A legacy of leading

Categories: Government

The following ran as an article in the May 7, 2023 issue of the Telluride Daily Planet.

Mayor Laila Benitez and Mayor Pro-Tem Dan Caton will leave office at the Town Council meeting following the June 27 Town Council election, after reaching their term limit of serving two four-year terms on Town Council.

Benitez and Caton were elected in 2015 and appointed by their peers to their current positions in 2017. Both were re-elected in 2019. Benitez is the first female mayor of Mountain Village and the youngest person to hold the position.

Benitez and Caton agreed that their biggest commitment while in office was Mountain Village development issues, with affordable housing being their highest priority.

Both said that while Mountain Village has committed to affordable housing (with 18 percent of the county’s population, Mountain Village has roughly 40 percent of the county’s affordable housing), many more such projects are needed.

During their tenure, the town worked closely with Telluride Ski & Golf on the renovation of the Mountain View apartments in the Meadows neighborhood in 2018.

The town recently broke ground on the Village Court Apartments expansion, which should be ready for occupancy in spring 2024. Mountain Village is also in the process of constructing 29 for-sale deed-restricted units at Lot 644, now called Meadowlark at Mountain Village.

In 2021, Mountain Village acquired 37 acres of land in Norwood and will soon complete the purchase of 56 acres of raw land in Ilium. The town plans to develop both parcels to help meet the area’s affordable housing needs.

Hotel development is a hotly debated topic in Mountain Village. Both Benitez and Caton have taken a deliberate approach to project approvals. They opposed numerous proposals on the grounds they were poorly planned or out of scale with the community. By contrast, both politicians helped push forward the development of the Four Seasons hotel in the Village Center, which received town approval last year.

“The Four Seasons is the biggest building project in the region in more than a decade, and it was a heavy lift for everyone involved,” Benitez said.

The most unexpected development during the past eight years was the COVID pandemic. Benitez led council in immediately putting financial contingencies in place in April 2020, which initially retained all staff, while laying a plan for strategic cuts to the budget if tax revenues declined.

Council formed the Business Development Advisory Committee (BDAC) in fall of 2019 for the purpose of supporting local businesses and encouraging new ones. Caton was appointed chair, while Benitez served as a member. Just a few months later, the pandemic began, and the BDAC took on the task of supporting local businesses through the tough times.

Among the solutions BDAC implemented was purchasing tents for outside restaurant dining during quarantine, placing refurbished heated and lit gondola cabins for dining around the Town Center plazas, increasing the number of municipal fire pits and heating units as winter approached, and pushing direct subsidies to local restaurants that agreed to retain employees.

“We were inspired to combine safety and art by creating a competition for local artists to decorate the gondola cabins, which gave our art community some much-needed income,” Caton said. “The cabins quickly became a major attraction, and before long they drew regional and national media attention.”

Council also ramped up its support for internet fiber to homes and businesses during the pandemic. Both visitors and residents found themselves working from home, and, as a result of an all-out effort, nearly every Mountain Village home, business and hotel now have high-speed internet access.

Transportation has been an important topic for the two council members, especially as it relates to environmental sustainability. Both were active in the multi-jurisdictional meetings that considered the need for the San Miguel Authority for Regional Transportation (SMART) and got the proposal on the ballot in November 2016. After the overwhelming region-wide vote that authorized SMART, both Benitez and Caton joined the first SMART board, and Benitez was elected to chair the board.

Other notable Town Council accomplishments over the last eight years include:

  • Caton joined the Gondola Committee in 2016, which has been responsible for envisioning the future of the gondola as its current agreement to own, operate and fund it expires at the end of 2027. The Gondola Committee is comprised of representatives from the Town of Mountain Village, TMVOA, SMART, San Miguel County, Town of Telluride and Telski.
  • Creation of the Green Team in 2017 to oversee town plans for environmental stewardship, action and town incentives.
  • Adopted the Trails Master Plan.
  • Adopted stringent tree proximity regulations and homeowner wildfire mitigation incentives in ongoing wildfire mitigation efforts.

In both Caton and Benitez’s opinion, the most important activity for the future of Mountain Village was completed just last year: the amended Mountain Village Comprehensive Plan. The original comprehensive plan was adopted in 2011, and last year’s revised plan lays out the vision for the future, as well as the details to accomplish that future: development plans, environmental goals, recreation possibilities and amenities the residents and visitors would most desire.

Finally, Benitez and Caton are proud that the many accomplishments have generated a sustained vitality not before seen in Mountain Village.

“This newly revitalized environment shows that elected officials can make a difference,” Benitez said. “We hope that any resident with a commitment to community consider running for council and are anxious to see who will run to replace us in June’s Town Council election.”

The deadline to declare candidacy for the June 27 Town Council election is 5 p.m. Friday, May 12. To learn more visit townofmountainvillage.com/election.

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