Council Free Box

In this 2014 Daily Planet quote of the day feature, Rob Trimble said, “The Free Box provides.” Town Council will be hosting a work session about the Telluride institution, likely the first in a series, as the community comes together to discuss solutions for the Free Box’s ongoing maintenance and enforcement of its rules. (Planet file photo)

In a town full of potential hot button issues, few ignite as much passion and strongly expressed viewpoints as the humble collection of cubbies on the west sidewalk of the 100 block of North Fir Street. The Free Box is once again in the news, and with it comes a cavalcade of both defenders and detractors. At its Tuesday morning work session Telluride Town Council and staff will host a discussion on the Free Box beginning at 10 a.m. There will be no action taken on the topic, though further discussions may be extended to future meetings.

As of press time Friday, council packet materials were unavailable — those wishing to weigh in for the record had until 4 p.m. Friday to submit comments — but Town Clerk Tiffany Kavanaugh said that as of late Thursday, her office had received more than 50 emails, “the majority of them in support of the Free Box.”

As Daily Planet commentator, Harold Wondsel, wrote in the May 5 edition, the Free Box, to many, is the “mythological soul” of Telluride. Wondsel asserted, “Our Free Box … cannot be replaced it goes away. If it goes away, it’s not coming back.”

The Free Box was “established” in 1977 with a box labeled “Take Free.” People not only took what they needed, but replenished the cardboard box with unwanted items. One box became several. By late 1970s, a five-cubby Free Box was installed until work on the sidewalk in the early 1980s forced its dismantling. The demand remained and it was replaced in 1983 with the current design, to much fanfare. In a photo taken by Ingrid Lundahl, local pastor and KOTO DJ Brother Al Johnston is shown delivering a blessing. A band stands by, ready to play.

Abuses of, and ensuing complaints about, the Free Box have plagued it since its inception. Earlier issues were eclipsed in 2008-9 when dumping and disorganization brought about discussions similar to what will likely unfold Tuesday. Led by Wondsel, a volunteer group called Friends of the Free Box was formed to keep the area clean and orderly. When Wondsel moved away in 2016, maintenance of the Free Box reverted to the town.

Tuesday’s discussion, originally slated for May 2020, came about partly because the owner of the building against which the Free Box is nestled, Sam Siegel, has expressed frustration with a lack of adherence to the rules by Free Box users. The recycle-reuse concept of the Free Box is one he supports, but unsightly messes and flagrant disregard of the posted rules are a source of concern.

“As defined, it’s a great concept,” Siegel told the Daily Planet in the April 21 edition, adding that he doesn't believe a purely volunteer system of maintenance will provide a stable long-term solution. “The problem is, there’s no control or enforcement.”

The Free Box, which has been shuttered throughout the pandemic, once again finds itself to be a topic of community discussion.

Also on town council’s Tuesday agenda, there will be a public hearing regarding the potential extension of the town’s emergency facemask ordinance. The ordinance requires facemasks to be worn in all indoor public spaces, on public transportation and outdoors when social distancing cannot be maintained. Fines for violating the ordinance are included in the legislation. In previous council discussions, members of council have indicated support for continuing the emergency ordinance. Council first enacted the emergency ordinance in response to the COVID-19 pandemic in May 2020. It has been extended several times. The current iteration expires later this month.

And, in its ongoing efforts to address the housing crisis, the town will vote on an action item authorizing the acquisition of 660 West Colorado Avenue, (also referred to as Lot 3, Block 1, Canyonlands Subdivision), a 14,565-square foot vacant plot of land just to the east of Clark’s Market. The ultimate purchase price was not available at press time but an online listing offered the lot at $3,800,000.

Telluride Town Council will meet via Zoom at 10 p.m. There will be a 9 a.m. executive session before opening to the public. For more info, the meeting agenda and packet materials go to telluride-co.gov.