TREPAC stands for Telluride Regional Advisory Planning Commission and the idea for it came from years of making no progress on planning and growth issues in the Telluride Region and starving as a result. Our lives were moving along, but our community was just stuck. Zoline and his partners, Simonius-Vischer had built five lifts originally in 1972, but they were slow double chairs that were laid out in a awkward pattern that didn’t make much sense. Plus, since we didn’t have a lift into town where all the beds and people were, the Ski Company had to bus everyone from the town to the bottom of what was then lift two at the bottom of the meadows in an old school bus. You then had to ride all five lifts to get to the top which took more than an hour and then if you skied the Plunge down into town you had to wait to catch the bus to get back around and do it again.
It was pretty hokie, and there wasn’t even a bridge across the river, it was like a two by twelve, and if you didn’t carry full speed across the flats, you would stall out right in the middle of the river—we’re talking burn, leg burn that I’ll remember for the rest of my life. The kids today say they know what leg burn is all about, well let me tell you—they know nothing until they ski the face, tuck the last 100 yards of flat on a single track and hit the bridge with enough speed to make it across in time to catch the bus, which was always, it seemed, just pulling away.
And, if you were lucky enough to make it without falling in the river and catch the bus, you got to sit next to Jerry Segal and listen to him go on and on about how he had already made two trips and was going for three.
It was a few years before the Coonskin lift was built, but clearly, we were not going to get real ski area improvements like: Lift 8, snowmaking, triples, quads, high-speed quads and become even marginally competitive with real ski resorts until there was progress and after the no-snow year of 1976, no one could argue about the importance of the ski area and winter tourism to our economy. We needed new lifts, snow-making, beds, transporation, and money to make it work and that meant that we had to stop fighting with one another and agree to something that we could move forward with. The answer was TREPAC.
Attached is a story I wrote about TREPAC years later for the Daily Planet Newspaper. It was during one of the political sessions where public hearings were being held to re-think TREPAC (read gut) when I kept hearing people say things about TREPAC that proved they didn’t understand it, know what it was about, or in many instances, weren’t even here when we adopted it.
SCOTT V. BROWN
230 N. ASPEN STREET
P.O. BOX 141
TELLURIDE, CO 81435
Published: Week of March 3, 1998, Telluride Daily Planet
THE TREPAC STORY
It was 1980, not 1880, as some people seem to think, that fifteen people came together to discuss the future of growth and planning in the Telluride Region. The group eventually was called TREPAC, which stands for Telluride Regional Planning Advisory Commission. The group met for a year and a half, and when the group finally called it quits, much had been accomplished. Not everyone agreed with the results and recommendations of TREPAC, not even everyone on the Commission agreed, however, TREPAC laid the foundation upon which the Telluride Region has grown and prospered for almost twenty years.
It seems that about every five or six years, one of the former members of TREPAC, takes on the task of attempting to set the record straight on what TREPAC was, what TREPAC did, and what was the actual situation that existed at the time TREPAC was commissioned.
I guess, it must be my turn.
Yes, I served on TREPAC. I was appointed as a government representative, at the time, I was the Chairman of the County Planning and Zoning Commission. And, yes, I agreed with not only the goals and objectives of TREPAC, but also eventually, supported and endorsed its findings.
From a historical perspective, let’s go back to 1969. 1969 was the year that the United States Forest Service approved the Ski Area Permit Application for the Telluride Ski Resort. That was before my time, I did not get here until the summer of 1971. In February of 1972, the Forest Service came to town and in a packed Nugget Theater announced that the permit for the construction of five new lifts on the mountain had officially been approved. History seems to agree on the fact that in the summer of 1972, the Telluride Ski Area was born and in a period of six months more than 350 new people moved to Telluride to participate in what everyone believed was going to be the best, not the biggest, ski resort in North America. The ski resort opened that year for Christmas with more snow, I swear, than we have ever had for Christmas since.
From a planning and growth perspective, 1971 was a watershed year for Telluride, as it was for much of the State of Colorado. You see, it was in 1971 that the State of Colorado passed a law that all counties in the State had to establish their own planning departments and appoint a Planning Commission and adopt a countywide Master Plan. This was also the law that established the rule that any parcel of property 35 acres or larger was not subject to the rules of county zoning and essentially established that anyone with 35 acres or more could subdivide their property by just filing a plat with the County Clerk and Recorder. Since the new law was widely publicized and debated throughout the State, all the landowners that lived in counties which did not have any zoning rules and who owned 35 acres or more of land were given the opportunity to circumvent the law by just going to Denver and filing under the old law which enabled them to zone their property according to the old State rules.
In the case of Telluride and San Miguel County, this is exactly what happened. Prior to the official adoption of the new law, Idarado Mining Company filed for AR Zoning on the Valley Floor, which would allow for a population density of approximately 200,000 people and the Telluride Ski Area filed for similar zoning on the West Meadows which would allow for at least 200,000 people. Both parties later claimed that they only filed to protect their interests, since they were not ready or able to put together a plan that they actually wanted to develop. The game had officially begun. Not one but two trump cards were out and the stage was set for the battle for the future of Telluride.
For the record, in my opinion, the move on the part of the mine and Zoline was not all bad. As Joe Zoline told me during the days of TREPAC, “The incredible number of zoned density forced the community to address the issues of growth in a comprehensive fashion. No one could live with a population of more than 400,000 people.” There was only one side to be on and that was the side of “proper planning” for the future. And, everyone had an opinion.
From 1972 to 1982, no major development proposals were let through the floodgates. There was lots of pressure from every wannabe developer in the region. Last Dollar Subdivision squeaked through, but it was rather small. The Ski Ranches were being sold, but their initial phases had been approved under State zoning laws. Then, Aldasoro sold about 800 acres to some European investors and a huge development was proposed on what we now call Sunnyside.
All hell broke loose in town. What was planned was a town as large as the Mountain Village is now. The proposal was approved by the County, but was defeated by a lawsuit brought by some people that I still think of as heroes. Through some luck and some daring individuals, the finger had been put back in the dike. We were saved, but no one believed for long. The cry on the street was that nothing gets approved without a comprehensive plan that addresses environment, wildlife, number of people, air quality, ski area improvements, transportation, water, sewer, or as some people called it, “What this place is going to look like, smell like, and be like in twenty-five years.”
In 1978, the county rolled out the long-awaited Master Plan. It took six years to prepare and write. Meetings were held county wide to “cuss and discuss” the Master Plan. It was finally adopted, however, the cry that nothing was going to happen without a comprehensive agreement of all the players, which included the Town of Telluride, Telluride Ski Resort, Idarado Mining Company, and Aldasoro Ranches continued.
The playing field changed dramatically when in late 1978, the Benchmark Company of Avon, Colorado bought controlling interest from Joe Zoline of the Telluride Ski Resort, however, Zoline retained ownership of the West Meadows and the more than 200,000 people of density. Ron Allred, the 39-year-old, President of Benchmark moved to Telluride and took over the Ski Resort. For the first time, the owner of the Ski Resort lived and worked full time in Telluride. Allred had a dream, he was a developer and to make the place go he needed zoning for development. The atmosphere at the time was hopeful on the part of most of the population. For eight years, the economic situation had been absolutely bleak and then Idarado Mine shut down and 300 jobs disappeared over-night. Hand to mouth, described the economic situation, but now we had a new ski area owner who was young, aggressive, and charismatic, -------and he wanted to do something.
It was Allred that eventually came up with the concepts that led to the establishment of TREPAC. The premises were:
- It is time to move forward. Without growth the ski resort will fail and if the ski resort fails, the town will fail and all of the people that are dependent on the ski resort, tourism, real estate and construction will have to leave and the town will go back to being a virtual “ghost town” that is only open on the Fourth of July.
- Since there are only five major property owners in the Telluride Region (Telluride, Idarado, Zoline, Ski Resort, and Aldasoro) we have a unique opportunity to enter into “voluntarily agreements” that would effectively plan and zone (read: downzone) the entire Telluride Region.
- It is worth a try. We can always go back to stalemate.
Once the idea was formulated, the rest pretty quickly fell into place. The agreement to form the Commission led to the necessary argument about the size and make-up of the commission and the proverbial size and shape of the table. This argument took six months, but at the end, the commission was formed.
It was made up of five representatives from government (two from the town (Mike Conlin and Nancy Webster), two from the county (Tom Hale and myself, with Tommy Smith the county Planning Director as an ad hoc member) and the Town Manager (Randy King), five representatives from the citizens at large (Jim Botenhagen, Mark Silversheer, Barry Cook, Jim Bedford, Bill Leenheer) and representatives of the five major landowners (Ron Allred, Telluride Ski Resort, Joe Zoline, West Meadows, Albert Aldasoro, Aldasoro Ranches, Johnny Johnson, Idarado, Charlie Hughes, Sunnyside).
The first few months was a time when we established that we had more reasons to get along than we did to continue to fight and we further learned that we had more in common in our goals and objective than we thought. It was agreed, early on, that everyone wanted to “save” Telluride and no one wanted to destroy what we all loved. Surprisingly, we all loved the same things----community, clean air, beauty, the lifestyle, wild flowers, mountain streams, majestic mountains, wilderness, open space, the smell of the forest and the wildlife. Everyone, early on agreed, if we could not do it right, then we just would not do it at all. Idarado and Zoline agreed up-front that they were willing to give up there massive zoning for a plan that worked for everyone and a fair share of the development opportunity which would be decided by the commission.
Everyone, early on, agreed that the end-game was conditioned upon the number of people, because ultimately you can only “mitigate” so much impact in our fragile mountain environment. This premise led to hundreds of hours arguing about the numbers. What was eventually decided was that we would first agree that certain issues of mitigation were not negotiable, such as, water, air, wildlife protection, open space, and transportation. We then decided that since the ski resort was our largest industry and best bet for a future that we would focus on the number of people that the ski resort needed to make the ski resort viable.
With the Ski Resort in the hot seat, Allred made several deals, which included that the Ski Resort would eventually have a comfortable carrying capacity of 14,000 skiers per day as it applies to lifts and terrain, but that at no time would the Ski Resort have more than 10,000 people on the ski slopes on any one day. Using this as the model, and plugging in the rule that the ski resort must always sell a local’s season’s pass that is not limited at Christmas time like Aspen, and then applying the industry standards on the mix of local and tourist skiers which we derived from the numbers generated at other destination ski resort and then plugging in the percentage of locals and tourist that are here at any given time which will be skiing on any given day, we were able to generate a model of how many people would live here and how many tourist beds we would need. We took the model further and determined the size of the schools, size of roads, air quality problems, seats in restaurants, number of cars, you name it, we discussed it.
This exercise eventually led to a total number of locals and tourist for the Telluride Region of 18,000. To this we added the formula that at any given time, 10% of the beds would be empty due to turnover, etc. and 10% of the developable lots and land would never be developed). This formula lowered the real population to approximately 15,000 people. The saying was that in the year 2050 on the day after Christmas, there would be 15,000 people here (tourists and locals).
The next big question was how to “split up the pie”. The basic assumption that was approved by all was that we would allocate 5000 people to the town of Telluride and then add back the other 1000 for absent and not built), so that the zoning of Telluride would be maxed out at 6000 people (since the town was zoned for 12,000, a huge downzoning of Telluride was contemplated and agreed to). We then allocated 5000 people plus the same 1000 to the Mountain Village/Ski Resort and then the remaining 6000 people of zoning was to be split between West Meadows (2000), Idarado and the Valley Floor (2000), Aldasoro (1000) and Sunnyside (1000).
That’s it. It was the best we could do.
It was a down zoning of about 400,000 people. It broke the log jam and opened up the way for the Mountain Village, which then went on to four and one-half years of review by San Miguel County before one shovel of dirt was turned. It also set the stage for the PUD-Reserve Zoning of West Meadows, the Valley Floor and Aldasoro.
Through the years of work, the commission established numerous understanding and agreements between landowners, government and the public at large. Some of which have even survived the politics of Telluride. Some of the more interesting ones are:
- Development must pay its way; the burden of growth should not fall upon the existing inhabitants.
- Transportation other than rubber wheeled vehicles shall be required for all developments that have high density clusters or commercial development.
- Employee housing which was calculated then at 12% of the total population of a development would be part of the overall density numbers and each entity would be required to provide land properly zoned for employee housing.
- Air quality studies must accompany any application for development that wants wood burning devises and the air quality standards of the region cannot deteriorate due to development.
- All developers would agree to cooperate in the construction of a central sewer plant.
- All developers would voluntarily comply with the recommendations by the Colorado Department of Wildlife for the preservation of our wildlife.
- All developers would cooperate in the planning and access to a trail system that would be developed in the future.
- The ski resort would never be large by industry standards and the ski resort would never sell more than 10,000 ski tickets on any one day.
- The ski resort would always sell a local’s Season Ski Pass and the Ski Pass would not be limited at Christmas.
- The ski resort and all other large developments agreed to never incorporate and establish competing municipalities.
- The ski company would go first in the development process and a process which was later called PUD-Reserve would be established so that all other developers would have the assurance of having zoning without the pressure of having to rush in to develop to preserve their rights.
- All development would be set back from the highway with strict view corridors so that development would not be visible from the roads.
- The school system would always be based in Telluride and developers would pay an impact fee equal to $100 per person generated to the school (the Mountain Village’s first payment bought back the old High School)
- The car is the scourge of ski resorts and each development must address transportation and the car to see that the automobile does not ruin our community.
- That we will only develop those areas designated for development and we will all work for the preservation of open space, wilderness and preserving the wild places for all future generations.
- Telluride will always be the Arts and Cultural Center of the Region and all large landowners will contribute to building the Arts, Festival and Cultural character of the region.
- Everyone will work to preserve the beauty, ecology, environment, and splendor of our mountain community.
- Everyone will get along, and work together to preserve community.
Future columns over the next few weeks will relate the story of the Mountain Village Zoning, PUD-Reserve Zoning, and the obvious failures of TREPAC, and the Zoning of the Telluride Region.
So, where are we today?
The Mountain Village performed on their agreements. They went first, took the full force and affect of the risk and built a real ski resort in the process. Mountain Village has absolutely stuck by its TREPAC numbers—using every one—but not exceeding its agreements. The density formula of a house equals four people and a condo equals three people and a hotel room equals 1.5 people (set up to be a bonus to encourage hotel rooms) was part of TREPAC and it was all about people and how to limit the number of people and limit and deal with the impact of people, but a known and reasonable number.
The Mountain Village broke its agreement on incorporating the Mountain Village, but technically it was done by non-Telluride Company people—like everyone was involved in it but Ron Allred.
What’s interesting about the incorporation is that it was well known that Allred and Wells had incorporated Avon, Colorado over by Beaver Creek and taken control of all the zoning, and planning issues and there were many people that were concerned the same thing would happen with the Mountain Village. Barbara Lane, one of the former Editors of the Telluride Times Newspaper published extensive research on Allred and the Benchmark Company in the newspaper when they purchased the ski resort and everyone knew it was something to look out for.
At the county P & Z level, we discussed it openly with Allred numerous times and he said that he was as opposed to it as we were and that he would work with us to see that it never happened. To that end, we wrote language into the approval of the Mountain Village and even added it to the Final Plat which everyone signed and it was filed with the Clerk of San Miguel County.
The problem in writing language that is both legal and binding is that in the United States anyway, Allred did not have the right and could not guarantee that future generation of people living in the Mountain Village would not want to incorporate and he could not sign off or take away their democratic right to do so. So, what he did do was agree that the good people of the Mountain Village could incorporate if they wanted to, they just couldn’t pursuant to the language in the Final Approval and Final Plat ever change the zoning or have the power to expand their borders through annexation which could be controlled by local government pursuant to State law. The Telluride Company agreed voluntarily in writing to the provisions and they could only be over-ridden by a vote allowing for the restrictive provisions to be nullified and vacated by the County Commissioners of San Miguel County. Well, obviously, who would want to be an incorporated town and still have to go ask the County Commissioners if you could make zoning changes, even lot line changes and you could never expand your boundaries. It wouldn’t be worth it.
Well, it happened one day. The San Miguel County Commissioners who had said publicly many times that they’d never go along with the Mountain Village incorporation and the nullifying of the restrictive provisions voted to remove their opposition and go along with the incorporation. The real question is how did they get two County Commissioners to agree to vote to let them.
The problem is that we now have two competing Home Rule Towns within a few feet of each other. It is the worst of both worlds and nothing good is going to come of it—it certainly hasn’t anywhere else that I know of.
In Colorado, municipalities can change zoning any way they want to and annex property rather easily. The main requirement is that the property must be contiguous, or it must touch boundaries. The problem is that Forest Service and BLM lands counts for purposes of being contiguous.
The Mountain Village could annex Wilson Mesa if it wanted to and the Town of Telluride could annex Dallas Divide if they could work out the details. What kind of competition have we possibly created?
I think that we should merge the two towns and work together. Next, we should annex the entire Telluride Region and do away with having to ask the County Commissioners what they think which would resolve a lot of problems including the 35 acre exemption. We’d have one government not three.
And, then we could go back to battling the real enemy—the automobile, affordable housing for locals and our historical proclivity to go through boom and bust cycles and not have a sustainable economy, and quit just fighting each other.
What Aldasoro agreed to as part of TREPAC has no resemblance to what is there now. The original PUD-Reserve zoning that was approved by San Miguel County was for 52 single family home sites and one large high density resort hotel complex located on the knoll overlooking the airport with a population of around 1000 people in total which included full time and tourist pillows. The construction of the Resort Hotel Complex would have required the construction of a gondola from the hotel site/airport to the Valley Floor hotel site. Further, Aldasoro agreed, no insisted, that the remainder of the ranch would be deed-restricted and protected by conservation easements for no future development or subdivision and would forever be open space and agricultural use.
West Meadows was PUD-Reserve zoned for approximately 2500 people with a piece of property of about 400 acres located on the west for a Zoline Family Preserve with no more than five houses and deed-restricted and protected by conservation easements so that it would forever be undeveloped. The Zoline Family went through the zoning process at the county as a family unit. The entire family and all the children attended each P & Z meeting and during moments when the negotiations became difficult they would join hands and create this energy field that would soften us up and make us see it their way.
Their way was very exciting. They had planned a futuristic community with the latest and greatest technology including an “earth station” for direct satellite uplink to the world and some incredibly cool ideas of building a community that combined locals and tourists into a diverse and interesting place to live. They address the concept of “sustainable development” when I had only heard of it and “green building” was required. I thought for sure they were going to build it and it would be on the cover of magazines and the New York Times would be doing stories on it, like they did on the Ideas Festival that the Zoline’s and the Naisbitt’s started.
But, it was not to be. Instead, it was broken into thirteen large parcels that sell for millions of dollars each.
Sunnyside which was zoned for 1000 people was down zoned to one unit per 35 acres and I think there will be about twelve houses there. Again, mega-houses selling for millions.
The Valley Floor’s future is yet undecided, but it was zoned for 2500 people with 1500 of those people allocated for a major destination resort hotel. We saw plans for a gondola that connected the Aldasoro gondola to the Mountain Village gondola and an electric train that ran back and forth to the Town Park down Pacific Street. There was a golf course and a large lake at Society Turn and an intercept parking lot where all cars that didn’t have the right sticker (like Bluegrass) would be sent. People could then get on the train or the gondola and go wherever they wanted. The condemnation hearing is over, but the outcome appears to be that either it will be open space or fifteen mega-homes selling for millions each.
Of the 18,500 people that TREPAC had agreed to at build out in 2025, the region has been down-zoned to less than 10,000 which really translates into 8500 people by applying the vacancy and unbuilt rule.
Remember, the 18,500 number was the lowest possible number of people (tourists and residents) needed for the community to be economically viable.
The growth was supposed to be slow, continuous and sustainable and go on until at least 2025 when we would reach build out. Instead, the plan was changed and we are now very close to build out and our zoned numbers are far below the minimum number of people to support a vibrant community.
So, my question is: What happens next?
I think I know. Call me.