More than two years after the process began, an effort to create a comprehensive plan that will shape what Mountain Village looks like in three decades reached a major milestone as 2010 came to a close, making it the number six Watch story of the year.
Before a standing room only house at the Mountain Village Town Hall on Tuesday, Dec. 28, the advisory Comprehensive Plan Task Force voted 8-0 to move the plan, including five conditions, along to the Mountain Village Town Council for its consideration for adoption as a formal advisory document.
Council is expected to begin its review of the plan in early 2011.
“The task force basically passed the torch last night to town council, now council needs to keep looking at the Comprehensive Plan in more detail,” said Mountain Village Community Development Director Chris Hawkins, who presented the final fruits of the group’s laborious efforts at the start of the three-hour meeting.
“I think the task force has done an extraordinary job of finding balance amongst a variety of often competing interests to produce a very balanced plan; I look forward to taking the next step with Town Council, ” said Mayor Bob Delves.
In the pursuit of the year-round economic vitality that is lacking in Mountain Village, land use models predicated on the current Mountain Village zoning don’t generate enough economic activity to be sustainable. At the same time, the ski area itself could not handle the 1.1 million skier visits projected by a model that attempts to duplicate the number of visitors and retail performance seen at larger destination ski resorts.
The Comprehensive Plan attempts to strike a sustainable balance between the two by upzoning certain active open space and single-family parcels to ultimately achieve community goals of economic vitality and professional housing.
“This really is a unique plan,” said Hawkins, noting the role of data and economic analysis in compiling the plan.
“This plan actually defines how you can get to a better state.”
Perhaps most notably it creates eight subarea concepts that provide detailed guidance for the development and redevelopment of areas in Mountain Village. Task force and town officials identified the subareas early on as enabling the town to achieve economic and social vibrancy without compromising the town’s spaciousness and environmental quality.
While they are not development plans, they do present possible scenarios to meet an optimal level of efficiency in the plan’s objectives. They include: the Mountain Village Center, Town Hall Plaza, the Meadows, Boomerang and Commanche, the Mountain Shops Parcel, the Town Gateway, Hood Park and Boston Commons.
One idea floated in November by the ownership group of The Peaks Resort and Spa in conjunction with the comprehensive planning process proposed adding 90 rooms to the region’s largest hotel in conjunction with a doubling of the immediately adjacent Telluride Conference Center.
The proposal envisions the construction of a new structure on the south side of the existing hotel building, extending across Mountain Village Boulevard to where it would attach to the existing conference center. The new structure would contain the new hotel rooms and conference facilities, an indoor passageway from the existing hotel to the existing conference center, and underground parking. Many in the audience praised the task force for a job generally well done.
“In general I approve the plan, I think it’s very thoughtful overall,” said longtime homeowner Goran Klintmalm. However, he expressed concerns that development scenarios included in the plan might encroach on the space necessary for skiing, particularly around the base of Lift 4.
Klintmalm, a surgeon, also questioned the wisdom of building hotels in the Boomerang and Commanche area as outlined, noting the possibility of tourists developing potentially fatal, altitude-related illnesses and complications.
Mark Kennedy, a property owner who has visited the area for the past decade, liked the overall plan and its vision to generate economic activity through the addition of flagship hotels, but wanted to know what non-ski amenities (think bowling alleys, recreation
centers and luxury movie theaters) would be included in it.
“That’s what we need to do in Telluride in order to fill those beds,” he said. “You’re not going to get these high level resorts unless you have things bringing non-skiers to town.”
At least three Telluride Ski and Golf Co. employees spoke of their support for the plan for its vision to enable local employees to live in the community in which they work.
Still, the meeting did not proceed without some criticism.
Longtime area homeowner Bill Whitehurst, who said he had dedicated a lot of time to getting other homeowners involved in the process, thought a number of substantive ideas had materialized only recently, giving affected parties little time to digest them. He also thought that the vision statements around which the plan purported to have been crafted had not been adequately reflected.
“When we actually started looking at this we realized there had been a lot of community involvement, but plan didn’t reflect it,” he said.
Piggybacking on Whitehurst’s comments, “I, too, was surprised by some of things in package today, I’m pretty sure they were not discussed before,” said homeowner Don Orr.
“I would encourage you to go slowly and to keep trying to get resident/owner input as you go,” he continued, urging council to take its time reviewing the plan.
Taskforce member Andrew Karow, who moved that the group recommend the plan to council, agreed.
“A lot did come at the end, parts of it came together rather quickly,” he said. “I’m suggesting that town council take time to review each element of plan, don’t accept it as set in stone, make room for changes…there is still room for improvement.”
Telski Chief Executive Officer Dave Riley also gave a somewhat sobering sneak preview of the resort’s Master Development Plan currently being updated at the behest of the US Forest Service and parallel to the Comprehensive Plan.
“Telluride Ski and Golf is not economically sustainable or viable today,” he began. Yes, the company is able to meet its current obligations as they come due, he said; But there’s a growing list of aging infrastructure that will cost tens of millions of dollars to replace.
“[A]nd we’re not that far off from some of these things needing to be done.”
“The community plan has big impact on self sufficiency of ski area,” he said.
Sure, the ski experience is wonderful here, but the main reason for that is because the resort is operating far below it’s authorized capacity at 5,600 skiers on the tenth busiest day of the year versus the 10,000 skiers that are approved.
“That’s why you enjoy it,” Riley said.
Telski is looking at ways to increase its carrying capacity without negatively impacting the skier experience, such as replacing aging and building new lifts, in its developing plan.
“It’s not just how many people you get up the hill, it’s about how you get them down,” Riley said.
For example, while the Chair 10 area has “massive downhill capacity,” it is “the lowest capacity high speed quad in the world,” he said.
Fitting the lift with larger chairs capable of carrying six people at a time could go a long way to achieving a better balance.
The area needs to expand its snowmaking (which it can do with its existing water rights) and also wants to build more small, high quality restaurants. The top of Lift 5 could house a restaurant complex, the golf course needs work, and the children’s ski school should be moved from the Lift 4 area.
“There’s a large list of contributions that the town is asking [Telski] to make as part of this,” including upzoning ski area property for hotbeds.
(By the way, for those who think that idea is a giveaway to Telski, it isn’t, Riley said).
“If you want to be really generous, give us single family home sites, that’s what makes money around here,” he laughed.
“We’re comfortable with the notion of contributing to make this all work,” Riley continued. But, “It’s important that this plan sticks together and there’s going to be tremendous pressure to have little pieces cut off,” relegating it to “death by a thousand pieces.”
“We are trying to make our plan balance with the comprehensive plan,” Riley said after the meeting. “Now it’s taking shape to the degree where we can really do that.”
“Overall I think the plan was positively received,” said Hawkins. “I think there still are some bigger issues council will need to dive into once it begins reviewing it,” he continued, referring specifically to ensuring that the plan’s hotbed goals are met, traffic and parking impacts, and certain subarea plans.
Still, he remained optimistic.
“There are only five sites in the whole of the Comprehensive Plan that we’re hearing a lot about, which is pretty good considering the scale of this plan,” he said.