LOCAL PERSPECTIVE | A Chance to Resolve 20 Years Of Pearl Property Debates
by Seth Cagin
Oct 24, 2013 | 2998 views | 0 0 comments | 57 57 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Since 1993, the Pearl Property has been a political football in Telluride. That was the year the voters agreed to purchase the 7.3-acre property for $2.8 million for the express purpose of developing it as an intercept parking lot. But just five years later, voters voted to protect that land as open space. Since then, there have been numerous, passionately debated efforts to reconsider.  

That reconsideration is once again in front of Telluride voters who are being asked to permit development on the uplands of the Pearl, which lie on the northern and southern ends of the property, and to simultaneously make the wetlands in the middle a part of the adjacent Valley Floor, protected in perpetuity under a conservation easement.  

There are obvious reasons behind the strong feelings surrounding the Pearl Property. To begin, the Town of Telluride is land poor, with precious few parcels available for essential public uses. This makes the uplands of the Pearl attractive to citizens who believe the town does, in fact, need a few developable parcels for important facilities, like, for example, a new Telluride Medical Center. The uplands are neither environmentally sensitive nor pristine in any sense.

On the other side of the issue, there is always a deep sentiment in the Telluride electorate to look on any development proposal with extreme skepticism. Because it sits on the edge of the developed town, the Pearl Property may seem like a great place to draw the line.  Let the magnificent expanse of open space that is the Telluride Valley Floor begin with the Pearl, the argument goes, and not end there.

Thus, the compromise before voters has enormous appeal:  develop the uplands, carefully and for public benefit, and protect the wetlands.

I hope Telluride voters are in the mood for a very sensible compromise by voting yes on ballot question 2D and ballot question 300. Approving both would allow the possibility that the Telluride Medical Center could relocate on the north end of the Pearl, on land that is currently the RV parking lot, and that a community agricultural facility could occupy the south end of the Pearl. The four acres in between the thereby re-zoned northern and southern parts of the Pearl would be placed under a conservation easement and managed as part of the Valley Floor.

To take the question of the medical center first, which would be permitted by approval of 2D: There is little doubt that the current facility is not adequate to meet the region’s needs now or in the future.  The “keep Telluride small” voter may wish that the medical center could stay where it is. But that’s not an option because the land the current facility sits on is owned by a private corporation that has repeatedly stated it does not wish to sell it, and the dollar-a-year lease allowing the clinic to occupy the property has only 19 more years to run. Even if that land was large enough to hold a new facility, and it’s not, to build there on land that is not owned by the Telluride Hospital District would be foolish.

There is no alternative location in the Town of Telluride other than the southern uplands on the Pearl, which is also optimal because it is on the edge of town where a heliport to enable emergency evacuations would be feasible. To relocate the Telluride Medical Center outside the town of Telluride, to Lawson Hill or Mountain Village, presents its own problems, particularly in terms of land use, planning, and traffic patterns. Generally, traffic-generating facilities should be located next to other traffic-generating facilities, and as close as possible to the population that uses those facilities. It would be a step toward sprawl and suburbanization, forcing more people into their cars, if the medical center is forced out of Telluride. Finally, the 1.04 acres that would be developable if 2D is approved is already developed, as an RV parking lot. Allowing it to be redeveloped as a critical community facility seems like a no-brainer.

While voting to allow the Telluride Medical Center to relocate to the southern uplands on the Pearl is highly practical, we can vote our ideals by voting in favor of Question 300 to allow hydroponic greenhouses on the northern 1.5 acres of the Pearl. Here the question is whether Telluride should try to become more self-sufficient and sustainable by growing some of our own food. There have been great recent books written about why locally produced food is important, for reasons of health, economy and environment. Telluride’s climate makes community agriculture challenging, but my heart says that’s all the more reason we ought to lean into it. Even if you believe the southern end of the Pearl has value as open space, allowing agriculture there is to exchange one environmental good for another.

So I will be voting yes with my brain to keep the Telluride Medical Center in Telluride, and yes with my heart in favor of community agriculture.  

With these two “yes” votes, the much debated Pearl Property will finally find its ultimate uses:  a clinic on the north end, protected wetlands in the middle, and agriculture on the south end, all in the public interest.
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