“The biggest issue for me is its distance from core and the fact that it’s not like anything else in that area,” said DRB Chair Greer Garner.
However, the board did not categorically condemn the idea because of the region’s need for workforce housing and lack of mid-range lodging options,
“I’m just not in favor of your location, darn it,” said Boardmember Richard Steward, expressing good-natured frustration at being presented with a plan that many believe the community desperately needs, but which has been proposed for a perhaps ill-suited site.
“We need affordable housing, we need a hotel; I just don’t see myself being able to support this program on that lot,” Steward continued.
The lot Steward referred to is a 5.67-acre parcel located at the corner of Mountain Village Boulevard and Arizona Drive that is zoned for single-family homes. It also contains a large wetland that would force the development to be clustered on the western half of the lot.
Community Development Director Chris Hawkins computed the density of the proposal at 32 units per acre compared to an average of one unit per .9 acre on the surrounding single-family lots.
Randy Edwards, president of Monarch Development Partners, which developed the Cortina project in Mountain Village and who is a former DRB member, is pitching the idea as a project of many firsts for the community.
It would be the first private development of employee rental apartment housing there in more than a decade; it’s the only “pure hotel” without any privately-owned condominium units sold to make the project viable; and, with hopes of attracting a familiar hotel operator like Hilton, Marriott, Starwood or Hyatt, would be the first internationally flagged property with a world-wide reservation system in the Telluride region.
“If we could find another place to do it we would,” said Edwards, acknowledging the limitations of the lot. Nonetheless, because he could acquire the parcel at an attractive price as a “backhanded benefit of what’s happening in the economy” and because its relatively flat topography would help control construction costs, the spot at the edge of Mountain Village would make both the hotel and employee housing components of the project economically feasible.
According to an analysis provided to the DRB by Edwards, he would anticipate a 33 percent return on investment on each, compared to 10 to 20 percent losses trying to build the same concept on more expensive parcels or rougher terrain.
“I know I’m outside the box,” said Edwards. “But are the pros worth overcoming the cons?
“There are clearly some things that we have to work on together to make it work, but we think the concept is good,” he said.
Not everyone agreed.
“I don’t feel that hotel and rental apartments are conducive to that property,” said neighbor Hilary Mescall, admitting to a Not-In-My-Backyard perspective.
“I don’t think we should sell our souls and beautiful front door because economic conditions are difficult.”
Neighbor Dennis Ray worried about the visual and traffic impacts of the development and how it might affect neighboring property values, especially with the addition of so many rental apartments to the area.
Even the Telluride Ski and Golf Co., which General Council Daniel Zemke said “always stand[s] behind the need for affordable housing and hotbeds,” questioned the location.
“Obviously affordable housing is something that is very necessary,” he said. But, “this may not be the site.”
For others the location could have advantages.
“There’s a part of me that likes this hotel at the entrance,” said DRB member Laura Daley, noting that it could divert some traffic away from the town core and that its close proximity to Highway 145 could entice San Juan Skyway sightseers and other tourists toward unplanned stays in the area.
But Daley and the rest of the board felt strongly that the proposed employee housing should include at least some sale units to create a sense of ownership in the complex and to decrease the likelihood of overcrowded apartments.
Edwards indicated that while he was not opposed to exploring the idea, he might not be able to sell the units because of the tight lending market.
“Finance-ability is a concern,” he said.
The DRB also suggested that it would be more amenable to the project if the proposed buildings were broken up so as to better reflect the scale and mass of the surrounding neighborhood.
Additionally, the board encouraged Edwards that he might wait to see if any suitable land becomes available for the development after the town finishes its comprehensive plan.
“If they’re in the process of trying to make a new plan and finding areas where a project like this can happen, maybe we should just wait,” said Boardmember Michelle Sherry, adding that she would be more open to the proposed location knowing all other options had first been exhausted.
“If there is a better site for it in the core that could happen in the future, I think that’s a better option,” she said.
But Edwards is not convinced that waiting is the answer. The present cost of the land makes not only the workforce housing component of the project pencil out, but also the idea of a pure hotel and the dedicated hotbeds it will provide.
The opportunity could evaporate by the time the comprehensive plan goes into effect.
“I do need to think about it when we’re talking about waiting,” he said. By then, “What is the cost of the land going to be? Is the land going to be free to the developer? Flat? Easy to build on?” he continued. “Those two things are really the essence” of the project’s viability.
Nevertheless Edwards took the meeting in stride.
“I thought it could have gone worse,” he said. “We’re going to go back and look at it.”
“I would say he has an uphill development review process ahead of him,” said Hawkins.