Valley Floor

This image, captured by drone, looks west over the Valley Floor, one of San Miguel County’s most popular features. On Monday, local government officials discussed the possibility of a “regional visioning” project. (Planet file photo)

Existential questions about the region’s direction and overall vision were discussed during Monday’s virtual intergovernmental meeting hosted by San Miguel County.

Led by Telluride Mayor Pro Tem Todd Brown “regional visioning” was the meeting’s top topic. Through his involvement with the Gateway & Natural Amenity Regions Initiative (GNAR), Brown was introduced to consulting firm Future West, which developed a prospectus for officials to “gain a better understanding of the growth and change you’re experiencing, where those trends seem to be taking you, and the range of policy actions you can take to maintain the fantastic character of the community and help ensure its resiliency and sustainability,” according to the document.

“This is not the first time the IG (intergovernmental group) has heard about this. I’ve been participating for a couple of years with the GNAR, Gateway & Natural Amenity Regions, Initiative that is coming out of Utah State University looking at communities like Telluride all across the mountain west, where we’re all facing similar problems and similar challenges with affordable housing, overcrowding, the over-success, if you will, of tourism, particularly exasperated in the last year by the pandemic,” Brown said. “As all three of our major governments — Mountain Village, the county and Telluride — are embarking on planning, or updating our plans, it seemed like it’s a good idea to revisit regional visioning.

“ … What I’m suggesting is it’s time for us to do some regional visioning to help inform not only the planning efforts of the governments but also things like what we have been discussing with Marketing Telluride Inc. How do we see this area in the next 20 years, and what kind of marketing needs to be done to get us in the right place.”

The process would take up to six months and cost $165,000, he added. The firm, as outlined in the prospectus, would focus on situational assessment, data gathering and analysis, community engagement, and community forums in leading to a “consensus,” as Brown put it, between the county entities that would help each plan with the same goals and objectives in mind.

“It’s an idea. It’s a concept. It’s something that I’ve talked with individual members of the IG about, and people think it’s a pretty good idea, but we haven’t gotten, up until this point, any concrete sense of how long it might take and what it might cost,” he explained.

But is this necessary right now, as local governments are already moving ahead with their respective planning and zoning efforts, San Miguel County Commissioner Hilary Cooper asked.

“As you pointed out in the beginning, we’re all embarking on our various regional planning efforts. … (The county) is looking at wildfire zoning code changes, building code updates and affordable housing. Our planning staff is pretty maxed out right now, and it feels like this would take a lot of participation on behalf of our planning staffs, as well as local government elected officials,” she said. “ … It just feels to me like we got a lot of different things going on right now, this is potentially huge and could be extremely controversial if not managed really, really well and doesn’t have full buy-in going into it, as some of us seen from past regional planning efforts of this scale. I would just throw out there that I wonder if this is the time for this big of a regional approach when we’ve got multiple efforts moving forward.”

She reiterated that it might be too much to ask of everyone involved, adding the five-page prospectus, though thorough, was a lot of information to take in.

“... I was immediately overwhelmed because we already got way too much going on. I can’t imagine adding one more thing to the mix right now.

I’m not opposed to this sometime off in the future, but I just can’t see where this fits in practically.”

Brown concurred that it would involve a lot of work, but it’s better to do it sooner rather than later.

“The flipside of that I offer is that if we don’t do this regionally and have a consistent vision of where we’re going to go we’ll end up going in different directions that don’t fit together,” he said. “It ignores, or potentially ignores, voices in the community that we wouldn’t otherwise here. If not now, when?”

While officials agreed this effort would be helpful, a majority also said it’s not the right time. But, as Cooper suggested, each community within the county has a different vision for what it wants to do and become moving forward.

“We’re not going to have a shared regional vision. Norwood has a very different vision for what they want for the future than Telluride does. Even Telluride and Mountain Village have a very different vision. I’m not sure that we’re going to get to consensus here,” she said.

Mountain Village Mayor Laila Benitez echoed that sentiment.

“We’re one community, but different economies in a lot of ways, even though we’re so dependant on one another,” she said.

As Mountain Village Mayor Pro Tem Dan Caton pointed out, several local elected official positions will be up for election this year, including Brown’s Telluride Town Council chair, as he reached his term limit.

“Mountain Village is not even a 40-year-old development, where Telluride is a 150 years old. We’re at different places in our evolution, and we also have complimentary but not identical needs. I think this might be something we want to put off a bit, particularly since seven of 17 elected officials who make up this group will be up for election in the next several months, and it may be wise to see what happens,” he said.

San Miguel County Commissioner Lance Waring, who served as chair of Monday’s meeting, asked Brown if he’d still support the effort after he leaves public office.

“I still think this is not only a good idea but a necessary idea to get us as a region, at least the east end of the county, so that we’re putting our efforts together,” Brown said. “… I will continue to work with not only Future West, but whoever else I can find. Whether I’m part of this group or a citizen, I’m still going to be promoting this to the governments. If I can develop more information that sells it better, I’ll continue to try that.”

Waring put a bow on the discussion.

“A lot of, me personally, agrees with you that it makes sense to try and understand our region before we go into separate entities master planning,” he said. “But I also understand that the timing isn’t perfect for various reasons, including budgets and elections. That feels like where we sit.”