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San Miguel County staff members, (from left) planning director Mike Rozycki, attorney Amy Markwell, soon-to-be planning director Kaye Simonson and County Planning Commission chair Lee Taylor confer before the start of Wednesday morning’s planning commission meeting. (Photo by Suzanne Cheavens/Telluride Daily Planet)

Despite Wednesday’s blizzard conditions, which closed county offices later in the day, the San Miguel County Planning Commission’s (CPC) public hearing on a proposed amendment to the Telluride Regional Area Master Plan was held before a packed room.

The proposed amendment, which would alter the allowed uses of a 20-acre parcel at Society Turn, though discussed for over two hours, will not be decided on until a future date. The discussion was continued until CPC’s May 8 meeting.

Genesee Properties, represented by local attorney Tom Kennedy, envisions development that would include retail, office spaces and housing, in addition to a dedication of land for a new Telluride Regional Medical Center. Genesee would also dedicate a portion of the acreage to the Town of Telluride for the expansion of the wastewater treatment plant. That project will commence first on the current site, said Telluride Public Works Director Paul Ruud, with construction beginning in earnest in 2025.

“We’re looking to have the primary expansion in place by 2027,” Ruud said.

The land’s future uses as designated in the master plan — an advisory document that was adopted in 1989 — are open space/recreation/parks with the river area designated as wetlands/rivers/open space. Utility and light industrial uses are mostly included in the 3.25 acres on which the wastewater treatment plant is located. It is currently zoned PUD Reserved, which is a temporary designation until a site-specific development plan is submitted to the county planning department. At that point, the land would be rezoned. But first, the master plan must be amended.

The planning commission heard presentations from soon-to-be county planning director Kaye Simonson (current planning director Mike Rozycki is retiring in May), and from the applicant Kennedy with consultant Tim Morzel of Economic & Planning Systems Inc., (EPS) who presented the analysis of future needs of the community based on projected growth in the area.

The driving feature of the development scenario is the dedication of land for a medical center. In the EPS analysis included in the planning commission packet, a facility of that type would provide an anchor for the overall development, driving other leasing opportunities.

“This represents a significant opportunity to not only attract a large single user with a stable employment base but to also induce additional demand for office space related to medical services such has physical therapists, dentists, chiropractors and others,” the report states.

A medical center, the report further said, “ … will drive value over time. The daytime population associated with the medical center and the related independent users that would seek co-location will, in turn, support the restaurants and retail uses that are needed to establish synergy and a sense of place.”

The donation of land for a new and — according to comments from medical center staff at the meeting — much-needed medical center is being touted by the applicant as a significant public benefit that makes the development proposal more attractive. Other public benefits include donated land for the wastewater treatment plant’s future expansion, and the creation of affordable housing on the site.

When CPC chair Lee Taylor opened the floor to public comment, it was support for the medical center site that dominated the conversation.

Richard Betts, a local business owner who sits on the med center’s board of directors, said the donated land afforded a “tremendous amount of public benefit,” and that Genesee had “bent over backwards” in working with med center officials.

“It’s an extremely generous offer,” said Dr. Sharon Grundy, the med center’s director of primary care. “We’re at a tipping point (in terms of crowding at the current site).”

Kim Montgomery, Mountain Village town manager, also voiced support.

“We need alternatives for future growth,” she said. “This is a great location for the medical center. If not there, then where?”

Officials with the Town of Telluride were in attendance, too. Mayor Sean Murphy called the med center “the real driver here.”

Rozycki asked Murphy if the county would be hearing from Town Council. Murphy replied, “We’re not standing in the way of the biggest community benefit (of the proposed development).”

Town Attorney Kevin Geiger reiterated some of Telluride’s concerns that were previously submitted to the county planning department, including a perceived paucity of affordable housing that could be mitigated through the development process. Rozycki suggested that Telluride’s concerns could be addressed through the use agreement with the town that Genesee must enter into in order to avail its development of water and sewer services.

Many in attendance expressed enthusiastic support for the med center site, but Doug Tueller, speaking for the Last Dollar Subdivision Homeowners Association, emphasized that group’s concerns submitted to the planning department prior to the meeting. He said increased traffic at the west access point of Highway 145 would create “a mess,” and that the proposed devlopment is “a very urban, dense proposal.”

CPC member Josselin Lifton-Zoline expressed concern about the lodging envisioned by Genesee.

“Would this still be profitable if you took it off the table,” she asked Kennedy.

He replied that the lodging component — which Genesee indicated would be targeted toward a market looking for affordable, family-friendly vacation accommodations — if removed, would “be a problem.”

The CPC unanimously voted to continue the discussion until its May 8 meeting and sought further information, including how affordable housing would be mitigated relative to the med center, additional input from the Division of Wildlife and the Lawson Hill Property Owners Association, among other points.

“The land owner appreciates the input from the public, the county planning department staff and the planning commission members concerning the proposed amendment to the Telluride Regional Area Master Plan for the Society Turn parcel,” Kennedy told the Daily Planet after the meeting. “(Genesee) looks forward to completing the master plan amendment process with the county, hopefully, during the commission’s May meeting.”

County offices were closed Thursday. Exact text of the motion will be posted on its website within a few days.