Telluride Town Manager Ross Herzog introduced Tuesday’s work session item regarding temporary winter camping in Telluride Town Park. (Screenshot by Justin Criado/Telluride Daily Planet)

Telluride Town Council directed staff Tuesday to move forward with an affordable-housing pilot program that will create nine temporary parking spaces for recreational vehicles in the Telluride Town Park parking lot this winter.

Town officials have been discussing the possibility of winter camping somewhere in town over the past year after local Dan Enright, who is also running for Town Council this year, proposed the idea.

Town manager Ross Herzog introduced the work session item during the virtual meeting and explained that town staff was ready to go, even though it would require a significant amount of work for everyone involved in order to have it ready by the start of the ski season Nov. 25.

“I’m going to just be candid, but staff is super busy. This is a ton of stuff to do. Everyone is looking to work as a team to make it happen, but it is putting a lot on the plate of staff. I just want to caveat that. We can certainly do it if directed,” he said.

After considering several areas in the park area, including the campground, officials determined the parking lot in front of the parks and rec office building would be best, especially since electrical infrastructure needs to be installed. Herzog explained that will cost $25,000. That’s not to mention other operational costs associated with maintaining the nine spots, which will roughly equal $1,000 a month per spot. While officials still need to discuss rental rates and the town’s subsidy, Herzog added that sounds like a lot to ask someone to pay for a temporary winter space.

“I’m not sure what the subsidy would be to have that happen. I think $1,000 seems like an expensive parking lot to park your camper for a month, but that’s the high-level finances of that area,” he explained.

Council member Jessie Rae Arguelles asked Enright for his input regarding rental prices. He explained he currently pays $500 for a room in Shandoka with roommates and anything under that for a temporary winter space would be acceptable.

“I think it would be reasonable to shoot under that since we’re not providing the same level of service for this,” he said.

He also commended the town for its work on creating more affordable housing and offered to continue to help in anyway he can.

“I feel a little guilty almost in bringing this forth and putting this on staff. I do encourage council to have these discussions deliberated and provide the support for staff that they need to implement this,” Enright said. “ … I don’t think that this need is going away. I’ve obviously been paying close attention to the work that council’s been doing on building new affordable housing, and I’m very happy and excited with all that work, but as all of you know, we’re talking multi-year timelines until we have that infrastructure for employee housing in our town.”

All council members agreed more affordable housing is needed. That’s not surprising, but several members did question if this was the right way to go about it, especially since it’s asking so much of town staff.

“We all want affordable housing, but this isn’t just throwing some campers out in a parking lot. There are logistics to making this happening, and the staff impact is astronomical,” council member Tom Watkinson said.

Town officials, including those from parks and rec and the housing authority, reiterated that this will be a lot of work and several factors still need to be discussed and decided upon moving forward. Melanie Wasserman, the town’s director of housing, explained how there’s usually one person overseeing an affordable housing project, but this pilot program doesn’t have that at this point.

“I think it’s leading to a little bit of concern and confusion on the part of staff about how to execute this,” she said. “It’s sort of quickly throwing a Band-Aid on something that exists out there with the lack of affordable housing, but it’s leaving as flailing a little bit on how to move forward on this.”

The idea of a “host” or on-site supervisor was also brought up. The nine spots will take up 18 parking spaces in the lot as well, which causes a need for parking elsewhere. Plus, there’s the issue of law enforcement in the case that there’s illegal behavior. Chief Marshal Josh Comte, in echoing the sentiments of other officials involved in this process, explained that it would require more resources from his department, but he was ready to do that, if necessary.

Herzog explained a lottery system would most likely be the best way to go about filling the spaces whenever the time comes.

Mayor DeLanie Young polled the council members in attendance. She, along with Arguelles, Adrienne Christy and Mayor Pro Tem Todd Brown, were in support of implementing the program this winter. Council members Watkinson and Lars Carlson were not, though they did express they were in favor of creating more affordable housing and related solutions. Council member Geneva Shaunette was absent from Tuesday’s meeting, but had previously expressed her support for winter camping during work sessions.

“I think what we’re hearing loud and clear from the community, and things are pretty contentious right now, but the one thing that I’m hearing over and over and over from every single person is that we have to be doing drastic, bold things for housing this winter,” Young said.

All council members recognized and thanked staff for their continued efforts on the project.

“I definitely hear everybody’s concerns and the staff impact that comes along with it. We are in a very dire need in this community right now for both housing and employees,” Arguelles said. “I think this is something that we need to do. … I think the important thing is to get the ball rolling.”