So it is this March that there are two classic Telluride showdowns reaching a fever pitch: final consideration of the Mountain Village Master Plan, which would permit an application for rezoning of open space owned by the Telluride Ski and Golf Co. to allow hotel development, and a proposal to allow flights as late as 9 p.m. in winter at the Telluride Regional Airport.
Can you hear the familiar calls?
On the oppositional side: a gross overstatement of likely adverse impacts, driven by fear that our local government is running amok, very possibly outfoxed by or in the pocket of greedy developers. On the proponents’ side: unseemly (perhaps) frustration that months or years of discussion, public comment and what they believe has been reasoned decision-making is now, at the eleventh hour, being strongly opposed by an ill-informed mob of late arrivals to the debate.
And what is the frequent outcome of this typical Telluride polarization?
A lesser outcome. Decisions that make nobody happy. Solomonic compromises that cut babies in half.
Would additional hotel density close to existing density in Mountain Village really destroy the quality of life in Mountain Village, or hurt property values, hurt existing businesses in the core, or even harm the skiers’ experience? Doubtful. Given the state of the economy, it’s even more doubtful that the rezoning would be sought, or if sought that it would be approved, or if approved that it would result in construction anytime soon; moreover, in the distant future, after all of those steps are completed and development could theoretically take place, most of these purported adverse impacts would be even less impactful or would be mitigated.
Why do I say this? Because here in Telluride we should have learned from overstatement. The “excessive height and mass” of the Capella (now the Hotel Madeline), so vehemently opposed at the time of its approvals process, did not, I repeat, did not, destroy the Mountain Village center. But forcing the building to reduce its height did, in fact, lower ceiling heights and diminish the hotel and inhibit its ability to succeed. Just as the flytower at the Palm Theater at the Telluride High/Middle School did not block our view of the mountains and present visitors to Telluride with an unsightly skyscraper as they entered town.
Of course, it is equally true that the Capella (Madeline) did not solve the economic vitality problems in Mountain Village. And the flytower at the Palm did not produce a performing arts center that has made Telluride much more of a cultural oasis than it already was.
But, then, just as the Capella could have and should have been just a little taller, the region’s performing arts center should never have been built at the high school, where it is subject to ownership and management by a school board. That unfortunate outcome happened because of vehement opposition to locating it in the center of town on the same grounds: that its flytower would be too high and would destroy the town’s historic character.
Not too high where it did end up. Didn’t ruin the town or our views in that location. Wouldn’t have ruined the center of town, either, in my opinion. But handicapped forever by its out-of-the-way location at the school.
I could go on, but that would just unnecessarily provoke the naysayers, so I will stop reviewing our past follies here and will address the two present controversies.
Would a couple of extra hours of inbound and outbound flights at the Telluride Regional Airport in winter really be so dangerous, or so noisy, or would they so egregiously represent a violation of past representations about flights after dusk that such flights should be prohibited? These fears and objections are all wildly overstated, in my opinion. On the other hand, would allowing these flights help the airport succeed? Would they support our struggling economy? Couldn’t hurt, that’s for sure. To be able to leave TEX early in the morning or arrive after dark would not only help attract service, but would dramatically cut down on the time it takes to get here and to get away from here, as well.
How about rezoning in Mountain Village? Perhaps not quite so clear-cut, but the oppositional arguments sure sound overstated to me. Do we need new locations for future bedbase? I think so, because our biggest problem in achieving economic sustainability is that we suffer from too little body heat too many months of the year and ultimately, at some point, more bedbase is the only solution. Are the proposed locations the right ones? We don’t have a lot of options, but generally I believe new density should go adjacent to existing density, hence in Mountain Village and Telluride and not in outlying precincts. Will bedbase be built even if it is permitted by the new master plan, if there is never any demand for it? Doubtful. Could the Telluride Ski and Golf Co. benefit if they win the rezoning? Possibly. That’s what businesses try to do – they seek development entitlements to property in order to create value for themselves – but a benefit to Telski is not a reason, in itself, to stand opposed.
Instead, the question for the Mountain Village Town Council ought to be: What is in the best interests of the town and the community? Will the community benefit if the new master plan includes various elements? Just as this ought to be the question for the Telluride Regional Airport Authority Board of Directors: What is in the best interests of the region? Will the community benefit from more commercial air service, enabled by after-dusk arrivals and departures?
These are difficult enough questions to work through without being complicated by overheated and misleading debate.
In both present cases, decisions may come down either way within a few weeks, or may be postponed to another season, possibly this summer or beyond, in the interest of allowing fuller discussion. I feel entirely confident in predicting that whenever decisions are reached, either way, the sky won’t fall, despite the present noise and fury. But if history is a reliable guide, and if the decision-makers resolve the controversy by cutting the babies in half, making Telluride less than it might have been – and by less, I mean less thoughtful, not necessarily smaller in size; not necessarily less impact, but possibly less functional – we will all be just a little worse for it.