Adding to the expected crush of summer visitors, and the re-emergence of the season’s music festivals, Telluride’s busy-ness will additionally be felt with the clamor of numerous construction projects throughout town. At a work session during Tuesday’s Telluride Town Council meeting, planning director Ron Quarles told council members a record-setting 214 permits had been pulled, up from last year’s pandemic-slowed 59.
Quarles noted that last year’s low was an anomaly.
“Typically, at this time, during the year, we have at least 100 or more active permits,” he said.
New construction comprises 60,000 square feet of improvements, Quarles said, and additions to existing buildings comprise another 32,000 square feet of improvements. Impacts will be felt more acutely in areas where more than one project is underway, such as one neighborhood in the east end of town.
“Probably the most concentrated area of construction is on East Columbia Avenue between Maple and Hemlock,” Quarles explained in concert with a lengthy and detailed slide show of each permit location. “There are five projects that are currently underway within this one block area.”
Remodels and new construction sites are scattered through town as far north as Dakota Avenue and Curtis Drive, south to Depot Avenue and beyond town limits to the west, which includes the Sunnyside housing project just west of Eider Creek condos on the Spur, and at Sunset Ridge where new home construction is taking place. Main Street is not spared from the onslaught of activity, with work continuing on the Belmont Liquors Building, the former Shanghai Palace site, where a large residential unit is being added to the south.
“When that's completed that that will include a total of 11,000 square feet,” Quarles said. “So it's pretty substantial construction. The residence would be more than 5,000 square feet of that addition.”
Also on Colorado Avenue, work will continue on the historic Nugget Building, though its impacts will be lessened as the major exterior work is mostly completed. Historic preservation director Jonna Wensel explained ongoing work there, as envisioned by the building’s former owner Katrina Formby.
“It's been in the planning and the dream phase for about 20 years and, obviously, it was just completed,” Wensel said. “The finial was placed on the tower last week. So I think there's still a few items to finish up on the tower to complete it fully, but the scaffolding has been taken down, and I think it's fantastic. It's a real treasure and a wonderful gift to the town of Telluride by the Formbys.”
Town officials have been working with Black Hills Energy on a pipeline project along Columbia Avenue. Public works director Paul Ruud said that he, streets supervisor Rich Estes and town manager Ross Herzog took action to lessen the impacts of that project.
“I think everybody's aware but it got a little out of hand in the last week or so,” Ruud said. “ …We decided to freeze a few of their permits and asked them to focus on individual sections of the line, instead of having work occurring in several, or even many, blocks at once, so that was an edict that came down last week.”
Ruud said Black Hills Energy will focus on two, shorter bores, one that will go across Main Street at Willow, and the other from Fir to Pine Street on Columbia Avenue. He said he anticipates two more months of work. Public works has its own projects slated for the summer on East Columbia Avenue — a wastewater infrastructure repair and replacement on the 300 block, as well as streetscape work on the 400 block.
“It does appear that it's going to be another very, very busy construction season in Telluride,” Ruud allowed.
With an explosion of activity already underway, some on council were concerned with the associated impacts such as noise, congestion, increased traffic and parking.
“Is it time to discuss having a limit on how many permits we have or issue, and spread them out and eliminate? I can't believe how much this is affecting town,” said council member Geneva Shaunette. “I see that this would probably throw a wrench in some people's business plans, in terms of getting as much work done as fast as possible, and in property owners’ desires to move things forward. But I think that our town is so small that having some sort of wait is not unreasonable. I can't begin to understand the intricacies of this, but I just think that we probably need to get a handle on it. I have been getting a lot of feedback that it's affecting the quality of life to an extent that needs to be done.”
Council member Jessie Rae Arguelles agreed further discussion was necessary and suggested a retreat with council and town staff to determine whether limits could be imposed on construction permits.
“I think it does deserve a considerable amount of attention … to help improve the quality of life for our local community here, and visitors,” she said.
Mayor Pro Tem Todd Brown said a comprehensive, long-range plan would be useful, and a planning process he said should include area residents.
“(We need to) engage at least an outside facilitator to get these conversations going among our citizenry and the members of the community, so that we're not making decisions on our own as council,” he said.
Shaunette, however, suggested imposing an immediate moratorium on new permits and to “let the rest of the summer play out. I’m in favor of saying ‘no more’ until further notice.”
Council member Tom Watkinson was reluctant to issue a moratorium.
“The impact on the seven of us making a decision like that just on a whim like this, because somebody thinks it's too busy is astronomical,” Watkinson said. “This needs to go through a discussion with the people. This needs to be a much larger discussion, not something we just randomly go, ‘yep, moratorium.’ We know how that would turn out.”
Town attorney Kevin Geiger weighed in on the legal ramifications of issuing a moratorium.
“Generally speaking, you need to have some legal basis for implementing a moratorium because it is impacting and affecting someone's property rights,” he said.
Geiger explained that a change in zoning standards, or a backlog of processing permits would be justifications for a moratorium. Extraordinary impacts to the community such as those on traffic or utilities could also warrant a moratorium, but he said he would need to conduct deeper legal research. Moratoriums receive legal scrutiny in regards how they affect private property rights, too, he said. He added that any moratorium could only occur by the issuance of an ordinance.
Council gave staff direction to provide data on which to guide a future discussion on the potential of limiting permits in the future, a look at how town rebounded out of the recession, impacts on parking and right of way obstruction, and a look at how other similar communities are approaching the issue.