In the past year, the Telluride Town Council asked the town planning staff and P&Z to formulate new language for the land use code that would address concerns about the conversion of retail or restaurant space into offices, professional services or banks.
Town officials have worried that such conversions “could potentially diminish retail and restaurant uses that generate sales tax dollars,” according to the horizontal zoning proposal written by Planning Director Chris Hawkins.
The discussions concern the area known as “the commercial core,” which includes all lots fronting on Colorado Ave. from Maple to Aspen streets extending to the alleys parallel to Colorado Avenue; on Oak Street from Elks Park to San Juan Avenue; and all lots fronting on San Juan Avenue from Oak Street to Fir Street.
However, on Thursday, rather than take action on the proposal, P&Z sent it back to Town Council for further review.
“We could not give any type of approval because of the information provided,” P&Z Chairman John Micetic said after Thursday night’s discussion at Rebekah Hall. “We felt it was just too far away.”
P&Z’s decision not to pursue the matter further came after a number of realtors, property and business owners and banking interests appeared before it to criticize the proposal.
“We don’t have the people here to do zoning like this,” said Patricia Maxon, who has found her attempt to establish a branch of the Community Banks of Colorado at a space on Oak and Pacific streets which is stalled due to a standing moratorium on building permits while the town studied the issue. “I don’t think we have the mass, the people or the economy here to do this.
“As far as real estate, don’t bite the hand that feeds you. That is the biggest part of the community.”
Long-time retail property owner Dirk De Pagter echoed those sentiments, calling horizontal zoning “a misconceived retaliation against real estate offices.”
Hawkins, who provided a 17-page outline to the P&Z, said the town council believes the conversion of retail spaces into office spaces “has reached a critical point.” Communities such as Aspen, Vail, Steamboat Springs and Laguna Beach, California, among many other eclectic resort-style towns, all have passed similar ordinances.
Most of the planners for these communities, Hawkins said, gave positive reviews to measures that have restricted offices from the first floors, or have required setbacks from the street. The effect is to push administrative and office space to the second floors.
The towns all reported positive economic benefits, he said. The one exception was the town of Crested Butte, which rescinded its horizontal zoning codes after a voter initiative forced the town council to rescind the legislation.
Hawkins said “boutique” real estate offices, that come and go with the changing seasons and quick turnovers of development projects, could be prevented from positioning themselves on the streets of Telluride.
But De Pagter said to place such limits would result in more empty retail spaces in the commercial core than already exist.
“Let’s focus on alternatives that will help members of the business community, not penalize them,” he said.
Also appearing before P&Z during the meeting was Crested Butte Mayor Alan Bernholtz, who explained his town’s experience with horizontal zoning. Although his explanation was somewhat ambiguous, he said Telluride officials should “take the heat.”
Bernholtz said during the original meetings for the horizontal zoning proposals in Crested Butte, 80 to 90 people showed up for the hearings, “mostly real estate people.”
However, he said, the success found with the measures in other communities is reason enough to support such concepts.
“Really think about the greater good of the community, not just the people who are being affected.”
The Telluride Town Council’s still standing resolution has the effect of causing a temporary suspension of building permits and land use development applications that would allow such uses in the downtown core until June 18, 2007. This six month period was set aside to allow time for the preparation of amendment to the LUC to address, as Town Planner Chris Hawkins stated in his draft report, “these adverse conversions.”