Town manager Ross Herzof led Telluride Town Council through a discussion of how best to transition businesses from summer to winter in a Tuesday morning work session. (Screenshot by Suzanne Cheavens/Telluride Daily Planet)

By moving quickly in the early months of the pandemic, Telluride officials were able to reimagine, and provide for, a business community trying to adapt and survive under public health orders that called for (and still do) social distancing and reduced capacity. With a number of measures — some set to expire Oct. 30 — such as creating a sole travel lane down Colorado Avenue and creating outdoor, communal dining and retail areas, and allowing off-Colorado Avenue businesses the ability to expand onto public right-of-ways, local taverns, eateries and other enterprises were able to conduct business. But that was summer. At Tuesday’s Town Council meeting, town staff sought direction from council as those same businesses look toward winter and with it, snow and cold, but the same public health mandates.

While the bulk of the morning work session focused on the challenges facing restaurants and bars, some on council urged their colleagues that when it came to distributing grant money from the Coronavirus Relief Fund that council keep other businesses in mind, too.

“I would feel more comfortable if this grant funding was open to all types of businesses,” said council member Adrienne Christy.

Council member Tom Watkinson shared the same concerns.

“I’m 100 percent in favor of supporting the restaurant association,” he said. “But I have concerns about the funding of restaurants over other businesses.”

Town manager Ross Herzog said that the funding, which is distributed by the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) to municipalities and governments that apply for the assistance, is a sizeable fund but the competition for it is real.

“Of the CARES Act funding, there’s $28 million that we’re trying to get a piece of,” Herzog said.

Restaurant operators requested a number of items such as heaters, tents, fire pits,
upgraded HVAC filters and Plexiglas.

“Five businesses need between $5K and $10K, 14 businesses need between $10K -$20K, and five businesses will need more than $20K to make adequate purchases for their establishments to increase dining capacity and worker/guest safety,” the letter stated. “An estimated total of requested funds would be $400,000-$450,000.”

Council directed staff to apply for $450,000, or more, from DOLA. The application deadline is Oct. 15 and town will know if its application was successful by Oct. 23.

The logistics of snow removal demand a very different approach to winter   operations, officials explained. Currently, for off-Main Street business that have availed themselves of sidewalks abutting those businesses, town has allowed for pedestrians to instead use the street in pathways protected by fencing. Calling additional obstructions on town streets in the winter “difficult,” public works d irector Paul Ruud supported some, but not all, the recommendations from not only staff, but the Telluride/MountainVillage Restaurant Association, that communal dining areas be removed. He was, however, reluctant to put a stamp of approval on building sidewalks in the roadways.

“Winters can be inhospitable,” Ruud said. “I’m really thinking that if we allow physical items in the street, there will be cleaning and safety issues.”

The restaurant association, formed this summer as an offshoot of the Economic Recovery Committee, submitted a letter signed by the group’s president, Megan Ossola, for council’s consideration. The letter outlined their needs, as well as offering a number of suggestions.

“The businesses with parklets on the south side of Colorado Avenue are requesting to keep those through the winter,” the letter stated, in part. “They would like to use those spaces for their own tents, heaters and tables. The businesses off Main Street, with current sidewalk seating in rights of way, would like you to consider construction-type pedestrian diversion structures to allow them to install heated seating areas next to their buildings while maintaining safe pedestrian traffic.”

One of those suggestions, to continue to permit off-Main Street establishments to continue using the public right-of-ways and erect the kind of wooden sidewalks often used to skirt large construction projects, will not likely see fruition.

The group also asked for allowances to create temporary structures that would be heated, and approved for alcohol consumption, to serve as safe areas for customers to either wait for tables or pick up to-go orders.

“We request to be able to construct temporary structures on our own property or on approved outdoor dining license areas,” Ossola’s letter read. “These tents, structures, heaters etc. would be paid for and managed by the business owners. We are requesting the Town waive HARC and/or Planning and Zoning requirements and expedite any building permit requests. We would also ask that fees for building permits be waived. These structures would be temporary, and would be removed in the spring or early summer, when weather permits outdoor dining to resume as it has in the past.”

The state also allowed for relaxed liquor licensing to allow more customers to take alcoholic beverages outside of normal license areas, as well as allowing for the sale of to-go beverages.

Council gave direction to town staff to let the ordinance creating a single lane of traffic on Main Street expire and to create some options for possible new ordinances that would address use of public right-of-ways, how a grant program would be administered and liquor license considerations. Council will consider those motions at its next meeting, Oct. 27.