An overview of town-owned parcels and their currents uses within the conceptual Southwest Area Plan. (Courtesy photo)

It took Telluride’s director of building and planning, Ron Quarles, nearly 30 minutes to run through the particulars of the Southwest Area Plan (SWAP) at Town Council’s Tuesday morning work session. The conceptual plan’s numerous moving parts include improvements to traffic and pedestrian circulation, hundreds of additional units of affordable housing, associated services for the proposed density, and new parking infrastructure improvements, all on 32 acres of publicly owned land in the town’s southwest end. The plan area includes parcels on both sides of Black Bear Road, and extends to parcels along Mahoney Drive and Pacific Avenue ending at South Davis Street.

And if it was emphasized once, it was said dozens of times throughout both the work session and later in the afternoon when council unanimously adopted the plan, the scheme is conceptual in nature, intended as a guiding document.

In the spring of 2019, council hired DHM Consultants to help town officials determine the best uses of the various parcels and rights-of-way. Those proposed uses include, along with affordable housing and parking, parkland and open space. The planning process included public open houses, a site walk and other outreach meetings. A traffic study was completed last fall, but otherwise, SWAP was rendered fallow by the town’s prioritization of pandemic management in 2020. With its potential for addressing the town’s housing and parking woes, SWAP is back on the table and, as of Tuesday, has been adopted as a guide for development.

Before the ambitious housing and parking elements can be addressed, the “low-hanging fruit” of traffic and circulation improvements are being eyed as first on the list for necessary completion.

“This is a monster of a report but incredibly useful to us in planning purposes and being strategic about how we develop that area of town,” said council member Adrienne Christy. “The circulation is an initial priority for me now … that's more low hanging fruit that we can initially tackle while we start the conceptual design and planning for other aspects of this conceptual plan. I'm really excited to have this. It makes our lives a little bit easier to make informed decisions.”

Those circulation and traffic improvements include concepts such as refiguring the intersection at Davis Street and Colorado Avenue; either striping, or making two-way, Pacific Avenue between Mahoney Drive and Davis Street; alternative flow for Mahoney Drive and Davis Street; and bridge replacement and other improvements on Mahoney where it crosses the San Miguel River, among other ideas.

Council member Geneva Shaunette echoed Christy’s support of addressing circulation issues in the SWAP.

“I also think that with the construction that's going to come with relocating parking, building housing units, etcetera, having that circulation improved before that occurs will help manage the extra traffic. I think everybody recognizes that there is extra traffic over there that needs to be mitigated better, and as we add more density, we're going to need more infrastructure that supports safe circulation,” she said. “I totally agree that circulation is step one.”

Shaunette also reiterated the urgency she expressed when staff returned the SWAP to the table at council’s June 29 meeting of availing the town of an infusion of state and federal grants aimed at helping the nation’s municipalities jumpstart infrastructure projects in a post-COVID economy.

“I also know that there's a ton of grant money that is coming down from the state and the federal government for infrastructure things like roads, bridges, and parking structures and housing,” Shaunette said. “So I wonder, even though we might not be having a specific project right away, if it would be appropriate to direct staff to start pursuing some of those grants using this plan as sort of the basis of those requests. I don't think we should lose a minute accessing some extra funding.”

Members of the public expressed concerns or raised questions about the concept of Pacific Avenue becoming a two-way street, dog waste, parking problems, ease of pedestrian traffic and other issues. Others voiced support for the conceptual plan to be adopted without delay, including private planning consultant and local citizen Amy Levek.

“We've been looking at this area for many years as a potential area for affordable housing, along with other uses,” she said. “I think, given what's happened, especially in the past year in crisis, we need to move ahead, we need to be working on housing. Businesses are suffering. We're losing community. And there are many details to be worked out for this Southwest Area Plan but it doesn't mean that we shouldn't go ahead and approve something that we can work towards in the future. So I urge you to move forward on the plan.”

Sam Barnes, the director of sales at the Mountain Lodge, said the plan’s potential for hundreds more housing units would go far to address current challenges faced by the local community’s ability to maintain enough staff.

“The lack of affordable housing needs to be addressed ASAP, and the SWAP plan development is crucial and needs to happen immediately,” Barnes stated in written public comment. “The federal government has allocated funds to infrastructure spending and specifically for building affordable housing. The town of Telluride needs to quickly create a plan for building more affordable housing so they can take advantage of this federal funding before it is too late.

“A failure to address the housing crisis will result in a further decline in the quality of life in Telluride, more locals leaving for new destinations, and more businesses struggling to keep afloat without employees.”

Before adopting the plan unanimously, and at Christy’s request, town projects director Lance McDonald spoke to how the eventual traffic improvements and other development proposals would occur over time, in phases. Christy noted that some members of the public expressed alarm at the perceived speed of the plan’s progress.

“The plan includes a series of potential recommended actions that you, as council, could undertake and those go to identifying areas are of the highest priority, and engineering and designing those specific improvements, and then implementing those,” he said.

Each project would undergo a public process before shovel hits dirt. Nothing, McDonald said, would happen in haste.

“Dropping 400 units in town overnight can cause quite an impact, and I don't think that that would happen. I think that would be pretty impossible,” he said. “It's better to approach this in a phased way so you can adjust the housing types to the needs of the community as the community continues to mature and grow. So some things can happen very soon, and some things are predicated upon a multi-year planning activity with lots of opportunities for public input along the way.”

View the SWAP at telluride-co.gov.