One possibility is that I’ve covered too many meetings and am burned out on the minutiae. Maybe that’s even the likeliest and best explanation.
But I’ve got to ask: Did the Telluride Town Council really need to spend the better part of an hour leaning in to the details of what struck me as a minor zoning change at its meeting last week? And do they really need to devote another hour or so to the same matter when it comes up for consideration on second, and final, reading at their next meeting, as they indicated they will by going on a site walk?
I mean, isn’t the town in an economic crisis? Or something that is not good, whatever you call it? Wouldn’t you think our elected town officials have some bigger issues to be grappling with?
Some background. I covered last week’s council meeting because Karen James, who usually covers the beat, was out of town. It used to be my beat. For more years than I care to count.
Many of the councilmembers were newly elected.
So I’m old in my job and they are new in theirs and maybe that’s all you need to know to account for my bad attitude. I’ve been there and done that a whole bunch of times and they haven’t, so I’m jaded and they still have a deep interest in every last detail of governance.
At issue was a minor zoning change recommended for approval by council, without any notable dissent, by both of the town’s lower planning boards, the Telluride Planning and Zoning Commission and the Historic and Architectural Review Commission. The question: should a parcel on the south hillside, in the woods immediately east of the bottom of Lift 8, be rezoned so that it receives the same treatment as most of the developable land on the north hillside? In short, should the town permit development on the site to conform not to the town’s historic grid, as is required elsewhere, but to the topography? The owner is proposing to build a triplex on the lot.
You might have listened to the debate and been pleased that Telluride has a council so dedicated, so willing, and so eager to delve into the minute details. The town, after all, is the sum of all its decisions.
Or you might wonder, as I did, why somebody on council didn’t pipe up and say, “Hey, can’t we simply follow the lower boards’ recommendation on this one? I mean, I’m not hearing any dissent or objections. Can’t we just let the lower boards deal with the details? So that we can spend our time on something that might really make a difference to our future?”
So maybe I’m a curmudgeon. (OK, I am a curmudgeon, but that’s another subject.)
But here’s the deal. It won’t make one bit of difference to our future, in any large sense, whether the triplex, if it is built, is allowed some flexibility in how it fits on its parcel. In fact, you might have thought, given the town’s dire financial straits, that council would be eager to see the triplex break ground, generating some building fees and employment and making it just a little easier to balance the town budget.
I’m thinking about vacancies on main street; a crumbling highway leading into town, not to mention a crumbling main street; recent questions about the effectiveness of the air guarantee program; a new (it seems) realization that we are a visitor-based economy with too few visitors, and exactly what are we going to do about that little problem?
But, of course, this is probably the true explanation as to why council would rather deal with a minor zoning matter than with the more weighty matters that are all too self-evident: Because they can get their arms around it. They can make sense of it. They can actually exercise some influence over it. By comparison, not one of them individually nor all of them collectively really know how to turn the town’s economy around or make it sustainable. If they were to really try to dig into that problem, they’d get frustrated fast. They’d surely argue among themselves. If it became a community-wide debate, it would get ugly, since we do not have a shared definition of sustainability. In fact, we have radically different understandings of the term, and thus different visions of the future.
So it makes perfect sense that instead of seeking consensus on a course of action that might attempt to address the real problems we face, council busies itself by rearranging the chairs on the deck of the Titanic. As a community, we’ve hit the economic iceberg and are taking on water. Nobody can really do anything to stop it and not everyone can fit into the lifeboats. In fact, given the weakened state of the community, it’s pretty much every man for himself, with those with the most means the likeliest to survive.
Meanwhile, you might at least take some comfort in knowing that the triplex by Lift 8, if it is actually built, will have been very closely vetted.