By Matthew Beaudin
Local voters said again what they had said before: This town wants no part of any development on the south side of the Valley Floor. In a special election held last Valentine’s Day, town voters said “no thanks” by a 603 to 439 vote to a compromise struck between Telluride Town Council and the San Miguel Valley Corporation (SMVC), owner of the land, that would have started work on an annexation and development agreement. The deal would have included, among other things, 22 homes on the 560-acre south side of the Valley Floor and preservation of the remaining 91 percent of the land as open space.
In 2002, citizens voted twice on the Valley Floor: Once to authorize town council to proceed with condemnation litigation, and again months later to issue bonds for the purchase of the Valley Floor, tapping town taxes to produce nearly $10 million for the Open Space Fund. The most recent election struck down a compromise between the two sides and cemented the town’s 2002 condemnation vote.
The compromise presented was the result of court-ordered mediation between the two sides. The negotiations yielded a political climate so hot, it saw the first-ever local political television advertisements and painted a divisive line between opponents and proponents. Ultimately, the lure of 100-percent preservation of the south side swayed voters, and the town is now continuing toward condemnation: It aims to take the land from SMVC through the power of eminent domain-a government’s constitutional right to seize private property with compensation for a public purpose-in an upcoming trial, set for February 7, 2007.
“The vote is behind us,” council member Roberta Peterson said. “The condemnation lawyers are working the condemnation case.” As an olive branch for the divided community, town council created a Valley Floor Advisory Board in late March, hoping that the commission could serve as a link between community voice and council decision.
Another group of locals has focused on securing funds once the condemnations dust settles and a dollar amount has been assigned to Telluride’s gateway. “We’re in the process of forming the Valley Floor Preservation Partners,” said avid “no” vote supporter Hilary White Coe. “We’re looking to raise money for the long-term protection of the land.” The independently raised funds will help the town face an as-of-yet undetermined bill of $25 million to $35 million, possibly more, if it wins the suit.