With Telluride Council Assent, Transit Authority Proposal Chugs Toward Ballot
by Samantha Wright
Mar 14, 2013 | 1521 views | 0 0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Telluride Voters Will Also Be Asked to Reconsider Use of the Pearl



TELLURIDE - It appears more and more likely that Telluride’s electorate will be joining voters in neighboring jurisdictions in November to decide on the formation of a Regional Transit Authority, and the means by which to fund it.  

The Telluride Town Council spent an hour or so discussing the matter in a work session with the San Miguel Transit Advisory Committee on Tuesday morning, March 12.

“It’s a very big topic,” said Telluride Town Manager Greg Clifton. “I think we are rapidly approaching a crossroads where directions need to be provided when and how and by what means to go forward to a higher degree.”

If approved by voters in November, Clifton said, the authority will provide a centralized

entity to oversee transit services within and between the involved jurisdictions as an

alternative to the individualized transit operations that now exist. “The objective is to

make the service efficient and consolidated, with an eye toward future transit

sustainability and a centralized funding mechanism at the regional level,” he wrote in a memo to council.

Efforts to create the transit authority have been ramping up over the past three years, and gained significant new momentum when the Transit Advisory Committee won recent approval from both the Town of Mountain Village and San Miguel County to move forward with preparation of a draft intergovernmental agreement regarding the formation of the RTA. This agreement is intended to define the functions and make-up of the authority, as well as the process to establish it and fund it over time.

The draft IGA must be in place before a ballot question can be crafted for the upcoming November 2013 election.

On Tuesday, it was the Telluride Town Council’s turn to weigh in on the matter. After a lengthy discussion, council gave a less-than-enthusiastic thumbs-up to the proposal, allowing the committee to move forward with crafting of the draft IGA which will be presented to the town and county governments in May. Norwood and Ophir are also considering hopping aboard.

If the matter ends up on the ballot in November, voters in San Miguel County and the towns of Telluride, Ophir, Norwood would see a single ballot question that includes the formation of the RTA, as well as its source of funding for its initial capital and long-term operational needs, by means of a proposed half-cent sales tax and one mill property tax.

The Town of Mountain Village is in a different situation; nonresident property owners there can vote on the taxation question, but not on the organization of the RTA, so the ballot there will have two separate questions.

Tuesday’s discussion revealed that support from council for the proposed ballot question was lukewarm at best. The sticking point, for many councilors, was the taxation question.  

San Miguel County Manager Lynn Black, a transit committee member, explained that the idea behind lumping the taxation question in with the formation of the RTA was essentially that “you are creating a beast, and a beast needs to be fed. In order to create the beast and feed the beast, you need some sort of taxation. We can’t just create this thing without being able to feed it. None of us have the additional funds to support the RTA without an additional tax.”

Another concern, expressed by Councilor Thom Carnivale and others, was that the Town of Telluride already has its own successful localized transit service that meets the immediate needs of the Telluride community and its visitors. There was some worry that this service might be at risk, should Telluride throw its lot in with surrounding communities.

Council also worried about the possible incorporation of the Mountain Village Gondola into the RTA in 2027, when its current funding stream runs out, and the expense which that would represent.

Mayor Stu Fraser, meanwhile, worried about the aggressive schedule of all the moving pieces that must fall into place in order for the question to make it onto November’s ballot. “We are already slightly behind on this schedule at this point,” he noted. “Is there a feeling that the schedule is actually attainable?”

In spite of such concerns, council eventually came around to the idea that regardless of their personal feelings on the matter, the voters of Telluride deserve a chance to have their say.

In 1997 the Colorado State Legislature enacted legislation authorizing formation of regional transportation authorities. The goal of this legislation is to allow municipal and county governments to form an RTA with voter approval in order to coordinate, plan, and provide transit and transportation related services to their constituents on a regional multijurisdictional basis. In Colorado there are several established RTAs including Roaring Fork, Gunnison Valley, Eagle County, El Paso County, and Larimer County.



PEARL PROPERTY OPEN SPACE PROPOSAL GAINS GROUND

Telluride voters will also have a chance to vote in November on a proposal to commit the bulk of the so-called Pearl Property to open space. The parcel in question is a 6.65-acre strip of town-owned land, including some wetlands, sandwiched between the westernmost boundary of the town and the Valley Floor Open Space.

Town sentiment regarding the Pearl Property, which is zoned for “Public Purpose,” has always run high. At Tuesday’s meeting, youth sports advocates made the case that the best and highest use of the land would be to commit it to youth athletic fields. Council also heard another proposal to use the land as a place to build a greenhouse system where organic produce could be grown for local consumption.

Unswayed by these proposals, council elected to go with a staff recommendation put forward by Town Project Manager Lance McDonald to prepare a draft ballot question which would ask voters to create two separate parcels, a northern open space parcel (Lot A) to be protected with a conservation easement containing the Pearl Property wetlands and a 25’ buffer setback; and a smaller, southern parcel (Lot B) designated for public uses (such as a medical center, education, recreation, parking and affordable housing).

The question will require the modification of Ordinance 1099, passed by Telluride voters in 1998, which restricts all forms of development on the Pearl Property. The ordinance will have to be modified in order to permit the two-lot concept and the contemplated land uses on Lot B.

The ballot question will also ask voters to amend the town’s Master Plan and Public Purpose Zone District to allow the proposed changes in use to take place. If the ballot measure passes, council will then follow through with the subdivision and rezoning of the property, and the placement of a conservation easement on Lot A, making it part of the Valley Floor Open Space.

“I think this is the right time to bring this forward,” said Mayor Stu Fraser. “We need to give (the Telluride electorate) something that is clear for them to vote on.”

Over the years, past ballot measures attempting to commit the Pearl Property to open space, parking, and a medical center have all failed.  

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