Telluride Planning Director Ron Quarles and Historic Preservation Director Jonna Wensel apprised Town Council of this summer’s construction activity at a work session Tuesday. (Photo by Suzanne Cheavens/Telluride Daily Planet)

One hundred and thirty-six active building permits. While that number might sound high, Jonna Wensel, the town’s historic preservation director, said it wasn’t too bad. 

“It’s nothing like we saw last summer,” she told Telluride Town Council in a work session Tuesday.

The annual community construction update is routinely presented to council in the early part of the summer to provide officials a “snapshot of public and private construction activity around town, and to highlight any areas of town that could be adversely impacted as a result,” according to a memo to council prepared by the town’s planning, building, preservation and public works departments.

Much of the seasonal building activity this year is for smaller projects like repairs or remodels that are not anticipated to impact surrounding neighborhoods. Wensel instead focused council’s attention on the larger projects and clusters of residential projects that may cause road or sidewalk obstructions.

The so-called Southwest Corner Project on the corner of San Juan Avenue and South Fir Street, which has been under construction for more than a year, is near completion. Also at that location is new work on the historic Stronghouse building, a project that is just now underway, though Wensel noted the sidewalk along Fir Street is rebuilt and open. People walking down South Oak Street have watched the progress of the large, new residential project at 225, which is now largely contained on-site.

Large projects that should be starting later in the summer include the Shanghai/Belmont addition (the former location of Shanghai Palace/Belmont Liquors), the Wares house at 150 E. Pacific Avenue and the Nugget Building tower reconstruction at 201 West Colorado Avenue. Of those, only the Nugget work is anticipated to create vehicular or foot traffic impediments until a covered walkway is constructed around the historic stone building.

Of greater concern to some members of council were the impending impacts of multiple residential construction projects in areas like Curtis Drive, a narrow lane on Telluride’s sunnyside. Wensel said there is currently one permit issued for new construction and that three more have been approved by the Historic and Architectural Review Commission. Those projects’ developers are expected to submit applications for building permits later this summer. 

Council member DeLanie Young wondered if there was anything in the code that would allow the building department to stagger or phase projects closely grouped together, especially on such a narrow street as Curtis Drive. Or, Young said, along West Galena Avenue by the elementary school when busy construction sites could give rise to safety issues in congested areas. Wensel in her memo to council wrote that on West Galena Avenue, “four new residences are planned, two are under construction, a third has won HARC approval and fourth is going through the development review process.”

“Do we need to look into a way to phase construction so as not to impact certain areas,” Young said. Curtis Drive, for instance, “could easily be blocked by construction vehicles.”

Geneva Shaunette agreed. “It seems we should have the ability to say ‘no’ or ‘later,’” she said.

Council member Todd Brown also chimed in. “It’s about controlling (permit issuance) to create safe, effective access to our right-of-ways and streets.”

In addition to building permits, which are issued by the building department, Public Works Director Paul Ruud explained that his department oversees right-of-way permits. Those fees, he said, are expensive.

“We haven’t made the rates high enough to discourage anyone from pulling them,” he said. Those permits are required for any project that needs to occupy town right of ways for large equipment like cranes or for dumpster placement.

Construction companies also need to apply for parking permits for work vehicles. Those cost $50 each and each project is allotted six parking permits.

Town Attorney Kevin Geiger explained there was nothing currently in town code that would give the building department the kind of latitude to phase or delay construction projects. The town’s new planning director, Ron Quarles, told council he’d be willing to explore how other communities regulate construction-related permitting.

Young stressed that if and when town exercised any phasing (once, or if town codes are modified) it would be infrequent.

“It’s not something that would happen often,” she said. “It’s a delay, not a denial.”

Council directed town staff to schedule another work session for later this summer to further discuss the topic.