LOCAL PERSPECTIVE | (Nothing but) Condos

06/27/14 | By | 2,019 views More

In the brilliant Talking Heads song (Nothing but) Flowers, David Byrne imagines a world where progress runs in reverse. Instead of taking us to a world where there is more human development, progress takes the singer back to the Garden of Eden, where “we caught a rattlesnake, now we have something for dinner.”

This used to be real estate

Now it’s only fields and trees.  

Where, where is the town? 

Now, it’s nothing but flowers.

In a world where there are no more factories and what once was a parking lot is “now a peaceful oasis,” the singer is nostalgic. “I miss the honkeytonks,” he cries, “Dairy Queens and 7-Elevens.”

People in Telluride might not have to imagine a future that is “nothing but flowers.” We are busy creating one that is “nothing but condos” – condos, in this context, being like flowers, pretty but inert – and we could well experience it sooner than we think. Or at least those who are left will experience it since a big part of the community will be gone.

The Telluride Town Council put another nail in the coffin of that beleaguered portion of the community consisting of people who actually live and work in Telluride last week, when they voted narrowly not to approve a waiver that would have allowed an application for a hotel downtown to go forward. So instead of commerce on the last undeveloped commercial block in town, we will instead have residential development, which in Telluride today and likely into the future, means second homes. We have a different name for residential development that supports community, “affordable housing,” and one thing we know for certain about new condos in central Telluride is that they will be anything but “affordable.”

What was especially depressing watching last week’s meeting of the Telluride Town Council, was that two of the three councilors who voted to kill the waiver (it only took three, because a supermajority of five was required to approve it), claimed – with staggering incoherence – that they were doing it to protect the community. Kristen Permakoff said it was not community spirited of the developer to divide the community with a controversial application, completely oblivious to the fact that the division in the community that was exposed by the controversy is real and about something important. Jenny Patterson said the building just didn’t feel right, apparently not understanding that condos will occupy a building virtually identical to what the hotel would have occupied.

Even more galling is that both Patterson and Permakoff campaigned for their seats on council claiming they were pragmatic and realistic about economic sustainability. Clearly not.

One of the interesting things about bad land use decisions is that, after they go into effect, nobody can see what isn’t there. A land use decision to permit an ugly, inappropriate building is a blight nobody can miss. But a land use decision to prevent a better building or a good building is invisible. So if condos are built where the Hotel Ajax might have been, those condos will simply be a reality about Telluride for very long time. Who will look at the condos and think, “There isn’t a hotel there?”

Well, in truth, when I look at Telluride’s East Depot, I do think, “There isn’t a hotel there,” and if condos are in fact built where the Hotel Ajax might have been, I’ll think the same thing, but I may be unusual in this regard.

Like David Byrne, I will look at the condos and be nostalgic for the honkytonks, the missing bar that was planned for the rooftop at the Hotel Ajax and the visitors who are not shopping on main street and eating in local restaurants, but that’s a contrarian sentiment, which is part of David Byrne’s artistic brilliance and is also why “my side” has lost every major land use decision in Telluride since Lawson Hill was approved over twenty years ago. At this point, to lose another one, well, it’s a bummer, but hardly unexpected.

Since Lawson Hill, every major decision this community has made has been a step, wittingly or unwittingly, toward an Eden for the benefit of wealthy second homeowners and retirees, and some wealthy young families who choose Telluride as the optimal environment for child rearing, but many fewer people who own or work in local businesses. In the case of Thom Carnevale, who provided the third council vote to defeat the Hotel Ajax, that seems to be entirely intentional. Carnevale never pretended to be a friend of the tourist economy or of local workers. I think his vote was wrong, but it was coherent and consistent with all of his votes on council

Not so Patterson and Permakoff, who purport to be friends of the economy and working class. Both got tangled up in questions about the process of approving a General Waiver. They focused their attention on avoiding what they thought would be special treatment for a developer rather than on doing what was right for the community. Both somehow concluded that it was more important to defend a deeply flawed town approvals process than to prevent a terrible outcome.  Both demonstrated a lack of vision that makes them unsuited to serving on council. I voted for both of them, but never will cast a vote for either one of them again.

Thanks to their action, unless something changes, the block where the Hotel Ajax might have been will be another inert, unproductive, and, frankly, depressing block in Telluride, a place for second homeowners to spend a few weeks a year, and not much more. (The required retail will be window dressing.) This will be Patterson’s and Permakoff’s legacy. In the mining era, the block would be named for them, the Patterson-Permakoff block, except that in that historic era blocks were named after businesses that brought economic activity to a frontier town. As we slouch toward Eden, it would be more appropriate to name the block for those who made it so economically unproductive and so it will always be the Patterson-Permakoff block to me, even if there is no plaque to commemorate their folly.

I hope I’m wrong. Maybe Telluride will be a better place as a second home haven or will somehow manage to retain a viable community of locals despite a declining bedbase. Maybe the tourist economy will thrive despite my fears. Maybe the Hotel Ajax will somehow be built despite the inability of our local government to act in the community’s best interests. Maybe the hotel won’t be built, but if it had been it would have been as awful as the projects’ opponents predicted. Maybe if the waiver had been approved it wouldn’t have been built anyway.

Maybe democracy worked in Telluride, as it should, by reflecting the will of the majority. Or maybe two well-intentioned members of council couldn’t tune out the loudest voices and got confused. In any case, a fateful decision has been made and it will shape the future of Telluride, for better or, more likely, for worse.

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Category: Commentary, Local Perspective, Opinion

Comments (7)

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  1. Chuck Glass says:

    What we have here is a failure to communicate. The Telluride Town Council again showed that the disconnect is alive and well. They’ve shown that they do not understand the long term effects of their positions, and cannot relate to anyone that has an actual job. Carnavale, Patterson, and Permakoff voted for a group of NIMBY retirees that live across the street from a building that is going to be built no matter what. No change was proposed to the building’s dimensions externally, but they had already made up their minds to monkeywrench this proposal. In so doing, they essentially voted for the past, at the expense of the future economic survivability of each person that will need to make a living by having a real job. That enormous mistake will continue to resonate negatively for years. The Town will hollow out when good employment is no longer available to the next generation, leaving dark, empty condos that produce no vitality or sales taxes. Sounds like the Mountain Village, doesn’t it? Those retirees will be in their dotage before this stops damaging the economy. In short, no hot beds equals a bad economy that only works for people that do not work. In disgust, I remain, Chuck Glass

  2. eileen says:

    Seth has confused the issue. The issue was a general waiver request for mass and scale. As the picture in the Watch exposed, the proposed building was totally out of scale with Telluride’s historic context. No one said the developers could not build a hotel, the decision was to deny a general waiver. And it is misleading to repeat that the monstrous and unattractive building was a hotel – it contained 42,000 sf of condo space. We, Seth’s enemies, have worked hard to keep property values up in Telluride through good land use codes and smart development. We are busy volunteering, working at our arts, being in our beautiful mountain environment, and not holed away creating more condos. Maybe a solution to the condo versus hotel rooms dilemma is to create more impact mitigation for condos so they are less profitable.

    Seth’s criticism of Jenny and Kristen was inappropriate and uncalled for. Perhaps the reason Seth is always on the losing side is because he acts from a place of self-interest. And he had the nerve to criticize Kristen for acting in the community interest.

    Seth has made it seem as if the community wants more condos. I believe the majority of the community wants more affordable housing and jobs that pay a living wage. This is a national issue as well as a local one. Seth’s remarks about retired people seemed a bit incongruous, since he is of retirement age. Lighten up, Seth. Telluride has been good to you. Get out there and enjoy the mountains.

    • Seth Cagin says:

      I don’t want to get into a back and forth with Eileen because we no doubt see the world through very different lenses. (Can’t imagine what Eileen thinks my self interest might be…. but whatever… Believe it or not, there are times when people disagree with a “just say no” philosophy even if there is no self-interest at bottom.)

      But there is misstatement of fact in Eileen’s comment that should not go unaddressed. The issue of the General Waiver was NOT a request related to mass and scale, and it never was. It was a request to FAR – or Floor Area Ratio – regulations. The building as presented would have had to win any variances for mass and scale through the normal Planned Unit Development approvals process and it might or might not have won what it sought – just as many buildings win some and lose some.

      The condos that will be built on the site without hotel rooms as part of the project may also seek variances and will very likely occupy as big a building envelope as the building that would have been built with hotel rooms. Simply because it can. That mass and scale is permitted under existing zoning. So the building that was rejected would not necessarily have looked very different from the building that will be built. The difference is that it won’t have hotel rooms in it, along with condos. It will have nothing but condos. Nobody ever said that the proposed project had hotel rooms only. It was always presented as a combination of hotel rooms and condos. The argument for approval is that a combined condo-hotel building would have been far better for the community than a virtually identical building consisting of condos only. For many reasons. One is that condos in the same building as a hotel are far likelier to be put on a rental pool, so they will be empty a lot less of the time, than condos in a building that cannot offer hotel services.

      I understand that the community may not acutally want more condos. But more condos is what the community is getting due to zoning that is not producing what it was designed to produce, but nonetheless can’t be waived. So what do you call it when people get what they say they don’t want – and don’t get what they say they do want – because they can’t bend to realities and they insist on following outdated dogma and rules. Boneheadedness? A lack of vision? An inability to foresee predictable consequences stemming from specific actions? Cutting off the nose to spite the face? Principled but not practical? How about, simply, self defeating?

      • Chuck Glass says:

        Is the proposed building not the exact same height as the buildings across the street? 40 feet, I think, and it always was zoned for commercial development. Chuck Glass

  3. Chuck Glass says:

    Dear Eileen, I think YOU have confused the issue! My name is Chuck Glass. Seth Cagin runs this paper, and we barely know each other. I work for a living out of necessity–I have a rather large investment that requires me to show up at the job site each and every day of the short Summer season, so I won’t see you up in the mountains. That’s probably why our perspective is so diametrically opposed on this and probably many issues. I have a business. I pay commercial rate property taxes at twice the rate you pay. I generate sales taxes, and gladly pay them to the town so they can provide you with all of the services you’re used to. The summer season is the only busy time we have any more down on the East End of town. The Mountain Village is maturing slowly, and are already kicking Telluride’s butt all winter long. Without a hotel or restaurant to bring customers down to the dark end of the street, it seems to be off season from the start of daylight savings time until just before bluegrass. You would be aware of this if you were in business. But Eileen, I don’t want to be your enemy. I just want to make a living in Telluride. You see, I’ve still got payments to make. Sincerely, Chuck Glass

  4. eileen says:

    Seth: The bigger the FAR the bigger the building – or mass and scale. They are related. The way to solve the too many condos problem and their short-term rentals is not to build bigger, uglier buildings so we can fit more hotel rooms in the condo buildings.

    Chuck, you’re a sweetheart, I have no desire to get into an argument with you. It is not the job of government to subsidize business, although we do. There are many businesses right near you – B&B, Jagged Edge and others that do very well. Perhaps there are other reasons your business is not doing well. We all have suffered economic hardships since 2008. We all pay taxes. We all work hard to live here. I’ve had a business here since 1988. I’m retired and living on a very small income and still work hard. I don’t blame anyone for my circumstances nor do I expect that long-standing land use codes should be set aside so I can make more money.

  5. Chuck Glass says:

    Who said anything about a subsidy? I pull my own weight, and contribute extensively to the Town. You still refuse to understand, Eileen: The Ajax Hotel-or Condo building will be the same exterior size NO MATTER WHAT YOU DO! They can, and will, “build by right” That means all you achieved was condos owned by rich Texans that will, I’m sure, make just as much noise as a hotel, and build just as big a building as they feel like. As for you not liking my product line, that’s OK. We have a saying here: “It’s not for everyone, it’s for nice people” Chuck Glass

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