overhead line as a less costly alternative. The landowners contend that the detrimental impact on the value of their properties caused by an above-ground powerline, a cost that Tri-State would be responsible for reimbursing, could easily tip the expense scale in favor of undergrounding. A legal case is currently in progress in the local district court between the county and the landowners and the PUC.
Delves said that a report written by PUC staff was "supportive of some of the positions taken by the landowners." The PUC commissioners, however, "didn't move forward" on their staff recommendations, he said. The district court judge has ordered the report to be made available, according to Delves, but the PUC refused the order, claiming it was "private and confidential." The case is now bound for the Colorado Supreme Court, Delves said, and could be delayed "for years." Nonetheless, he indicated that formal meetings between representatives of Tri-State and the affected landowners were scheduled to be held yesterday and today.
156 College Credits Earned With Local Courses
University Centers of the San Miguel, the local alternative to a community college system, has completed its inaugural academic year. On Monday, local government representatives attending an intergovernmental worksession heard from Executive Director Sarah Silver that the first two semesters were successes. For the Fall 2005 semester, 50 students registered for eight courses taught by eight instructors. For Spring 2006, registration and course count doubled. With 156 undergraduate credits earned, Silver called first year results "pretty spectacular."
The mission of UCSM is to sustain and enrich the San Miguel Watershed communities by providing universal access to higher education. Such access, Silver said, is "a critical element to a just and sustainable society."
Silver said that access to college-level courses and symposia should attract more visitors and lure second homeowners to spend more time in the region, both of which should prove to be important components of the region's future sustainability.
Currently partnered with Northwest Community College and Mesa State College, Silver said that UCSM is actively exploring affiliations with Prescott College in Arizona and Fort Lewis College in Durango.
To help get the word out and avoid expensive advertising, Silver asked for government entities and local organizations to help promote her organization on the Internet. "Anybody that could link us in, that would be great," she said.
Kids for Council
During public comment at the opening of an intergovernmental worksession on Monday, students from Robert Moore's eighth grade humanities class at the Telluride Middle School offered some suggestions to improve local sustainability. A communal greenhouse in every regional town was one suggestion, a means to produce fresh local food that would keep expensive imports down as well as the truck traffic required to deliver them. Greenhouse production, it was suggested, could be sold to local restaurants and markets and be a source of added revenue to the towns. Cultivating greenhouse crops was touted as a valuable means of community service.
Another recommendation from the middle school students was to close off the heart of Telluride's main street to vehicle traffic in the same way that Boulder's Pearl Street was rendered pedestrian-only in the late 1970s. Such a move, the kids predicted, would boost retail sales and make the town even more attractive to visitors than it already is. County Commissioner Art Goodtimes agreed that "it would really enhance the experience of our visitors" and revealed that exactly such an experiment was conducted here in the late 70s without success. Goodtimes said he considered the idea a sound one, notwithstanding lots of attendant issues, and surmised that the previous attempt failed largely because it was ahead of its time.
Telluride Councilmember Andrea Benda told the eighth-graders that she would be happy to have them address their ideas to the Telluride Business Task Force that she serves as council liaison.