The concept blossomed at Rebekah Hall Tuesday into a very broad collection of ideas about how to best aid downtown’s vitality.
After finding itself unable to come up with appropriate language for the town’s land use code, the Telluride Planning and Zoning Commission last week had sent the draft proposal for “horizontal zoning” back to council for more direction.
Council on Tuesday, after a lengthy discussion, returned the proposals back to P&Z, except with a new term for future discussions, “downtown vitality.”
“It’s not about horizontal zoning anymore,” Councilmember Andrea Benda said. “It’s blown up into a much bigger issue.”
In the past year council has investigated the conversion of retail or restaurant space into offices, professional services, banks or other similar uses because of concerns that “such conversions could potentially diminish retail and restaurant uses that generate sales tax dollars,” according to the original draft of the horizontal zoning proposal written by Town Planning Director Chris Hawkins. “Retail and restaurant uses within the commercial core are vital to providing activity levels, retail diversity and animation that are so vitally important to our community, its character and the financial sustainability of the Town. In addition, the mix of retail shops in Telluride's commercial core is very important to the town's tourism economy and the overall guest and resident experience.”
Believing the conversion of retail and restaurant space into offices has reached a “critical stage,” Hawkins wrote, “these conversions will be adversely affecting the economy, character, diversity, animation and experience that are vitally important to the Town of Telluride.”
In December, council passed a resolution directing the preparation of amendments to the land use code to implement horizontal zoning in the downtown core area, but earlier this month P&Z returned the matter to council because, as P&Z Chairman John Micetic told council during a special session on Tuesday, the board had difficulty determining what “critical stage” meant and whether it had actually been reached.
The proposals also drew fire from commercial core property owners and real estate interests, who objected to what they viewed as potentially heavy handed restrictions on what kind of businesses can rent space in the commercial core.
Councilmember Roberta Peterson agreed that the timing isn’t right for the effort to push office space to the second floor of the community core, preserving the ground floors for shopping and dining.
“We don’t have the critical mass,” she said. “At this point in time horizontal zoning isn’t where we should be spending more time and energy.”
Instead, the meeting led to a discussion of a variety of new ideas to support the commercial core.
As P&Z member Kathy Green told the council, “We want to think outside the box of horizontal zoning.” Councilmember Stu Fraser concurred, saying the effort should be better labeled as “viable commercial core.”
“It requires somebody having the task to look at this and make some recommendations,” he said.
Other ideas discussed during the meeting included creating special zoning for smaller retail spaces than currently exists in Telluride so retail businesses could afford the rent to be successful; having the town purchase properties, thus becoming a landlord, in order to gain more control of the downtown shopping district; and the development of new language to restrict chain stores from gaining a foothold in town.
“This is ending up to coming around to being a good thing,” Telluride Mayor John Pryor said.