debate

San Miguel County Commissioner Hilary Cooper, center, moderated Tuesday’s debate at the Sheridan Opera House SHOW Bar. Question 2D representative Keith Hampton sits to the left of the audience, while Question 300 representatives Emily Scott Robinson and Olivia Lavercombe are on the right. (Photo by Eva Thomas/Telluride Daily Planet)

Chairs quickly filled during Tuesday night’s debate at the Sheridan Opera House SHOW Bar. The purpose of the debate was to discuss the two upcoming Town of Telluride ballot initiatives regarding short-term rentals, 2D and 300.

The Telluride Housing Initiative, which hosted the event and is the group behind Question 300, promoted the debate as “a public moderated debate on short-term rentals and the future of Telluride.”

San Miguel County Commissioner Hilary Cooper served as moderator.

“I am excited about creating awareness and education before voters go to the ballot. It is one of my goals as a county commissioner,” Cooper said.

Emily Scott Robinson, Hayley Nenadal and Olivia Lavercombe represented Question 300, as Robinson and Lavercombe were the designated speakers. Representing Question 2D was Keith Hampton. The iniative was brought to Telluride Town Council by the Community Alliance for Effective Housing Solutions (CAEHS), which Hampton was representing.

The 300 measure would limit short-term rentals (STRs) to 400 and conduct an annual lottery to distribute the licenses. Primary homeowners and lodging establishments in town would be exempt from the measures. If passed, the lottery would be conducted in Feb. 2022 and effective Jan. 1, 2023.

The 2D measure also plans to regulate STRs, but with a different approach. The 2D imitative would cap and freeze STR licenses where they currently are for two years and double short-term rental business license fees in an effort to create more funds to pay for affordable housing in the community.

The debate was divided into three segments, with each initiative given equal time. First, each side was allotted 10 minutes to discuss their respective ballot language and give the audience a clear understanding of what they were trying to accomplish. Introductions were followed by a question-and-answer segment, during which each side had three minutes to respond and one minute for rebuttals.

After Cooper finished with prepared questions, attendees were allowed to ask their questions. People were also encouraged to break into small groups and discuss the ballots with fellow attendees.

One of the biggest discrepancies surrounding the STR debate is the current number of STR licenses within Telluride, which both sides discussed Tuesday. Question 300 representatives explained they’ve used numbers provided by the town clerk, and they found the number of STR licenses is 822. Conversely, Hampton explained that his team found errors in those numbers, and based on an independent report they conducted, found the number to be 770.

It was unclear whether the opposing measures agreed on any of the same numbers and data. Each pointed to their respective website, where referenced studies can be accessed. The Telluride Housing Initiative site, telluride300.org, directs potential voters to a report by the Town of Telluride Clerk’s Department and research conducted by the Harvard Business Review about STRs. The 2D website, CAEHS.org, has “Q300: Know the Facts, Not the Fiction” on the main page and cites a “completely independent analysis done by G. Craig.” (Editor’s note: Resident Greg Craig wrote about his independent research in a community commentary column that was published in the Wednesday edition of the Daily Planet. The piece can also be find online at telluridenews.com under the Opinion section.)

During the debate, the other disparity brought to light was regarding how to handle the housing situation. Both measures agree there is a housing crisis in Telluride, but fell short of landing on the same page about what specifically needed to be addressed in order to alleviate it.

If 2D passed, Hampton emphasized the money raised would directly benefit the local community by going toward rental assistance and helping build more affordable housing.

“Short term-rentals are not the problem right now. The problem is housing. How do we build housing, how do we get people in housing? The focus of our effort is to not only maintain the funding that is so critical to building the housing, but to provide additional money which is focused on the immediate short term (solution),” he said.

While the 2D side focused on building new affordable housing efforts, Lavercombe circled back to why they started the 300 citizen’s initiative in the first place.

“Our measure was not built for housing; it was built for short-term rental regulation. We support more affordable housing options, but that is not why our measure was brought forth,” she said.

To foster connection and community, the last question asked by Cooper prompted 2D and 300 to “say something nice about the other measure.”

Hampton commended the “women of 300” and their supporters for attending 2D’s community discussions and events they have held the past couple of months.

“I appreciate that they have come out and represented their position. They have worked extremely hard on their measure and have worked hard to communicate with people,” Hampton said.

Robinson, Nenadal and Lavercombe echoed Hampton’s sentiment.

“We have had wonderful, respectful, civil, kind conversations. I think I’ve spent more time talking to people who disagree with me on this than people who agree with me, and that is what makes Telluride awesome. The folks who have put forth 2D care about affordable housing and they are locals, and they are our neighbors, too,” Robinson said.