Some Questions for My Friends Fighting Lift 7 Development | Local Perspective
by Seth Cagin
Mar 27, 2008 | 1463 views | 13 13 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
In fighting the idea of new development at the Lift 7 base, the underlying argument seems to be that tourism is either big enough already in Telluride, or if it’s shrinking, well, that’s just fine or perhaps it’s beyond our control in any case. So my first question is this: If money from tourists isn’t a necessary fuel for our economy, then how will our economy be sustained?

If a small and frail or shrinking tourist sector is desirable, then do you believe ongoing dependence on real estate sales and construction, which has been the foundation of our economy for the last thirty years, is also desirable?

You argue that tourist-related development creates a need for workers, and therefore produces too much growth. Do you believe it has a greater environmental impact than second home development?

Absent tourists, do you believe that second homeowners and full-time residents can support our retail businesses and restaurants? If not and we have fewer retail businesses and restaurants, then which are your choices to go out of business first?

With few tourists, we have anemic sales tax revenues, forcing us to depend on property taxes and real estate transfer taxes to pay for municipal services. Do you think this is healthy?

We recently floated $20 million in bonds to buy the Valley Floor. If real estate sales were to drop – which is probably inevitable someday, if it isn’t already upon us – the town will have drastically less in real estate transfer tax revenues. In order for the town to meet its obligations, services would have to be cut or property taxes would have to be increased.

If the choice is to cut services, which town services would you propose cutting first? Are you OK with the fact that the town doesn’t have the money to fix the Hwy. 145 Spur or the failing water main under Colorado Ave?

Under Colorado law, property tax increases hit commercial properties three times harder than residential properties. So a tax increase would put still additional pressure on our already-struggling retail and restaurant and lodging businesses, putting them at risk of failure, which would, in turn, produce still less in sales tax revenues to the town.

With fewer businesses, the town could be less attractive to visitors, second homeowners and full-time residents alike, further depressing sales tax revenues.

Are you not concerned about this sort of downward spiral in our economy? If not, why not?

When you travel, what kind of hotel do you like to stay in? Do you believe that Telluride and Mountain Village have the sort of accommodations that today’s traveler favors?

If you oppose tourist-related development, how do you make your living here? If you don’t work, how do you survive? If you work, is your employer doing well? Would you prefer a community of trust funders and the independently wealthy over a town of functioning businesses?

If the Lift 7 area is not a suitable location for tourist related development, then is there anyplace in Telluride that is suitable for it?

Do you believe the concept of “sustainability” encompasses economic vitality?

Ideally, what would you like to see as the foundation of our economy?

Since you aren’t concerned about sales tax revenues, do you feel it’s healthy for Telluride to depend on real estate transfer taxes? If so, are you planning to sell your home (which would generate RETT, and help pay for the Valley Floor)? If not, which of your neighbors would you like to see sell their homes? If we are committed to RETT, are you OK with the idea of constant turnover of housing in Telluride as a way of paying for the Valley Floor and meeting our other obligations?

You argue that the Lift 7 area is better suited to community uses, like housing, than hotels, but without tourists, how do you propose we pay for that housing, or day care, or whatever?

In sum:

If not tourists, what? If not Lift 7, where? If not now, when?
Comments-icon Post a Comment
Bob R
March 31, 2008
Seth Cagin has again nailed the issue on the head. Our community is facing the reality of all these massive bills coming do for things we have done to ourselves through huge bonded indebtedness and things we must do in order to protect our health and safety. To think that existing revenue sources are going to be able to meet our needs is "back to the future" thinking and is counter productive. Lift 7 is one piece of the puzzle that needs to be planned carefully and brought on-line quickly or we will face an even more uncertain future. Please let Seth know that the overwhelming majority of us are not putting our heads in the sand and wishing on a yet to be identified star for salvation. The only alternative to sustainability NOW! is a taxing solution that would put every business on Colorado Avenue(except those lucky few who own their buildings outright)in the toilet.
More point by point
March 30, 2008
TON: I'll ask again, has Telluride ever been "sold out" in terms of reasonable lodging options? If so, please quantify the frequency and extent (i.e. number of visitors turned away or lengths of waiting lists). I have yet to hear quantifiable statistics in this respect (in Seth's original article as well), but rather blanket assertions we're supposed to take at face value. I'm skeptical we even sell out all lodging for Bluegrass. Even if we did, there's a carrying capacity for this event which kind of makes this particular peak usage period somewhat moot as an argument for more beds.

I'm curious about "today's visitor" who doesn't want to stay in a 70's style condo? Is it some sort of aversion to shag carpeting? All kidding aside, I think you're way off on this "issue" in that you propose the tail to wag the dog. I won't put it quite the same way as oldtimer, but maybe marketing efforts need to be adjusted (including price points) to attract visitors who aren't as conscious of the style of their accommodations, but are simply seeking clean and adequate lodging with friendly service as an adjunct to their outdoor experience in this unique & beautiful location.

In the winter, I believe there's a carrying capacity on the mountain with respect to safety issues at intersections which present themselves as dangerous bottlenecks. I don't believe we can double our skier visits and still have Patrol on board to say the mountain is safe. One solution in this regard would be to impose blackout dates on "standard" season passes and place a premium (higher cost) on passes without blackouts. Is this the sort of thing current community members are willing to live with? I, for one, would be adamantly opposed to such a "solution". I believe MANY others would be as well.

If there is economic "doom and gloom" on the horizon due to lack of foresight and planning with respect to previous development, you're essentially proposing a "bailout" at the expense of the quality of life which existing residents have grown to enjoy and would like to sustain. Why not let the free market contend with such a "bubble" in a more organic manner which will most likely offer longer lasting solutions -- even if it entails harsh consequences on the front end? It seems there's a sense of entitlement that every business or venture DESERVES to survive. Maybe there's currently one too many art gallery or western wear shop and the best of the bunch needs the others to disappear in order to survive. This is the way the market works in most cities.

As far as economic diversification goes, a larger tourist sector is clearly another step toward homogenization ... it's essentially more of the same without any long term potential for spawning anything other than specialization (i.e. "infilling") of the service sector which caters to this particular market. While I don't tout second homeownership as a primary mechanism for diversification, I do believe it offers more potential than tourism in that we're seeing a greater numbers of conversions of 2nd homeowners to part-time and full time residents - who may be telecommuting and consequently seeking local support with the real potential for new branch startups. On the other, I'm not a huge fan of this scenario, since "converts" may also be more inclined to seek greater infrastructure development to mirror what they may be used to in their previous/other more metro living environment.

While you truly may not want Telluride to progress to another "Aspen", it's somewhat naive to put this forth as a basis for your argument; there are surely others who could care less what Telluride becomes and simply want their piece of the pie and look at it as an opportunity to cash in on the prize. There will be dozens/hundreds more who will move in on the action down the road. In other words, it's a VERY slippery slope which gains entropy. There's very good reason why you'll meet resistance on such issues at every step, it's not because "oldtimers" are hateful, crazy, or against everything; rather because towns like Telluride have PROVEN to be easy pickin's for development interests which ultimately run amok ... regardless if intentions are good (or not).

tired of nastiness
March 29, 2008
Back to you Oldtimer: First, I agree people want to come here, but we simply don't have the hotels for them! Second, who said development at Lift 7 has to look like MV - or Disneyland? Third, my point is that we've LARGELY FAILED to do a mindful job of planning so far. Look how we blew the East Depot and Idarado. (Now, you may defend the idiocy of our Idarado debacle, but there are 67 units of affordable housing we don't have out at Liberty Bell, and all the adverse impacts of more trophy homes. No, Idarado did NOT come back to the table.) And who said anything about solving "all of Telluride's economic problems"? Sadly, bedbase, if we manage to get it, will only be a start to true diversification and sustainability, because we're in so deep at this point.

Finally, I never purported to speak for everyone. I am fully aware that there differing views on this subject.
March 29, 2008
Responding to "tired of nastiness".

I just don't buy the concept that more development, especially what is proposed for Lift 7, is going to solve Telluride's economic problems. And that it will bring that "elusive" tourist base that you say has been eluding Telluride for the past 30 years. Who says so? You?

If Telluride has done such a mindful job in it's planning so far, then why haven't the tourist come yet? Because the hotel rooms are outdated? Come on now, you can do better than that.

Tourist DO come to Telluride and will continue to do so. Who wouldn't want to come to such a beautiful place. They come to ski, they come to attend the festivals and mostly they come to enjoy being in such a beautiful place. I doubt anyone would come to Telluride just because we have the most modern hotel rooms here or not come because we don't. Personally, I wouldn't want anyone with such an arrogant,snooty attitude as that coming here anyway. Who wants to be around that!

Also, making Telluride look more like Mountain Village won't bring more tourists. If anything, it will discourage them. That is what I believe. And even if it did, is that what people living here really want? How many of us do you think want to live in Disneyland? Maybe there isn't enough tourism for you, but you don't speak for everyone.

tired of nastiness
March 29, 2008
OLDTIMER: Let's start by agreeing on this much -- you don't want to turn the clock back 20 years and move to Crestone, and I don't want to turn Telluride into Aspen. We both want Telluride to remain a unique and beautiful place. You fear overdevelopment. I fear economic collapse.

The issue before us is not whether or not to allow development. It is whether or not to plan and zone development so that we get development that is supportive of the community and not detrimental to it. From my perspective, it just doesn't work to just say no. When we just say no, we get what the market dictates, and this brings me to Point By Point: Dude, the free market does not produce the best result. The free market doesn't give a damn about community or the environment. In this time and place, the free market simply produces trophy homes and empty condos.

Tourism doesn't produce homogenization. Rampant second home development produces homogenization. It isn't artificial to ramp up tourist development; it's good planning. Communities and governments all over the world engage in economic development and planning. Why would Telluride allow our development and planning to occur mindlessly?

Back to Oldtimer: You set up a straw man by implying that those of us who favor tourist development are slouching toward Aspen. If we were in favor of uncontolled tourist development that might be one thing, but I don't know anyone who isn't mindful of limits to our capacity and of the need to mitigate the impacts of development.

Yes, economic diversity is the key, but Telluride has NEVER had it. We've been waiting for 30 years for our tourist sector to "mature," and it hasn't done so for a number of reasons. Thus we are a monoculture: second home development and construction.

The obstacles to diversification - in our case, HAVING a tourist sector - are immense, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't try. The free market doesn't build straight hotels for the same basic reason that the entire country is in a recession: there's more money to be made by flipping real estate than by running a business.

Even the city of Denver had to build its convention hotel itself, and owns the hotel, because it couldn't get the private sector to do it.

Telluride and MV combined have fewer than 400 hotel rooms, and many of them are crappy. Today's visitor doesn't want to stay in 70s-era condos and since that's largely what we offer, they don't come here. Without them, the businesses that all of us like having - that second homeowners like having, and that keep real estate going - can't survive. Without sales tax, we are all dependent on RETT, part of the aforementioned addiction to flipping real estate. A town that lives by flipping real estate simply can't be a sustainable community.

Point by point
March 29, 2008
I believe the Town of Telluride Master Plan calls for diversification as a primary mechanism of economic resiliency. Lift 7 development is clearly a path toward homogenization of our economic base which may in fact exacerbate the situation via a net loss on affordable housing while simultaneously increasing infrastructure demands.

A reliable & sufficient tourist sector is desireable. However, I'm curious how many folks drove into town and were turned away because there were no rooms? My hunch is zero. I believe there's a current carrying capacity of a tourist base which ought not be exceeded. The same can be said with respect to the second homeowner populace. There's a balance, but artificially ramping up tourist capacity (and flow) only creates other demands which stresses the system.

Tourist-related development creates a need for workers and produces growth; however, it also serves as a marketing entry-point for the real estate sector. Clearly, high end luxury hotels will filter those who "fit the profile" to be able to buy in Telluride. Why not the big push for a youth hostile?

I don't have a first choice as to which business ought to go out first; judge not less yee be jugded. It's for the free market to decide. The free market is brutally honest, yet government subsidization seems to counter such forces as a mechanism of "denial" often times masking real economic currents which will run far and deep regardless of what one sees on the surface.

If revenues decline due to falling tax base (either sales or RETT), we need to adjust our lifestyle to get back into budget. Seems some folks have grown to expect certain infrastructure ammenities, but this does not entail such things are necessary & requires government intervention to keep the fluff flowing. If an individual is not quite meeting their mortgage payments, maybe it's time to take a second look at whether or not those daily double shot mocha latte's are really necessary.

If a worse case scenario does arise (with the town obligated to repay a large det), I would say cutting services is more equitable and desireable than increasing the overall tax burden on both residents and businesses.

I'm not OK with a failing water line, but what I'm not OK with even more was the added pork of "beautification" tied into the basic and essential repairs. Sure, I understand the economics of "while the hood is open" you might as well address other issues to save on costs; however, the roughly 3.5 million to widen/heat the sidewalks with other "beatification" artifacts is excessive given the overall nebulous economic climate you've already painted so well (declining RETT & sales tax).

As to the spur, I'm not sure about this one ... I've already have had to fix one flat tire. I think it was a mistake for the town to have acquired it in the first place, but what's done is done. There's clearly a disproportionate impact by development interests, so maybe there ought to be an equitable development sector tax to compensate for the damage created by large trucks and equipment which enter and leave town. First, I'd ask for an independent audit of the town's budget to determine how funds may be "juggled" appropriately to fund or seed the construction. I'm not 100% convinced all options have been looked at seriously (i.e. putting other projects on hold).

I don't agree with the notion there needs to be a "critical mass" in terms of the number of businesses to make the town attractive to visitors and residents. This argument might hold some weight in metro areas and as it pertains to a certain demographic, but let's not kids ourselves ... step outside and up and around and ask yourself this question again.

I'm not concerned about a downward spiral in our economy. Telluride is truly unique, unless there's an all out depression in our nation's economy, it has ALREADY BEEN BUILT (not by the hands of men and women) and they will come. While consistant advertising/branding may be the choice of the savvy marketer, "the word" is nonetheless out there that Telluride exists. If there is a depression, we have bigger problems.

I stay at either the cheapest or best possible accommodation I can find when I travel. Middle ground is a waste of money IMHO ... I believe at that tier it's all a crapshoot on the cleanliness and comfort. The way I figure it, if there's at least clean towels you're doing OK and have more cash in your pocket the next morning. Telluride sorely lacks moderately priced accommodations & I don't see lift 7 providing anything which resembles such. Where's the big push for the youth hostile?

I wholeheartedly support tourist-related development in the context of the free market. I think a lot of residents are in the same camp on this one. Where you find opposition is with respect to goverment subsidization (planning costs & LUC upzoning are both subsidies, regardless of any indirect benefits the community may incur) to private interests for development purposes.

Anywhere there is appropriately zoned available property for LUC compliant free market tourist related development is suitable.

The concept of sustainability is relative to what you'd like to sustain (some bioneer supporters may disagree with me on this to an extent). Nonetheless, I would agree that economic vitality ought to be a component of sustainability; however, the reflection of economic vitality may be more a symptomatic vs. causal. Many economic stimuli are very short lived (akin to steroids) and result in quick bursts of activity which fizzle (i.e. Denver's energy boom/bust cycle).

Again, I believe economic diversity to be key to a healthy and sustainable economy.

Dependence on RETT may not be prudent, but living beyond our means in terms of scaled up & ammenitized infrastructure is clearly in the same boat. Yet, there are always calls to "finish" Telluride, less the sky will fall. Again, the free market will decide who sells and who stays.

I argue lift 7 is best suited to however the free market ultimately

progresses within the parameters (i.e. LUC upzoning) we've all agreed to live and abide by. "Making up the rules as we go along" (i.e. LUC upzoning) undermines the inherent ability of the free market to provide clear, fair, and often times sweeping resolutions to issues we face as a community ... and yes, there will be results some aren't happy with. Hopefully, they will learn and apply such knowledge to future endeavors.

In sum:

Tourist are fine by me. They can stay wherever they like and whenever they like where the free market accepts their VISA/MasterCard/Amex or cash.
March 29, 2008

To the earlier posters responding to my comment.

I never said I wanted to live in Telluride the way it was 20 years ago, although it was quite nice then and I wouldn't mind it. And it certainly was not a "dump" as an earlier poster described it. If you think that a town without lots of fancy hotels, restaurants, real estate offices etc. is a "dump" then that's YOUR opinion not mine. Many people think that Telluride was much nicer before these things were brought here. You see, your opinion is not the universal one held by all residents. In spite of what you may think.

You want me to provide solutions to the problems Telluride now faces? I did. Stop the focus on continued development. That's my solution. The problems the town is facing now are BECAUSE of too much growth. Fixing the problems of development by creating more developments is not the answer. We must simply stop this manic continued focus on expanding Telluride with more this, better that etc.etc.

To put it another way, there are many who would argue that the only way to deal with the mess in Iraq is to keep the war going. There logic is, yes it's a mess but since we now have a mess lets continue and try to figure it out. Others believe the right thing to do is recognize our mistake in going forward with that war and just count our losses now and get out as soon as possible.

If we just say, Telluride is big enough, we have enough and let's just accept things the way they are then things will naturally take their course. Is that so bad? Does Telluride have to become another Aspen? Why? Who says so?

tired of nastiness
March 28, 2008
To the person who wrote:

"If you want to live in a town with all of the amenities like Aspen has to offer then MOVE TO ASPEN!"

It would be easy to respond:

If you want to live in a town like Telluride was 20 years ago, then MOVE TO CRESTONE!

But where does that get us, seriously. This sort of debate is beneath us, isn't it? Or is it?

to the first poster
March 28, 2008
you answered none of seth's questions. what are the solutions to the problems we HAVE TO address? put on your thinking cap and come up with answers. frankly, your comments are dated and weak and so many of us are tired of your empty wining comments. (businesses will close and that's ok? do you understand all of the negative impacts to a community when businesses close? clearly not, otherwise you would have not said that.)

possibly you don't spend time with tourists and 2nd home owners. i do. i can assure you the restaurants, bars, ski shops, and hotels are part of the reason they come hear. yes it is beautiful here. and yes it is part of why they come here. but, the scenic beauty is only part of the package. if you spent time with these people you would have never wrote that. its important to not make assumptions/opinions about what we do not actually know.

"not everyone believes that telluride needs to continue to grow and grow and grow...."

ok, you are either misinformed or intentionally spreading misinformation. we too charish all that is special about telluride. we all live here for the same reasons. back to your point, many of us that support the lift 7 devlopment see this as an opportunity to address community issues in one of the last remaining large buildable sites in town. i don't support rampant development anywhere.

telluride isn't as good as it used to be? that's your opion and i firmly disagree. telluride is better than it has ever been (and i lived here when the town was a dump and since we've both been here a long time, its clear that your statement is not fact. like i said, i disagree). there are a few missing pieces (affordable housing, daycare, a safe road, water pipes that need to get fixed). but, we'll fix those soon. to all of you new people: none of the ammenities we enjoy today were here then and statements about how you missed out are made by people who live in the past.

getting back to where this started. we are challenging you to articulate a real arguement. we have real identifiable issues. we are trying to solve them. please come to the table with real solutions.
March 28, 2008
Where? When? How about never. Not everyone believes that Telluride needs to continue to grow and grow and grow...until it is just like every other over-developed ski town.

Does it make sense for the town to spend 50 million to prevent more development in one spot just to continue the development in other areas?

What is so wrong with Telluride remaining the way it is? So some Realtors, developers and businesses may have to move on and out to another "boom town" opportunity.

Don't worry, tourists will keep coming. They were coming here even before the town became a ski resort. Don't forget, the REAL draw for tourists is the unique natural beauty of this place. They don't all come here just because of the fancy hotels or restaurants or great shopping opportunities. They can find that in any major city.

Yes, it may be painful for some to pack it up and move out to find new opportunities elsewhere but for the rest of us we can sit back and enjoy Telluride the way it is. Which isn't as good as it used to be but it could be a lot worse, especially if the constant pressure for more development continues.

If you want to live in a town with all of the amenities like Aspen has to offer then MOVE TO ASPEN!
newer "local"
March 27, 2008
Mr. Cagin,

Thank you for having the guts to ask the tough questions. Please don't slow down. You're input is very good.

My wife and I moved here a few years ago and have started up a small retail business. We're very concerned about being able to make it work with the lack of foot traffic and vacation type customers. Business has been okay during the winter, and the summer is a little less, but the political climate here is very concerning in the long-run.

We need visitors to survive. I appreciate when locals come in too but without visitors we're toast and my wife and I are going to have to call it quits.

I really don't understand the distaste towards some short-term bed base expansion. It seems like the best thing for our long-term economic viability. Higher end condohotels generate the best customers and then we can be here for the locals when they do want to shop for a birthday!

I went to the last Lift 7 planning meeting to just listen. I felt that there were about a dozen (maybe less) people who were there to obstruct the planning effort. That doesn't seem like an overwhelming number of people who don't want to see anything in there backyard.

Our elected leaders need to do what is right: include the Telski land in for short-term accomodations and daycare, expand the hot beds onto the town parcel, expand the daycare and affordable housing and put in a new chondola.

Why is this so difficult? I sure hope the council follows through. We'd like to stay and keep our little business going...
John A.
March 27, 2008
Seth...Thanks for being the one vocal person who actually gets it. You understood the importance of the community activity center in the MV core before it got torpedoed...I just hope you can sway some minds this time before it is too late.
March 27, 2008
Do you guys know what's going on with the Peaks?