We have read the letters in the papers and feel the passion our community has expressed about the beauty and preservation of the Valley Floor. Our elected officials, all coming from diverse backgrounds with contrasting views, are now in unanimous agreement that negotiating a compromise is our best course of action. Every person in this community would like to see the Valley Floor preserved. However, there has been no feasible plan brought forward.
When condemnation is said and done it is Telluride alone who will be saddled with this financial burden? When the citizens of Telluride voted in 2002 to condemn the Valley Floor and incur a $10M bond there was no other course of action available. It was this decision to condemn that has enabled us to work towards negotiating a more feasible outcome for the town of Telluride. These negotiations are working to preserve 91 percent of the Valley Floor while retaining our open space fund. If the cost of condemnation could be capped at only $10M and the repayment deficit was secured, then condemnation would be a realistic pursuit. However, the current shortfall with no committed source of funding is too great a risk.
Since condemnation became the chosen course, there have been various groups pursuing fundraising. With all their hard work and collective efforts, these citizens have acquired pledges of around $6.6M. While a valiant fundraising effort, this is a significant shortage of funds. These groups working together could not attain even half of the amount needed to cover the shortfall if condemnation is our course. It would be irresponsible for our town government to move forward with condemnation without a secured source of payment.
It would be negligent if the tax paying citizens of Telluride and our governing bodies did not explore further negotiations. The citizens of our community and our elected officials must uphold their fiduciary responsibility to the town and pursue a compromise. Vote "yes" on Valentine's Day.
Todd and Jan Herrick
'No' on the Valley Floor
Thank you, Town Council, for checking in with the voters. By "checking in," we, the voters, have been able to reach a greater understanding of the salient issues framing the Valley Floor debate. Although I voted to avoid condemnation in the previous election because of my understanding, at that time, of the financial expense to the community and because of my personal philosophy on issues regarding private property rights, I have had a change of mind and heart.
I now understand that the Valley Floor issue is unique. It is a complex amalgamation of issues ranging from troublesome environmental hazards and risks to a broad array of community concerns and costs that, now, because of the process at hand, all of us better understand. Accordingly, I can no longer treat this issue generically. After thoughtfully considering the issues, I am convinced that the safest and least costly way to proceed with the Valley Floor is to reject the present proposal. Happily, my inner soul tells me it is the right thing to do as well. Please join me and vote for the most prudent approach to moving forward with this unique issue by voting "No" on February 14.
'Condemnation Is Not Stealing'
As I try to comprehend where the "yes" voters are coming from, I hear something weary and fatalistic in their supposed logic: "It's inevitable, it's gonna happen someday, at least we can live with this deal." (Never mind the gaping flaws and loopholes…)
As if development is as natural as rain. As if Telluride is genetically destined to grow from a one-mile town to a six-mile strip.
The script goes like this: "Neal Blue has his rights, his inalienable property rights, let's be mature for once and honor this fact."
Not so. Neal Blue has no more natural right to five-fold profits than Wal-Mart has to invade and decimate thousands of small towns. The problem is, legislation lags behind the market. Except in the case of Telluride, where a front and rear-guard effort has put SMVC into court where it belongs facing the people.
All of this is legitimate. Condemnation is not stealing. It is an important, fundamental tool for expressing the will of the people. Without condemnation, society would not have schools or airports, roadways or National Parks. And because our society does value private property, the process is designed so that owners get fair market value.
But property rights do not descend from the heavens like sun and snow. They are granted, negotiated and redressed by government. Maybe someday Wal-Mart will find that out. In the meantime, it's Neal Blue's turn.
And lest we forget what this is really all about: development is development. Just ask Aspen.
Save Telluride, Vote 'Yes'
The Town hired condemnation expert Leslie Fields to represent it against SMVC. The opponents of the council alternative say she is infallible and has never lost a case. Trust her.
The Town hired the appraisal expert Chase & Co to do our appraisals. The opponents of the council alternative say their numbers are never off by more than 10 20 percent. Trust them.
The town hired the annexation finance experts King & Associates to estimate the cost of annexation. The opponents of the council alternative say their analysis is worthless and can't be believed.
When you stop and think about it, this kind of intellectual cherry picking is what we've come to expect from the opponents of the council alterative.
Please vote YES.
Save Telluride, Vote No
Please vote NO on the town's proposed giveaway of the Valley Floor on February 14th. This "deal" would not just destroy the Valley Floor, but everything Telluride stands for. The proponents are using Bush administration fear tactics to try to hide the fact that this proposal is, pure and simple, a massive gift to SMVC.
Of all the misrepresentations during the debate over the upcoming election, County Commissioner Elaine Fischer's claims that SMVC can automatically get anything they want from the county are among the most harmful and egregiously false. As your County Commissioner for eight years I know our land use code and procedures: SMVC has state-mandated one per 35 zoning.
They also have the right to apply for a planned unit development (PUD). This right does NOT mean that they automatically get anything they ask for. A key point comes from county land use code section 5-1403 F: "A planned unit development (PUD) is not entitled automatically to the maximum density allowed in the zone district in which the land is located."
The county PUD application process includes requirements for school impact fees, recreational amenities, open space, employee housing, and alternative transportation, as well as restrictions on building in wetlands, wetland buffer zones, and steep or hazardous sites. Furthermore, getting any substantial rights for commercial development at Society Turn would be extremely difficult, as Elaine should know quite well from her time as mayor of Telluride, when she strongly opposed and helped limit commercial development in the county at Lawson Hill.
Again, SMVC would NOT have unlimited ability for commercial development at Society Turn. They would have to go through a complex PUBLIC approval process with mitigation requirements and no guarantees.
The County process is the real bulwark should the town not prevail in condemnation. Trading a possible victory in acquiring a legacy for future generations for the certainty of development is simply bad government.
Having seen the results of many such bad governmental decisions since moving to California for graduate school, I am only too aware of how unique and precious Telluride and its Valley Floor is.
Please save the Valley Floor. Please save Telluride.
Anna Zivian, former Telluride Town Councilmember and San Miguel County Commissioner
Not Enough Employee Housing
On January 6 I wrote to your paper regarding the "Framework" and employee housing.
I wrote the following:
"The Town of Telluride Housing law requires that 40 percent of the impacts of commercial development be mitigated. In the proposed development framework, Neal Blue is awarded 200,000 square feet of commercial development at Society Turn. According to Section 3-740 of the Town Land Use Code this will generate 900 employees. The 40 percent mitigation factor would require housing to be built for only 360 of the 900 employees. That translates to 126,000 square feet of units."
On January 10th I said the same thing in front of Town Council. The Town Council insisted that the Land Use Code and not the Framework would control the amount of housing required. I disputed that. Later letters from Amy Levek and others said we would get sufficient housing from the "deal."
On January 31, Town Manager Jay Harrington issued a press release: "It is the Framework Document, not the Town's land use code, which sets out the requirements that SMVC must satisfy for affordable housing. The Framework document fixes the number of units that SMVC is required to build at 15…"
This was confirmed by Jerry Dahl, the Town Council's special attorney, at the meeting on January 31.
Thus, no matter what, as a result of the deal we will be short housing for over 300 employees.
Town Council, from the beginning of this process, has been distorting, withholding and obfuscating the facts. Employee housing mitigation is just one example of many. Town Council only admitted the truth because their attorney publicly contradicted them.
Do they have so little understanding of the deal that they were handed by SMVC, or are they intentionally misleading the public? If the former, then can we allow them to negotiate on our behalf? If the latter: WHY?
Take the time to get the facts. Save Telluride, VOTE NO.
$26-51 Million Should
'Hardly Raise an Eyebrow'
As a resident of Telluride, I am encouraged tremendously by the many responses on the issue of Valley Floor preservation. I feel privileged to reside here and honored to be part of a community with an abundance of acceptance, education and amazing talents of all kinds. The degree of sophistication that our residents bring to any issue must certainly be the envy of many a small town. I've rarely felt annoyed in my fellow townspeople, but the worrisome doubters about having enough money to purchase the Valley Floor disappoint me.
Viewed against the assemblage of wealth here in this valley and region, $26-$51 million would hardly raise an eyebrow with some. Compared to the money made here over the past 30 years, the present cost of 100 percent open space preservation would be a small fraction. Kristen Patterson made the point in her letter, "that people shake their heads in disbelief and regret" that Town declined the option in 1981 to purchase the property for $6 million. We're looking to make this error again in 2006. Certainly in another 25 years, $26-51 million will seem a low price for this wonderful piece of land, the value rising exponentially with each passing year. Please consider this issue with 25, 50 years in mind.
No Town has ever regretted purchasing open space. Whatever the outcome of this election, our Town will pull together and take the adopted course, working, playing and living together with an understated bond.
As beautiful as this valley and these mountains are, it's the people who live here that make it the place I find so great.
No More Bluegrass Campers?
If we say yes to this annexation vote, then our guest Bluegrass Festival campers will never camp on the 47 acres of the open magnificent entire pasture surrounding the Texaco Gas Station a mile out of town, nor will they enjoy this incredible dramatic view of the Telluride box canyon. This whole pasture, and as much of the forest to the west and the wetlands to the east that the very tenacious owner General Atomics can chisel away, will be completely filled with a gated Closed Private brightly night lit subdivision of very wealthy people. (The glow will dwarf that of the Town of Mountain Village during rain and snowstorms.)
But if you VOTE NO to this annexation "deal" the people of Telluride will be able to share this pasture with our Bluegrass Festival Campers, all cross country skiers, our children, and grand children, forever.
Dave Pedersen, AIA (architect in Telluride since 1975)
Appraisal Disparity Raises Questions
As a longtime resident of Telluride, since relocated to the less contentious environs of Lake City, Colorado, I have continued to follow the Valley Floor issue. As the debate has now evolved into a ballot issue, I would like to offer a few comments.
From the perspective of one who has been engaged in the appraisal profession for more than twenty years, including a real estate practice in Telluride, my concern is that a key issue is being overlooked, minimized or misrepresented, depending on your point of view. Throughout this debate, with all of its emotional overtones and inflexible positioning, the fundamental question is not really all that complicated: if through the legal process the Valley Floor is subject to condemnation, what is the Market Value of the property?
Once it had become clear that compensation would be the issue, both "sides" commissioned appraisals, and the disparity between the reports became the central leverage point in the ensuing discussions. About a year ago I read them both (I found them at Town Hall). The unique characteristics of the Valley Floor would present an extremely difficult challenge to any appraiser, but for professionals in this field to have reached such disparate conclusions is unconscionable. 26MM is not 51MM. Imagine that you hired two "objective" third parties to appraise, say, your house or your car, and they turned in reports that were this far apart. Common sense would tell you that something is terribly amiss. Of course, the complexity in the appraisals of the Valley Floor could lead to some disagreement, but there is no plausible reason for them to be so far apart. A valuation hearing was scheduled to resolve this problem.
The reason SMVC wants to avoid a valuation hearing is because the owners, and their advisors, understand they can lose, and that is why they have, finally, come to the table, or, more precisely, crafted a way to put this issue to the voters. Why take a chance in court when you can cloud the issues in a referendum? This is also why SMVC is so insistent on language that precludes any third party from being brought in to give another opinion, because here is what should happen. In any series of appraisals, where the numbers are so far apart, the accepted procedure is to bring in a third appraiser, one whom both sides, or in this case a court, agree is impartial. In my appraisal practice, I have been called upon to perform this function many times. Basically, when the "values" are so far apart, one of the appraisers must be wrong, or to be charitable, has incorrectly interpreted either the assignment or the facts.
SMVC's insistence on avoiding any scrutiny of its privately commissioned appraisal is evidence enough that they are fearful of the outcome. If the appraisals are so far apart, why not bring in another opinion? The value of the property through either condemnation or annexation is the disputed point, but how can the voters be expected to express an informed opinion without a mediated value as a starting point?
By law, SMVC is entitled to one site per 35 acres. In analyzing the history of SMVC having exhaustively explored its options, it is clear that at some point they understood this was their "downside." Without the acquiescence of the voters, they simply can't get anything else. No PUD, no partitioning, no clustering, nothing. They get whatever the voters will allow. Somehow, it seems to me, by "offering" open spaces and whatever incentives may ultimately be "negotiated," the message is lost that the leverage resides with voters.
Why not go to the valuation hearing? Why is the debate so secretive, and why the insistence on unanimity among the Town's elected officials? And why is it not clear that the voters would say simply No to this proposed resolution, if for no other reason than to send the message to SMVC that there will be no further negotiation until the condemnation and value issues have been resolved?
A No vote forces SMVC back into further discussion, hopefully with more disclosure. It is clear to me that the Town's appraisal is at least on the right path, but also that SMVC has enough sense not to debate this issue in a public forum. A careful reading of SMVC's appraisal may be conclude that the valuation is based on, essentially, a development plan, one that in my opinion, the voters would never approve. I would strongly suggest that this SMVC's appraisal be read in that context. Yes, the Valley Floor could theoretically be carved up in the manner described, but I think very few people in San Miguel County would ever agree to what is proposed in this appraisal.
For the voters to have expended all of these fees for legal and appraisal advice, and to basically capitulate literally weeks before the outcome…well, I don't see how this makes any sense. Fight for the answer, because you've already paid for it. In my opinion, the outcome of the legal and valuation issues will come out in the Town's favor, but it would be a shame to have come so far without finding the answer.
Scott Creel, Lake City
Honor the Land, Water and Wildlife
Honor the Land.
Honor the Water.
Honor the Wildlife.
Majestic and beautiful, the San Juan Mountains.
Majestic and beautiful, the Telluride Valley Floor.
The land, the water and the wildlife of Valley Floor, it is all interconnected.
Biodiversity is the word that makes up the land.
A large flood plain. The largest in a 20-mile radius of Telluride.
A flood plain? Yes, from Bridal Veil Falls, Ingram Falls, Cornet Creek, and Mill Creek.
The Floor is the drain, filter and the protector of this watershed, the wetlands.
"They play a critical role in water quality enhancement and water storage, and provide habitat for plants and animals… The floodplain buffers the stream from the destructive effects of floods." SEI Study.
It is all connected.
One wetlands, no development.
In the past, honored by the Utes.
In the past, torn, twisted and polluted by miners.
In the past and present, lived with in peace and co-existence in this current community.
In the present, seeking condemnation of this open space, through eminent domain.
Biodiversity is the word that makes up this land.
Beyond the humancentric perspective of property rights, zoning and PUDs, is the land, the water and the wildlife.
All connected, one organism.
For understanding and greater perspective the knowledge of specialists is useful.
The Sustainable Ecological Institute (SEI) said the following about the LAND and development.
"Development on the south side of the Highway 145 is likely to have substantial biological impacts. This area contains sensitive Valley Floor wetland ecosystems and associated species, which would be directly affected by development… Development proposals that could affect habitat and biota include the placement of infrastructure, such as drains or bedded utility lines that would disrupt or redirect ground water flow between the highway to the north and the wetlands"…As well, "runoff of nutrients, pesticides, and herbicides associated with landscape management activities" could affect habitat and biota.
It is all connected. One floodplain. One wetlands.
Says the SEI about Endangered and Threatened Species in regards to butterflies and moths.
"Three of six species listed as "at risk of extinction" by the Colorado Natural Heritage Program are confirmed to occur in the area…The bog violet is abundant on the Valley Floor…the only host plant for the Nokomis fritillary, a rare butterfly…The Nokomis fritillary was once listed as a candidate under the ESA…A second butterfly in the area, the Uncompahgre butterfly is listed under the ESA…and five new moth species and a moth genus were recorded."
Says the SEI about Endangered and Threatened Wildlife.
"The Valley Floor contains potential habitat for two threatened and endangered species: the Southwestern Willow Flycatcher (listed under the Federal ESA) and the Boreal Toad (listed under the Colorado State Endangered Species Act)…If an endangered species is present, then full protections and all regulatory requirements under the ESA apply. The ESA prohibits any action that will harm, harass, or kill an endangered species."
Says the SEI about the tailings on the Valley Floor.
"It is uncertain at this stage whether metal-contaminated sediments on the Valley Floor should be removed or left in place. Additional work is needed on the nature of the sediments and the potential to release more toxins into the river and wetlands if they are disturbed."
Says Mark Caddy, from the Department of Wildlife about Elk, Deer, Lynx, and Bears.
"Building houses on the floor would affect deer and elk movement across the valley, and that Lynx sometimes cross that land. Development could disrupt those patterns, and the trash outside these houses could attract more bears."
Honor the Land.
Honor the Water.
Honor the Wildlife.
Majestic and beautiful, the San Juan Mountains.
Majestic and beautiful, the Telluride Valley Floor.
All connected, one organism.
In considering the proposal before us, I have been seeking how to approach the issues, the concerns, the numbers in a compassionate form of activism. Continue personal education, continue dialogue, and continue seeking out all alternatives.
In words of clarity and wisdom, the Dalai Lama can perhaps state it best as to the situation that the community is weighing on:
"If the situation or problem is such that it can be remedied, then there is no need to worry about it…The appropriate action is to seek its solution. It is more sensible to spend the energy focusing on the solution rather than worrying about the problem. Alternately, if there is no way out, no solution, no possibility of resolution, then there is also no point in being worried about it anyway. In that case, the sooner you accept this fact, the easier it will be on you. This formula, of course, implies directly to confronting the problem. Otherwise you won't be able to find out whether or not there is a resolution to the problem."
The solution or resolution is up to us the voters.
Confront the problem with compassion.
Honor the Land.
Honor the Water.
Honor the Wildlife.
Biodiversity interconnected beyond humancentric values of development.
San Miguel River, Wetlands,
Fens Are the Essential Elements
As I follow the letters in your paper and listen to views on the annexation and development proposal for the Valley Floor, I see that some members of the community are not sure why the south side of the valley is so important. After all, when 22 10,000-sq.-ft. homes and 10 ponds are constructed there, there'll still be plenty of open space: 91 percent, once it's preserved under a conservation easement. I myself didn't truly understand the significance of the south side until I was hired by regional conservation organizations, including Sheep Mountain Alliance and Western Colorado Congress, to write a conservation-biology management plan for our area's Grand Mesa, Uncompahgre and Gunnison National Forest. Known as the Mountains to Mesas (M2m) Conservation Management Alternative, the plan examines the ecological integrity of the Forest and recommends management practices that will protect its native biological diversity. It was in the process of writing this document and working with various scientists that I gained a sense of what is ecologically valuable in the Telluride region. Before I continue, I would like to express a sincere thank you to the Telluride Town Council for recently endorsing the M2m plan.
Aquatic ecosystems, such as the riparian, wetlands and fens complex on the south side, are among the most valuable to native species and are the richest in species diversity, supporting a host of amphibians, resident and migrating birds, fish, mammals, insects, and plants. In our Southern Rockies ecoregion, biologists have found that the wetlands and riparian ecosystem supports 80 percent of vertebrates. Studies by the Southern Rockies Ecosystem Project found 459 species in this ecosystem type. By comparison, studies found only 89 species in the spruce-fir ecosystem, 83 in lodgepole pine, 81 in doug-fir, 73 in aspen, and 51 in alpine tundra. Today, roughly one-third to one-half of Colorado's wetlands has been permanently destroyed due to human development and conversion to croplands, according to a 1990 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service report. Over 80 percent of America's riparian areas have disappeared, according to studies conducted by The Nature Conservancy. Only 0.1 percent of Colorado's land area is occupied by fens, according to wetland ecologist Dr. David Cooper.
If you go to almost any wetlands report in Colorado, you will encounter Cooper. In the 80s he was commissioned by San Miguel County as well as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to conduct a survey of the wetlands in the Telluride planning region, an area of 22 square miles around Telluride. Cooper found that the largest concentration of wetlands in the entire San Miguel River basin is on the south side of the Valley Floor: 364 acres. The next largest wetlands complex in the basin measures 29 acres. In his report, Cooper states: "The large moraine dammed wetland occupying the San Miguel River valley bottom from Society Turn east to the Town of Telluride is by far the largest wetland in the study area. Its hydrologic regime is supported by San Miguel River flow as well as by ground water discharge from hillslopes to the north and south and most likely from groundwater being discharged vertically upward from the underlying aquifer. This wetland provides a large number of high quality wetland functions. It is without a doubt the most valuable wetland in the study area. Its value is due to its size, its proximity to the San Miguel River, and its extraordinary diversity of communities."
It's worth noting that an overlay of Cooper's wetlands map of the south side shows some of the proposed 22 home sites in the recent Settlement Alternative map on areas that Cooper characterizes as wetlands. As Cooper explains, "The only non-wetland areas on this valley bottom are large Holocene alluvial fans on the northern side of the valley."
Thus, from a conservation-biology standpoint, the Valley Floor's south side is extremely important. And indeed, more recent studies by the Sustainable Ecosystems Institute (SEI) concur: "Development on the south side of Highway 145 is likely to have substantial biological impacts. This area contains sensitive valley floor wetland ecosystems and associated species, which would be directly affected by development. The land on the north side of the highway is largely above the valley floor and does not contain as high a concentration of sensitive areas. Development on the north side of the highway is therefore less likely to have direct biological impacts."
Among the development activities that SEI finds would result in destroying the south side wetlands are draining or filling wetlands; installing infrastructure such as drains, bedded utility lines, water and septic pipelines that disrupt or divert ground water flow from the north side of the highway; runoff from roads, such as sediment, nutrients, salts, and pollutants; runoff from landscaping activities, such as pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers; increased water withdrawals for development uses (and the 10 ponds and three lakes proposed); and disturbance of mine tailings. One might add to this list comments made at a recent forum by Division of Wildlife staff, who cautioned that the proposed south side development was in an elk and deer winter migration corridor, that unleashed dogs would negatively impact these ungulates, and that invasive species would likely be introduced. Scientists recommend prohibition of ground-disturbing activities in a corridor of one-quarter mile in width from each bank of a river. The Settlement Alternative map shows home sites far inside this recommended quarter-mile buffer.
There are other concerns posed by the proposed annexation and development agreement. For example, the framework calls for equestrian trails on the south side, and it does not limit any uses, other than mining. Hence, one might see snowmobiles, golf courses, and stocked fishing. (Non-native fish are a major threat to native fish species. Parts of the San Miguel support native Colorado River Cutthroat Trout, which now only survives in one percent of its former range in the Southern Rockies.) It calls for "berming" to screen the south side development from Highway 145.
A major concern is the language of the proposed annexation document under II (B): "The Town will expend $15 million … to complete a mutually agreed upon Restoration Plan for the Conservation Parcel, the main objective and goal of which will be to improve the aesthetic and natural quality of the Conservation Parcel for the use and enjoyment of the general public." If we look at SMVC's previous development proposals the one that called for impounding the San Miguel to create a huge lake with a marina surrounded by multi-story condos, or the one that called for an 18-hole golf course and resort hotel and spa around the same scale as The Peaks we can tell that ecologically sensitive development has never been part of the plan. What SMVC will deem "aesthetic" improvement on the south side is not likely to be ecologically sensitive either. No doubt, the mutually agreed upon plan will compromise some wetlands and wildlife, and Town will pay for it.
The Annexation document delineates the "essential elements" of the agreement and is non-negotiable, or as the Town's attorney Gerald Dahl explains, the framework "sets outside limits." Thus, it calls for the construction of 20 10,000 sq-ft houses on the south side and their associated infrastructure and impacts. Unfortunately, Town Council did not negotiate the option of buying the south side.
The San Miguel River is free of major dams or diversions, making it one of only three major river systems left in Colorado whose natural hydrologic processes are intact. The south side fens and wetlands serve important hydrologic functions, as Dr. Cooper reports: they filter sediment and pollutants, purifying the river's water; they store water to supply the river during the low runoff periods of fall and early winter; and they mitigate down-valley flooding. One might say, ecologically, that they are the heart of the San Miguel River. Perhaps, if they constituted a coral reef or habitat for panda bears, Telluride might see how fragile and vital these processes are. Telluriders attend films and conferences about endangered places elsewhere, and we write letters and contribute money toward preserving them, but here on the homefront something equally as rare and beautiful is at risk. Do the right thing, Telluride. Vote no.
"No 'Blue Light Special'"
I found this quote by Henrik Tikkanen the other day that I think relates well to the Valley Floor issue: "Because we don't think about the future generations, they will never forget us." …So THINK THIS TIME… Vote NO for the Valley Floor on Feb. 14th… Remember: This is no "Blue Light Special."
Jeanne Stewart, Placerville