Demo withdraw

This house and an adjacent shed on the empty lot on the southwest corner of West San Juan Avenue and South Fir Street, will remain standing as a development project’s applications to demolish them were withdrawn at a call-up before Telluride Town Council Wednesday. (Courtesy photo)

A pair of aging structures on an empty lot near the Camels Garden Hotel on San Juan Avenue will remain standing. The proposed demolition applications of a house and a shed, relics of Telluride’s storied past, were set to be reviewed by Telluride Town Council in a call-up procedure on Wednesday’s agenda, but were abruptly withdrawn by the applicant, thus leaving a Historic and Architectural Review Commission’s prior ruling to deny their destruction intact.

The lot, which is located at the southwest corner of West San Juan Avenue and South Fir Street, is the proposed location for a new hotel. The TKV (Telluride Knot Ventures, LLC) Hotel project’s various elements include not only the pair of demolition applications, but also an application to move a second shed (approved by HARC) and to eventually apply for large-scale new construction. That application was tabled in November 2020 tabled pending council’s decision on the demolition applications.

“It is a large, complex project,” said the town’s historic preservation director, Jonna Wensel, in her presentation to council at the outset of the public hearing.

The two structures, long a fixture in the part of town known as the Warehouse District, are not the highest-ranked on the historic scale (contributing), and, in the case of the house, no longer strictly original. But they have been deemed to be originally built within Telluride’s period of significance, between 1878 and 1913. Their rating — non-contributing with qualifications — allows them to be rehabilitated to become supporting, Wensel explained.

“They could once again contribute to the district,” she said. 

She described the Warehouse district as “fragile,” and an area that has been particularly vulnerable to historic degradation through the years.

“So much has been lost. There’s been a small chipping away  (of historic structures). Once they’re gone, they never come back,” Wensel told council.

The area includes notable buildings such as the Stronghouse building, the La Marmotte building and the small building that houses Bootdoctors and others.

Council was charged with either approving the applications, with or without conditions, continuing the application, denying it, or remanding it back to HARC with comments or direction. Eventually, they needed to do nothing save for acknowledge the applicant’s desire for withdrawal.

The withdrawal came on the heels of a last-minute appeal filed by the project’s legal team, who sought an interpretation of town code that describes that, in order to render a decision in a call-up, council must vote unanimously on the demolition of the house and have an extraordinary majority (a 5-2 vote will all members present). Local attorney Nicole Pieterse is part of TKV’s legal team.

“It’s important to the applicant that we know what the voting requirement is,” she explained.

But Town Attorney Kevin Geiger was firm in his interpretation of the Land Use Code, which he said required council’s vote requirement on the applications to mirror that of HARC’s. With the withdrawal, the shed and the house will remain standing.

“The applicant is bound by the decision rendered by HARC,” he told council.

Council call-ups of lower board decisions are uncommon but not without precedent and embedded in the town’s charter. Three members of council must sign on to a call-up. In the case of the TKV Hotel project, it was council members Lars Carlson, Jessie Rae Arguelles and Tom Watkinson who did so. Council then was obliged to study the reams of information surrounding the project’s particulars before rendering a decision. Development review history, applicable land use codes and historic guidelines, among other considerations, were part of council’s homework on the applications.

Some on council were offended at having the appeal submitted without sufficient notice.

“It’s disrespectful to all of us on council,” said Mayor DeLanie Young. “It’s extremely unfortunate we were told about this at the very last minute.”

“You’re suggesting we’d vote differently depending on the strength of the vote,” said council member Geneva Shaunette.

When council decided unanimously to not consider the appeal, but instead begin deliberations on the pair of demolition applications, Pieterse stated the applicant’s desire to withdraw “our request to demolish. We’ll stand by the HARC vote.”

Sherri Harvey, HARC’s vice chair, expressed relief at the outcome along with surprise, but lobbied for a renewed look at what she described as “demolition by neglect.”

“We can’t afford buildings to be neglected and then torn down,” Harvey said. “Demolition by neglect needs to be looked at. We need to maintain the integrity of places like the Bootdoctor’s house, Harold’s house and others. I wish all this time and money had gone to restoring this  (TKV lot) house.”

Council wondered what the applicants planned next.

“We’ll need to regroup,” Pieterse said. “We don’t know what the next step is.”