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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2001 Express Publishing Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 


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For the week of  October 10 - 16, 2001


Discovering Telluride

Local planners study 
Colorado town’s dynamics

"We’re curious to see other towns and how they’re dealing with the same issues. Telluride is similar to our level with their development and their growth." 

- Tory Canfield, Ketchum senior planner

Express Staff Writer

An examination of Telluride’s planning issues confirms that Rocky Mountain resort communities are wrestling with similar, if not identical, growing pains. It also illustrates that Ketchum and Blaine County have some catching up to do.

Telluride, Colo., at 8745 feet above sea level, boasts a charming National Historic District in a rugged mountain setting. Ketchum planners and officials spent two days last week looking into the resort city’s planning issues and solutions. Express photos by Greg Stahl

Ketchum planners traveled to the western Colorado resort town last week to examine the its planning issues and attempted solutions to those problems. Local planners also explored how comparable planning issues are in the two similar cities.

"We’re curious to see other towns and how they’re dealing with the same issues," Ketchum senior planner Tory Canfield said. "Telluride is similar to our level with their development and their growth."

From New Mexico to Washington, western mountain resorts are struggling with growth, affordable housing, transportation problems and a myriad of other planning- and growth-related issues. In past years, Ketchum planners have visited Park City, Utah, and Aspen, Colo., to investigate those cities’ planning conundrums and solutions.

Telluride, a city of 2,000, is witnessing traffic and parking problems, a mass exodus of its long-time residents and employees as real estate prices continue to rise and areas of open space shrink.

Ketchum planners and officials, as part of a two-day tour of Telluride, take a peek at a few of San Miguel County’s deed-restricted homes. The homes are not price capped, but must be sold to the resort area’s residents. Several of the three-bedroom homes recently sold in the neighborhood of $300,000. Express photos by Greg Stahl

"We’re at a crossroads here in Telluride," Mayor Amy Levek told Ketchum’s planners and officials, who visited Telluride Thursday and Friday. "People are starting to come unglued" because of the rate of change, the city’s large budget and the extent of proactive law writing.

The same comments could easily have come from any of Blaine County’s city or county leaders.

In the past 15 years, Telluride’s traffic increased over 100 percent. The city paved its streets and installed parking meters. Residential and commercial construction maximums were lowered. And the number of affordable housing units—over 830 deed-restricted units in the greater Telluride region—have proven to be too little.

And the city’s streets were only paved in the early 1990s in an effort to reduce air pollution kicked up by automobiles on the dusty streets, planners pointed out.

"A lot of people preferred this funkier Telluride," Town Manager Peggy Curran said.

Affordable housing—along with parking, schools, air quality and wetlands preservation—ranks among the most important issues for many Telluride-area residents, Special Projects Manager Lance McDonald said.

"We’re losing the community fabric of the town of Telluride," concurred Johnny Stevens, president of the Telluride Ski and Golf Co. and a life-long Telluride resident.

Residents in coffee shops, watering holes and city offices also agreed.

"I’ve seen 15-year residents have to leave," said a T-shirt store owner. "We don’t want that. Those are the people that give this place its character."

Among the most notable lessons local planners and officials said they learned in Telluride, however, is the importance of—and methods used to attain—a larger operating budget.

Telluride’s average annual budget is around $15 million, with sizable additional funds arriving in the form of state and federal grants. Grants—over $7 million in the past six years—have been earmarked for parking, river restoration, wastewater treatment, historic preservation and an array of other growth-related programs.

One of the city’s employees spends about half of her time searching out and applying for grants.

"It brings in much more money than it costs to manage," Mayor Levek said.

Twenty percent of Telluride’s tax collections are earmarked for preservation of open space, which has helped contribute well over $1 million per year toward protection of the area’s sense of place as a historic mountain town.

Telluride’s budget includes funds collected from a state-enabled 3 percent real estate transfer tax levied on all real estate sales. The city has a 4.5 percent sales tax, with .5 percent of that earmarked for the city’s affordable housing program. An additional 4 percent sales tax goes to San Miguel County and the state of Colorado. Another business license tax draws about $300,000 per year.

By comparison, Ketchum’s 2001-2002 budget is $9.2 million, with an additional $820,000 in grants. But the amount achieved through grants this year is high compared with average grant revenues, Ketchum City Administrator Jim Jaquet said.

Ketchum’s 2 percent resort sales tax on liquor and beds and 1 percent on general sales as well as property taxes are the only applicable comparisons to the array of funding sources in Telluride’s diverse arsenal.

"It boils down to money," Ketchum and Blaine County Housing Director Gates Kellett said. "The town having its own funding sources seemed to be most effective (to achieve affordable housing), because they didn’t have to rely on the development community."

The two-day itinerary for Ketchum’s planners and leaders included visits with Telluride’s and Mountain Village’s planning and housing gurus, talks with Telluride’s business community and an exchange with Telluride Ski and Golf Co.’s management.

Mountain Village is a separate municipality at the base of the ski area, about three miles via road, or two miles via a free gondola ride, from Telluride.

At 8,750 feet above sea level, Telluride touts itself as a pedestrian-friendly town, where vehicles are unnecessary. As such, parking fees or permits are required throughout town, except in free parking lots.

"This is a town where pedestrians rule," reads a walking tour pamphlet on the city. "The speed limit is 15 miles per hour, and cars must stop and wait for all pedestrians who cross the street in the cross walks."

The city’s parking meters, like those in the resort city of Aspen, include one computerized meter per block face. The machine produces receipt-like slips of paper that are placed in vehicle windshields and specify the duration one is permitted to park. An entire day costs $5.

"It certainly freed up a lot of parking," McDonald said of the paid parking program, which boasts 390 metered parking spaces.

A regional bus system, paid for by San Miguel County, services the down-valley city of Norwood and is "full every day," Curran said.

However, commuters arrive from various locations, north and south of Telluride, making regional transit somewhat difficult.

Telluride is one of a handful of historic jewels in the West. It was set aside as a National historic Landmark District in 1964, and architectural designs come under strict scrutiny from a Historic and Architectural Review Commission. All new construction and remodel plans must be reviewed by a seven-member design review commission before construction is permitted.

Residential home sizes are limited to 4,000 square feet, and commercial buildings are limited to 1.5 floor area ratios, a building’s floor area divided by its lot size. Commercial buildings are also limited to 35-foot heights.

Telluride was settled in the late-1800s by miners, and the population soared to near 5,000 in the late Nineteenth Century. By the 1960s, after mines closed and gold prices plummeted, the town’s population crashed to less than 600.

In the 1970s, as with many old western mining towns, Telluride was resurrected when the Telluride ski area was built. Tourism and "white gold" replaced ores as the leading economic engine.

The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.