Telluride Grown is proposing to build a food-growing system known as Aquaponics. The purpose of the proposal is to limit the carbon emissions that trucking in food causes and to provide the population with good organic home-grown food. Many other towns around the globe are trying to accomplish the same task.The area chosen for the project has some complications as others have earmarked the property for other projects so a ballot proposal is necessary to clear the matter up.
A citizen’s group gathered enough signatures to put a local food production proposal on the November ballot by late last week, but an issue with its ballot language has snagged the process.
Following a meeting with town staff on Monday afternoon, Steve Cieciuch, co-founder of the group Telluride Grown, said they will revise the language as necessary and gather signatures anew. The new measure has to be certified by Sept. 6 to make it on the November ballot. Cieciuch believes the group — which gathered almost twice as many certified signatures as it needed the first time around — can make it happen and said the setback is not deterring Telluride Grown from its goal of making local food production happen here.
“We’re focused on the goal, and the goal is to get it done,” Cieciuch said. “So whatever it takes.”
Telluride Grown is proposing to build a food-growing system on a piece of the town-owned Pearl Property just west of Telluride. The system would be comprised of several greenhouses and would use a technology known as aquaponics to grow produce and raise fish for consumption.
This summer, the group wrote a ballot question that would ask voters to allow the agricultural use on 1.5 upland acres of the north side of the property, which is currently zoned for public purpose, and to approve a requirement for the town to authorize a 33-year lease with Telluride Grown at a nominal cost.
Volunteers for the group’s petition committee gathered 82 signatures of town voters, which were turned in on Thursday. Telluride Grown needed 37 certified Telluride voter signatures for the measure to go to the ballot. Town Clerk MJ Schillaci certified 55.
But while town staff was reviewing the signatures and measure, they found the language concerning the lease arrangement to be problematic.
According to a letter send to Telluride Grown by the town, Colorado law and the Telluride Home Rule Charter require that matters included in any initiated ordinance be deemed legislative, not administrative, in nature. And by the town’s interpretation, the requirement that the town authorize a long-term lease of its property would qualify as administrative. Therefore, according to the letter, that version could not go on the ballot.
Ciecuich said the petitioners committee based the language on other ballot measures and consulted with their attorney; they were surprised that the language was problematic. But they are moving forward to fix the situation, he said.
Telluride Grown unveiled the plan at the 2013 Mountainfilm Festival, touting it as a way for the town to cut down on carbon emissions related to importing food, produce healthy product for its citizens and serve as an example to other communities. The group brought the proposal to the Telluride Town Council in June with a request to put it on the ballot. But the request failed to gain the support of the entire council, and was voted down after council members said the Pearl Property is not the right place for the project.
The 7.3-acre parcel of marshy land that sits between Telluride and the Valley Floor has been at the center of a number of public debates and votes in the last two decades as townspeople squabbled over development rights, wetlands and whether or not to put a parking lot there. In 1998, voters approved a restriction on the Pearl to prevent a proposed parking lot, and the development restriction remains today.
To further complicate matters, the land is currently at the center of another proposal, years in the making, to divide the property into two parcels — a large undeveloped open space parcel preserved by a conservation easement and a small paved parcel where the RV lot is now located that could be used for a public benefit such as a new medical center.
The town council has been working toward putting that proposal on the November ballot for several months, and some members were not keen on the idea of adding yet another Pearl ballot question into the mix — even when Telluride Grown suggested including language that would ensure the two measures don’t conflict.
After the council voted 3-2 against putting the measure on the ballot, Telluride Grown started the process of getting a citizens-initiated measure on the ballot instead. The 1.5-acre parcel of the Pearl is the best fit for the project because it is flat, gets great sun exposure and would be a visible example to residents and visitors that the town is working toward a greener future, according to Telluride Grown.
Their measure includes language that will avoid conflict if the council’s measure passes, Cieciuch said, and the intent is to make it clear and simple to voters.
“We tried to get that to read as simply as possible,” he said. “People seemed to be really receptive and want to see it happen.”
If the measure is certified anew, it will go before the Telluride Town Council, which under the charter will have two choices: adopt on first reading the ordinance created by the ballot measure, or to send it to the ballot without substantive changes.
Telluride Grown runs into snag with ballot language.
Aquaculture would be the perfect project for the property as it would not only help feed the population but would also provide jobs for the area.