April 2015

Empty homes in San Miguel County

By Art Goodtimes

NOBODY HOME … My San Miguel County Commissioner colleague Joan May saw Jonathan Schechter recently on one of her travels out of county, and the Wyoming executive director of the Charture Institute (and Jackson Hole News & Guide columnist) had crunched some numbers about San Miguel County’s housing situation. He shared the resultant graphs with Joan, and she with us … In asking how much more workforce housing do we need for the economic engine of the Telluride Region, perhaps we have been asking the wrong question. What you should be querying is how many homes are being lived in that have already been built? … When you compare “occupied housing stock,” as housing professionals would say, with “unoccupied,” the figures are quite unnerving … Jonathan’s graphs show it best, but in 2013, 71 percent of the homes in the Mountain Village were “unoccupied” (out of 1,880 homes available), 56% in the Town of Telluride (out of 2,000) and 38% in the Unincorporated Area of the County (out of 2,517) … Add it all up and it doesn’t sound anywhere close to “sustainable” (McRedeye sez, don’t you love our use of big words to mask big absurdities?). Out of 6,663 homes that are available as housing in San Miguel County, more than half are “unoccupied” (51%) … How do you maintain community when more than half the houses we have are faux homes — investment properties sitting empty or once-a-year luxury hideaways from the blur of the cities?


poem excerpt from Shaimaa el-Shabbagh,
assassinated Jan. 24 in Cairo

…I am the girl banned
from love in the squares
I stood in the middle of the street
and gathered in my hand
the stars of the sky, individually,
And the sweat of the street vendors
The voices of beggars…

trans. by Maged Zaher

NO GOOD DEED … goes unpunished, as they say. Was coming back to Wright’s Mesa from a Montrose meeting. It was after dark. Chugging up Norwood Hill, after the first hairpin turn, there was an engine-blocksized rock in the middle of the uphill lane, broken shards scattered all over the road … Too dangerous to merely drive around, as the car behind me did. I pulled off the highway at the first convenient bench over the canyon, and walked back down to the stone. I rolled it over once. It was a mother. Trying to get a grip and roll it a second time, I heard a noise that you know means trouble. A muscle pop in my right elbow that told me I was not up to the job of solo rock removal … Luckily, right about then, another car came creeping downhill in the opposite lane and stopped beside me. The young man hopped out, helped me scrape the obstruction off the macadam, and then drove off with hardly a word — like some kind of angel of the night … I was happy on both fronts – that, deus ex machina, I’d had help when I needed it, and no half-sleepy driver was going to implode on that rock later that evening … And this month my arm’s better. A little tender in spots, but not bad. More a reminder of how it is, living in the mountains – where helping each other, friends and strangers, is a way of life.

DR. DON … Had to get a script at the Apothecary Shoppe in Nucla for a sleep test I had to take in Montrose couple months ago (tough work, if you can get it). I love visiting the region’s most famous druggist. Got to introduce him and a sweet film about him twice at Mountainfilm last spring. I’ve always admired Don Colcord’s kindness, generosity, and dedication to his community, and how he treats every single person – from out-oftown- hippies to grizzled old locals – with the same mixture of care and good humor. And he always has a moment to chat … He told me that the New Yorker article (2011) about him had got bought up and a TV special was planned (maybe a mini-series). An actor had even been hired to play him … Which is great, but no fiction could be as impressive or amazing as Don’s commitment to his family and his community. Makes you wish every town had its Dr. Don.

ROB BLAIR … The Southern Rockies lost one of its great ones with the passing of former Ft. Lewis professor of geosciences Rob Blair last week. A friend of Dolores LaChapelle, Blair balanced a deep reverence for the earth with extensive knowledge of its tortuous morphology. He edited two definitive geology texts about the San Juans and founded the Durango-based Mountain Studies Institute, where both Joan May and I have sat on its board … It seemed like Rob and I only met up once or twice a year of late, but always accompanied by lovely intense talks on myriads of fascinating topics, from climate change to fen ecology. Rob was a brilliant man, as all who met him knew. And he had a big heart to go with his big ideas. Sadly, a heart attack took him while cross-country skiing around Vallecito Reservoir … Sudden passings are merciful but unsettling. While a sadness to lose his delightful presence in our lives, it’s heartening to think of Rob in the end doing what he loved in these snowy mountains that he also loved. And leaving us like that … Deepest condolences to his family.

Art Goodtimes is a five-term county commissioner in San Miguel County, Colo.