Telluride Town Planner Chris Hawkins presented several options to council Tuesday at Rebekah Hall for how the town's zoning might be changed to encourage retail activity in the town's traditional downtown. After considering the alternatives, council directed staff to prepare an amendment to the Telluride Land Use Code for consideration at the Dec. 19 council meeting.
Council has for the past year voiced concerns about the conversion of retail or restaurant space into offices, professional services, banks and other similar operations, because these conversions may diminish retail and restaurant uses that generate sales tax dollars. At the same time, retail businesses and restaurants are crucial to providing activity levels and diversity that help give the town its character, itself essential to the town's tourism economy and the tourist experience.
Hawkins presented five options for council to weigh: the town could prohibit the establishment of new offices, professional services, banks, and related uses on the first or ground floor in the commercial core; allow new offices and other specified types of uses on the first or ground floor in a commercial core as a special (conditional) use that is reviewed and approved by discretionary criteria; prohibit the establishment of certain types of offices on the ground or first floor but allow other uses there; allow new offices and other related uses on the first or ground floor in the commercial core with a quantifiable limit on total area; or the town could continue to allow the free market to dictate land uses in the commercial core.
Hawkins gave examples of several communities that have implemented so-called horizontal zoning plans.
Aspen, for example, has a sizeable historic district and prohibits office space within 40 feet of the street there. Lake Forest, Illinois, allows only 10 percent of total ground space in a commercial building to be devoted to non-retail uses.
Councilmember Bob Saunders said reaction around the community has indicated to him that locals want changes of a similar nature in Telluride.
"The word I've gotten about this from citizens is, it's a good idea," Saunders said. "They can see the variety of shops and the opportunity for people to shop when they come to town vanishing."
Hawkins suggested that it would be best to test the zoning in the historical commercial zone district, studying how that action works, before considering any additional areas.
Hawkins also suggested a joint meeting of council and the Telluride Planning & Zoning Commission in the near future to make sure the process proceeds smoothly and is meeting all of the objectives. Regulations could be drafted and acted on by the second quarter of next year, Hawkins said.
Council discussed horizontal zoning on Oct. 31, when it directed Hawkins to research how the issue of offices crowding out retail and restaurants had been dealt with in other communities. In addition to Aspen, those communities included Vail, Steamboat Springs, Boulder, and Crested Butte; the California communities of Laguna Beach, Healdsburg, and St. Helena; and Lake Forest, Illinois.
One member of the public present at Tuesday's meeting, Scott McQuade, complimented both Planning & Zoning and council for their efforts on this matter.
McQuade, CEO of the Telluride Tourism Board, said, "I think you guys are going in a great direction. More people will be out on our streets if there are shops and restaurants."
McQuade added, in an interview after the meeting, "More activity that is not only visitor-centric but also community-centric is going to generate more business and tourism."
There was some opposition to the proposed plans. Developer John Horn said he has had trouble finding tenants for two spaces he owns in the Heritage Building, because there is not a rush of retailers trying to rent that space.
"I'm not sure how this regulation is to be conducted, but it could be a very difficult situation for someone like me," Horn said.
P&Z Commission member David Wadley said he supported council's direction but urged careful consideration of the entire area that could be affected by horizontal zoning.
"You're going to have a complicated situation if you go to a bunch of different areas," Wadley said. "Maybe start with main street and keep it to commercial zoning."