No single topic can pack council chambers like the possibility of having some kind of permanence, whether it’s a place to live or a place to work.
At Tuesday’s Telluride Town Council meeting, council discussed a conceptual proposal for housing and nonprofit office space on the town-owned lot on the northwest corner of East Pacific Avenue and South Willow Street. The work session asked council members and the public what the lot could best be used for and if, according to the staff memo, “exploring private-public partnerships is something you desire now?”
The prized piece of real estate is currently used for artist studio space and is also home to a well-used skate park. Until 2018, it was slated to be the home for the Telluride Science Research Center, but the center relinquished its rights, ceding the property back to the town. In the 1990s, the site was also considered as a possible spot to build a new town hall and for many years was utilized as a youth center (The Voodoo Lounge/Youthlink).
Council first heard from Kimball Crangle of Gorman and Company, a Wisconsin-based business with a Denver branch whose mission it is to “revitalize communities through innovative housing partnerships.” She described a structure with 8,000 square feet of ground level office space to be used by local nonprofits and a public meeting space, as well as 24-28 housing units, covered parking for the adjacent Telluride Marshal’s Department fleet and a unique proposal for resident parking at a proposed parking structure at the Telluride schools property west of town.
While a proposal for a new housing project — especially one that aims to provide housing for workers who make too much to qualify for more heavily subsidized projects, but who could never afford free market housing — was welcomed by council, questions of financing came to the fore.
“Our resources are tied up with other projects that are online now or will be soon,” council member Todd Brown said. “Town’s funds are largely committed for the next few years.”
Town program director Lance MacDonald said that getting financing would not be a problem for the town and that working on different projects with different entities is “good for the community.”
The discussion on the affordable housing units and the potential target demographic for the housing (which would be deed restricted) gave way to public comment, spearheaded by staff and board members of Mountainfilm Festival, which is counting the days until the building housing their current offices on 109 East Colorado Ave. sells, is enthusiastically eyeing the potential space.
“We need space for our headquarters,” Executive Director Sage Martin said. “Our situation is getting urgent.”
Martin said her nonprofit had a $1.8 million budget to apply toward a new space.
Telluride School District Superintendent Mike Gass addressed the off-site parking Crangle mentioned in her presentation. A parking structure is something the school has considered as it looks toward its future and growth algorithms. Parking specifically for off-site residential uses is something the district is interested in, he said.
“We’re looking for a win-win for the school,” Gass said. “But we’re not wanting to be a carport for the community.”
The school, he said in a scenario like this proposal, “would ultimately own and operate the structure.”
Local educator and owner of The Drop Shop, Craig Wasserman, urged council to start planning early in the process where the skate park would be relocated.
“It’s a very important piece of our skateboarding community,” he said. “It cannot disappear.”
The skate park is ideal for those learning the sport, Wasserman said, and is a hive of activity nearly year-round, hosting skate camps and competitions, as well as individual use by young skaters. The skate park in Town Park, he said, “is a very advanced park.”
Council member Jessie Rae Arguelles agreed. “We can’t keep pushing them aside,” she said.
Tri-County Health Network’s Ben Marshall voiced his support for a meeting place that could help ease the burden of the Wilkinson Public Library’s seemingly always-booked program room.
“We run 30 programs,” he told council. “It would be good to have a free, high tech meeting space.”
Paul Major, Telluride Foundation president and CEO, also stressed the need for “more public space,” and said the foundation would be willing to buy the ground floor and offer it for free.
Major also cited his concerns about Telluride’s ongoing parking problem. “We’re so pedestrian friendly yet we have too many cars. The challenge is to get people away from their cars,” he said. “Do you want to build for people or build for cars?”
Council was receptive to continuing the conversation about the nature of public-private partnerships and its attendant challenges.
“Let’s keep this thing moving,” Brown said. “Let’s not let it die.”
Council member Lars Carlson concurred. “This is a great opportunity,” he said. “I think we should do as much housing as we can.”
Mayor Sean Murphy added his support of continued dialogue. “By no means is this conversation over,” he said.
The series of morning work sessions also included an update from Matt Skinner of Colorado Flights Alliance. He reported the findings of a 2017 economic study conducted by the alliance and the City of Montrose that gives governments and businesses a snapshot of the economic benefits of tourism and jobs. Among other findings, tourism pumps $849 million into the tri-county area (Montrose, Ouray and San Miguel), with $456 million attributable to scheduled flights into the Montrose airport.
Tourism, Skinner said, supports directly or indirectly 7,808 jobs in the region and visitors spend approximately $417 million into the area, with San Miguel County seeing $253 million of that figure.
In other council news, a measure allowing for hardship exemptions for wastewater and water bills — they increased by 70 and 30 percent this year, respectively — passed unanimously. Town’s finance and legal staff will have an application for qualifying residents (elderly/very low income) online before the first billing cycle of the year.