TELLURIDE – The Town of Telluride has been working for the last year and a half with a private property owner to gain access to his property on the North Hillside.
But now that a working group consisting of, among others, town officials, affected neighbors and the landowner’s representatives, has recommended how that access may be achieved off of Road Hawg Circle in East Telluride, other town residents are raising questions.
Why, they want to know, is the town facilitating access to a site that could potentially see a large number of highly visible new homes without simultaneously reviewing a development proposal for the property?
Given the growing interest, Tuesday’s Telluride Town Council meeting saw a strong public showing for a site walk and discussion of the proposed new road to access the property, which is owned by Windhorse Properties LLC.
With bigger questions in the background, much of the discussion centered on the narrow question of which of two proposed means of access is preferred.
Mayor Pro-Tem Bob Saunders, sitting in for Mayor Stu Fraser who had to recuse himself because he lives on Road Hawg Circle, introduced the site walk saying the town was “trying to find a way to give access to Windhorse property,” perhaps inadvertently articulating precisely what it was that was of concern to some of those on hand.
“This process seems backward and premature,” said nearby property owner George Parker, after the sitewalk, when council met at Rebekah Hall. “You are, in essence, authorizing a gateway to development.”
To which Windhorse representative Jane Hickcox noted that a road to access the hillside properties was already contemplated in the Town’s Master Plan.
That assertion is backed up in Town of Telluride Resolution No. 1989-8, adopting the 1989 Telluride Hillside Master Plan, which states in part: “Primary vehicular access to developable areas of the hillside should be provided by Tomboy Road (to the northern areas) and from Road Hawg Circle (to the southeastern areas) in the general locations shown on the Master Plan.”
Hickcox also emphasized that, since no development plan was currently being contemplated, the road would end at the Primrose subdivision pending a development plan and its approval.
Councilmember Chris Meyers also noted that because town owns many lots around the proposed road the town also has a financial interest in resolving access issues.
When asked by Lois Major, who lives in the Primrose subdivision on Road Hawg Circle, if the town had ever created a right of way without a development plan having been submitted first by a property owner, Town Attorney Kevin Geiger responded quickly in the affirmative.
“On a number of occasions,” said Geiger, “Off the top of my head, Curtis Drive has been extended.”
Members of both the public and council questioned the need for proceeding with the plan at this time, since no development is currently planned. But Windhorse and at least some town officials appeared eager to resolve the access issue and put it to rest.
One of the proposed options, which does not require the approval of neighbors, would encroach upon one of the town owned properties, Lot 10, and Hickcox explained that one reason Windhorse wanted to secure access is so that potential development of that property would not block access to the hillside from Road Hawg Circle.
Town officials explained that the town’s interest in settlement now is to secure and possibly increase the square footage of its properties whether for sale or development, while creating improvements for the Road Hawg Circle neighborhood.
Primrose property owner Paul Major suggested that a moratorium to prevent the town from building on Lot 10 would preserve Windhorse’s access without anything else being done at this time. Town Attorney Geiger agreed that it was possible, but that the town would not typically place such a burden on a town-owned property without any benefits. Town Manager Greg Clifton concurred, explaining that a moratorium would typically be used to achieve greater clarity on an issue through study, not just to stop an undesirable action.
Telluride resident Michael Saffler said that he felt it was good that the discussion was coming to a head.
“It’s primarily a property rights issue,” he said, and asked why the possibility of not granting access at all had not been discussed. Others in the room agreed, with arguments falling equally on both sides of the property rights issue.
Windhorse Properties LLC is owned by Rich Salem, who through his San Miguel Conservation Foundation has donated millions of dollars to open space preservation in Bear Creek, on the Valley Floor and elsewhere in the region.
Lois Major bluntly asked if the road was “quid pro quo” in exchange for Salem’s significant contributions to the town’s inventory of open space, and others asked why the Windhorse property could not be preserved as open space.
Hickcox granted that it would be nice to have more open space, but as Mayor Pro-Tem Saunders pointed out, “no one is stepping up with the money.”
Clifton added that after the town’s condemnation of the Valley Floor, financially the town was in no position to acquire open space “and won’t be for a long, long time.”
“This is a process to help a property owner, neighbors and to secure town property,” Myers added. “It has been a dynamic process and is an improved plan now.”
Councilmember David Oyster took exception to some comments that the town had not done its duty in notifying the public of the process, saying that the process had been “exhaustive and very fair.” Geiger added that not only had the town notified adjacent property owners, but that the discussion had been going on for about a year and a half and encompassed at least 14 public meetings of the subgroup and agenda items at six town council meetings.
But Paul Major disagreed.
“The working group does not represent the entire neighborhood,” he said.
Major echoed other members of the public in their sentiment that the issue was of interest to the whole town, not just adjacent property owners, because the Windhorse property is highly visible. Geiger responded that there would be opportunity for public input throughout any Planning and Zoning process to consider a developent application, as well as at town council, where any significant development plan would ultimately need approval.
Councilmember Ann Brady said she thought the town had done a lot of outreach and that she felt that the “triple green” solution, which avoids town-owned Block 10 and requires approval of five Primrose subdivision owners, “is an excellent solution.”
The rest of council agreed and directed staff to pursue its development.