Planners take 1st look at Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan update process | SteamboatToday.com

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Planners take 1st look at Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan update process

Steamboat Springs resident Pete Kraska rides his bike to work after skiing at Howelsen Hill during his lunch break earlier this week. Improving public trail systems and connections to commercial areas are goals of the Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan

— Steamboat Springs' crystal ball must have been broken, or at least a bit cloudy, in 2004.

As the community prepares to embark on an extensive, countywide public process this spring that could lead to an update of the Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan, many of the projections that shaped the plan's last update have changed significantly.

In other words, we're not what we thought we would be.

The differences between 2004 forecasts and 2011 realities — in population, employment and housing trends, for example — provide a backdrop for a fresh look at the Community Plan, a wide-ranging document that guides priorities and policies for the city and its surrounding areas.

Residents will be asked for their opinions in April and May, when city and county planners intend to host about 30 public meetings across Routt County to find out what long-term goals and priorities matter most, and least, to people in the Yampa Valley.

Topics including area transportation systems, environmental stewardship efforts, affordable housing, economic diversity, infrastructure development, countywide growth, historic preservation, public services and more will be on the table.

By asking residents to prioritize those topics, planners then can present recommendations to Steamboat Springs City Council and the Routt County Board of Commissioners, possibly in summer. Those recommendations would detail the focus of a Community Plan update — which, in turn, would involve another round of public meetings.

"This is the first phase of a multiphase process," city planner Jason Peasley said Thursday.

Routt County Planning Dep­­artment Director Chad Phillips put it simply.

"What don't you like? What have we been doing good; what have we been doing not so good? What don't you like about how the community has changed?" Phillips said Thursday night in Centennial Hall.

Members of the Steamboat Springs and Routt County planning commissions got a first look Thursday night at the format for the public meetings. City Council and county commissioners will get a similar look April 5.

Commission members and others used an electronic polling system to offer their opinions on Community Plan topics, rating them in order of importance.

One topic that consistently rec­­eived high priority ratings was "concentrate urban and infill development within or adjacent to Steamboat Springs," reflecting a desire to focus growth within city limits.

That's a departure from the 2004 Community Plan update, which forecast growth to the west of current city limits.

"The community was feeling an intense growth pressure at the time," Peasley said.

City voters strongly rejected the proposed Steamboat 700 annexation in March 2010, though, reflecting changing sentiments.

Growth pressure in 2004 also fueled population projections that Peasley said forecast about 14,000 people in the Steamboat Springs area by 2011. A graphed population trajectory veered steeply upward.

How times change.

U.S. Census Bureau data showed a 2010 population of about 12,000 in Steamboat. While a difference of 2,000 between forecasts and reality might not seem like much, Peasley said, the difference drastically flattened the population curve.

"Is the (Community) Plan able to respond to this changing trajectory?" Peasley asked rhetorically.

Changing emp­­loyment trends also are significant. Peasley said at one point just a few years ago, the tourism and construction industries accounted for about 75 percent of total Routt County jobs. Both those industries saw sharp declines after 2008, though, radically altering local job markets.

Steamboat resident John Spezia said Thursday that bec­­ause of the area's changing demographics, new economic models should be strongly considered in a Community Plan update.

City and county planners hope to receive more such input in the upcoming public meetings, which will be held with community groups and in open settings across the county.

"Our intention is to hit everyone," Peasley said.

To reach Mike Lawrence, call 970-871-4233 or email mlawrence@SteamboatToday.com