For the third time in as many weeks, Telluride Town Council once again took up a discussion on how best to support local businesses, even as pandemic-driven public health orders require social distancing, and anticipated tourist numbers are expected to be far less than those of a normal, festival-filled summer.
Adhering to social-distancing mandates drastically reduces how many people can be in an enclosed space such as a retail shop or sit-down dining business. Some business owners estimate their capacity will be reduced by as much as 50 percent. Town officials, seeking to provide support for businesses grappling with not only reduced capacity, but likely fewer visitors this summer, are exploring a number of ways for business to potentially spill into the sidewalks and possibly even portions of Colorado Avenue’s right of ways and pocket parks.
At Tuesday’s special meeting, town project manager Lance McDonald presented council with a number of alternatives to consider as town emerges from offseason.
“These alternative approaches are intended to be consistent with council’s desire to explore ways to support local businesses during the COVID pandemic by providing an opportunity to utilize the Colorado Avenue right of way and other public property to offset potential reductions in permitted occupancy resulting from social distancing requirements,” McDonald read from his memo to council. “The alternatives described therein and below are illustrative and for discussion purposes only, and a no action alternative, though not listed, is implied.”
The first alternative depicted would feature eastbound vehicular traffic only, from Oak to Willow streets, with no changes to pedestrian traffic on the sidewalks. Parking would be eliminated on the north side of Colorado Avenue but remain on the south side. McDonald calculated a net loss of 13 spaces. Centerlane deliveries would continue, but with a limited scope.
Potential communal dining areas in this alternative are envisioned as occurring “generally within the westbound travel lane and some centerlane loading areas … Dining areas would be open to the public for consumption of takeout (or delivered) food and beverages, from any restaurant establishment; space would not be allocated or assigned to specific businesses,” McDonald’s memo read.
Those spaces could also be used for retail and artist activity. Potential impacts included increased traffic on Pacific and Columbia avenues, and possible conflict with a Black Hills Energy gas line project along Columbia Avenue that is slated to commence this summer.
The second alternative council and the public discussed made use of “parklets.”
“A parklet,” McDonald’s memo explained, “is typically the conversion of on-street, parallel parking spaces into a variety of public and private uses, such as seating, dining, retail, bicycle parking, art, and landscaping. Parklets can be either seasonal or year-round, and are constructed to be relatively easy to move or remove for street maintenance, snow plowing, emergencies, etc. Please find attached images of parklets used in other communities. For the purpose of this discussion, outdoor dining has been used as the example.”
Both vehicular and pedestrian sidewalk traffic would remain unchanged in this scenario. But, McDonald said, “You do lose parking.”
Among some of the public comment, mostly from those who do business on Colorado Avenue, were questions of who would maintain and purchase the parklets, and whether the current discussions assumed reconfigurations of Telluride’s primary artery were intended to be temporary or permanent.
While a survey produced by the town and shared with business license holders indicated there was keen interest in some kind of way to make doing business during a pandemic more attractive, not all are in favor of inhibiting traffic on Colorado Avenue.
Citing what he said were studies indicating there was an 89 percent rate of failure for businesses on fully pedestrianized malls, Tom Mortell of Ace Timberline Harware said, “We’re not that kind of town. This sounds like a wonderful idea, but it’s not. It’s a horrible idea.”
Council in a show of hands agreed that pursuing the first two alternatives, and possibly executing a combination of the two concepts, would be worthwhile. There was an evening discussion via Zoom slated to take up the matter again and hear from more people.
Tuesday’s work sessions kicked off with a presentation from town clerk Tiffany Kavanaugh, who outlined a couple of different liquor licensing scenarios, should some form of altering how business is conducted this summer take place. The four options discussed included temporary modification of a liquor licensed premises, establishing an Entertainment District with a Common Consumption Area, exemption of open container laws, and dining in expanded areas without alcohol.
Given that a restaurant’s profits are mostly driven by the sales of alcohol, the fourth alternative was eliminated as was lifting open container laws.
But even the first two options were freighted with uncertainty, as Colorado Gov. Jared Polis has indicated the state was working on — and close to announcing — ways that could provide added flexibility for liquor license holders to adapt to a vastly changed business environment.
“Things are changing every day,” Kavanaugh said. The state, she added, is making it as “easy as possible” to change. State officials are looking to possibly waive fees so that it can “set restaurants up for success.”
Stanya Gorraiz, who with her husband James owns Steamies Burger Bar on Colorado Avenue, has been an active participant in the ongoing discussions, along with a handful of other business owners. She’s been pleased with council’s efforts to help support the business community.
“I cannot thank Telluride Town Council enough for their continued conversation regarding how all local businesses reopen successfully in our town in the face of COVID-19,” she said. “They have welcomed comment from the public — residents, business owners, workers and governmental agencies alike — and are taking all feedback into consideration.”
Town Council is meeting every Tuesday until further notice via Zoom. To view the staff memos regarding options for doing business in public right of ways, and for different liquor licensing scenarios, visit telluride-co.gov.