TELLURIDE –Despite vocal opposition from at least one member of the community who maintains the matter was settled over a decade ago, the future of a controversial parcel of land located directly west of Mahoney Drive will remain open for discussion following a Telluride Town Council work session on Tuesday.
“I don’t hear anyone saying that we should kiss it off and walk away from it,” Mayor Stu Fraser said of the discussion on the 6.9-acre town-owned Pearl.
Council set its direction concerning the land, which is protected from development by a citizen-initiated ordinance passed in 1998 (for the purpose of wetlands protection), following a lengthy debate on whether to rezone it into two separate parcels.
Contrary to widespread belief, the Pearl Property is not presently zoned as open space. Instead, the entire property, including that small portion at its southernmost edge that has been paved over as part of the RV Lot, is zoned in the Public Purpose Zone District. That zoning provides for limited public facilities and limited commercial uses on review.
In a community with little remaining developable land, the town-owned RV Lot has long been viewed as the most suitable location for any number of public uses, including, most recently, a future Telluride Medical Center or potentially a Telluride Nordic Association facility. While a portion of the RV Lot also sits on Bachman Village Lot 48A, which is zoned for accommodations, the 1998 ordinance has stymied efforts to develop any of the lot for other uses.
Fraser and Councilmember David Oyster first presented the rezoning idea to council at a meeting in August, during which they suggested lifting the development restrictions to allow for medical, recreational and educational uses on a proposed 1.2-acre Parcel B, which would include part of the paved RV lot and some undeveloped land, including a 25-foot wetlands setback, while rezoning the larger 5.7-acre Parcel A as open space and protecting it under a conservation easement, the one which already protects the Valley Floor, or another one that would prohibit development there in perpetuity.
“It seemed to me at the time we first discussed it to be a pretty win-win situation,” said Oyster.
Long-time local Michael Saftler appeared before council to state otherwise.
“You haven’t got the background,” he said. “The two main issues are wetlands geology and referendum, neither of which have been discussed.”
Saftler went on to explain that the town brought in a wetlands expert, Dr. David Cooper, to advise the town on the Pearl Property ecosystem.
“He said that the wetlands ecology included everything in Bachman Village.”
Following what Saftler alleged was a surreptitious and subversive attempt by a previous council to develop the property by abusing its power to meet in executive session, the community ultimately passed the 1998 ordinance.
“We were aware that the entire property was not wetlands,” he said. Still, “We decided to protect the entire thing.”
“It’s frustrating to me that it’s coming up again.”
Although council has the right in and of itself to overturn a citizen initiated ordinance after it has been in effect for at least six months – it does not need to go to a public vote – Saftler said that any future action regarding the Pearl Property should first be put to a broad community discussion, with consultation once again sought from Cooper, the wetlands expert.
“This is not a win-win,” he said. “It’s not appropriate for the town to act as a speculative developer.”
“I still don’t see the rush,” he later continued. “I don’t see why we can’t take our time and open up our discussion with the entire community.”
“There is no rush, that’s why we’re having a work session, “ said Oyster.
Given that the majority of council is amenable to the idea of putting the Pearl Property under conservation easement and has serious misgivings about overturning the 1998 ordinance in order to enable development on the RV Lot without public input, Saftler may be tilting at windmills.
“I think we absolutely should put the majority into a conservation easement,” said Mayor Pro-Tem Bob Saunders, adding that he wouldn’t support a move to redefine the Pearl Property as the Fraser/Oyster plan envisions it without public involvement.
“If we move forward with this we need to have major public input,” he said.
Somewhat surprisingly, two members of the public recommended that the majority of the Pearl Property not be put under a conservation easement.
“The landscape has changed because we now own the Valley Floor,” said Lois Major, noting that when decisions were made about the Pearl Property no one believed that the town might one day protect as open space the 572-acre Valley Floor that adjoins it.
“At this point I would ask council not to put an easement on the balance of the Pearl. We don’t know what’s going to happen in future.”
“We’re a really small footprint, and it’s going to be hard to predict the needs of the future,” said George Harvey, agreeing with Major.