Steamboat says ‘no’ to 700
City voters reject annexation 61 to 39 percent
March 9, 2010
Steamboat Springs — City voters denied the Steamboat 700 annexation by a margin of more than 20 percentage points Tuesday, making a strong statement about how and when growth should occur in the community and culminating a resident-led opposition effort that began with a petition drive in the fall.
The vote rejects what would have been the city's most substantial annexation since the Mount Werner ski resort area was folded into city limits decades ago.
Steamboat Springs residents cast 2,592 ballots against the annexation and 1,661 ballots in favor, a 61 to 39 percent result for the mail-only vote that began in February. The Steamboat 700 annexation lost in each of the city's eight precincts. The largest margin came in Precinct 13, which includes much of Old Town. Precinct 13 voted 383 against to 179 for the annexation, or 68 to 32 percent.
"I think the voters made a great choice," said Tim Rowse, spokesman for the Let's Vote committee, which opposed the annexation. "We have a fabulous community. This vote shows our community cares about its future."
Total turnout in the election was 4,253 votes, or 64 percent of the 6,640 registered, active city voters at the time of Tuesday's final count.
The result is a resounding victory for Let's Vote, which formed in October to circulate petitions for a public vote on Steamboat 700, and then, when that effort was successful, focused on a campaign to oppose the annexation. The group faced a David and Goliath scenario in terms of campaign financing — Steamboat 700 developers spent more than $100,000 through February on the Good For Steamboat campaign, and Let's Vote spent about one-tenth of that amount, less than $10,000, through February. Let's Vote was funded primarily by small contributions from local donors.
Danny Mulcahy, Steamboat 700 principal and project manager, said his development team was prepared for a referendum denial. Steamboat 700 paid for the election and supported it throughout.
"We didn't come into this naïve," he said. "We always knew this (result) was a possibility."
The city's "no" vote came three years after Mulcahy and Steamboat 700 LLC closed on the $25 million purchase of 540 acres of land owned by Steve Brown and Mary Brown, just west of current city limits, and put an adjoining 170 acres under contract.
The voters' decision overturns the Steamboat Springs City Council's approval of the Steamboat 700 annexation Oct. 13. Loui Antonucci was president of that council and expressed his disappointment Tuesday night.
"Fifteen years of community planning was undermined by a sentiment of fear," Antonucci said, referring to the public process to create the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan, which began in the mid-90s and identified the future Steamboat 700 site as a location for growth.
Whether Steamboat 700 and its annexation agreement with the city met the goals of the WSSAP was at the heart of debate leading up to the vote. During the campaign, members of the Steamboat 700 team, including attorney Bob Weiss and consultant Chad James, accused the Let's Vote group of "fear-mongering" in its advertising and public statements, which questioned the annexation's potential costs, risks and drain on local resources, among other issues. Rowse flatly denied the fear-mongering claim.
"They are entitled to their feelings," Rowse said about Good For Steamboat earlier this week. "That has not been the case."
Rowse said throughout the Let's Vote campaign that the committee was seeking to "point out the gaps" in Steamboat 700's annexation agreement.
Antonucci said the economic recession likely played a role in the vote.
"In this economic environment, it makes people more afraid and less open to change," he said. "A lot of economic factors played into this."
Mulcahy said earlier Tuesday that his development team was not sure of its next step after a denial.
"There are multiple Plan B's, and I haven't finalized any of them," Mulcahy said. "Unfortunately, there's not a Plan B of approaching the city with another annexation."
Members of the Let's Vote committee, opposing the annexation, said throughout their campaign that the city could renegotiate with developers for a better annexation agreement. Mulcahy, Weiss and members of the Good For Steamboat committee maintained throughout, however, that renegotiation was not an option.
Steamboat 700 put significant funds into the annexation up front, for everything from traffic and environmental studies to legal fees related to creating the annexation agreement, and the cost of the election.
Mulcahy emphasized those efforts Tuesday.
"Cost is a small part of it, but after 300 hours of public meetings, meeting all the requirements of the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan … there's nothing that would give any certainty or any likelihood that going through this would result in a different outcome," Mulcahy said. "Why would there be a different outcome in another three years?
"What will happen is the county will be in a position to really look at how they will manage growth because obviously the city will have shut their borders to growth."
Tom Leeson, the city's director of planning and community development, said Monday that a Steamboat 700 denial would cause the city to re-examine its growth policies, as well.
Mary Alice Page-Allen, asset and program manager for the Yampa Valley Housing Authority, said the vote is a setback for the YVHA, which supported the annexation and now will look toward other sources of land and funding to provide local affordable housing.
"You always have to be nimble and change and be ready for opportunities," she said.
Mulcahy said the Steamboat 700 development team would "be fine" financially if the annexation failed.
"What we have doesn't go to zero," Mulcahy said, referring to the land's value and other options for development as part of Routt County. "We have very little debt on this property, so that gives us lots of options. … We're prudent businesspeople. Everything about it still makes sense today. We're not overly concerned on a monetary standpoint."
He expressed regret, though, that the proposal did not win the support of the community.
"The fact is, we came here to contribute to the place that Steamboat is," Mulcahy said. "The annexation agreement is the best way to accomplish that. But there are other options at the end of the day."
Steamboat 700 timeline
■ March 19, 2007
Steamboat 700 LLC, led by principal and project manager Danny Mulcahy, closes on the $25 million purchase of 540 acres of land owned by Steve Brown and Mary Brown, just west of current city limits. Adjoining 170-acre plot of land put under contract. The land is within the boundaries of the city's West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan and has been identified by city staff as a site for future growth.
■ July 26, 2007
Steamboat 700 LLC hosts an open house to gather public input on preliminary designs and planning for the Steamboat 700 property. More than 170 people attend the event at Olympian Hall in Howelsen Hill Lodge.
■ Nov. 20, 2007
Steamboat 700 developers submit to the city Planning and Community Development Department their most detailed vision to date for the 700 acres. The plan foresees between 1,837 and 2,243 residential units with as many as 448 of them being deed-restricted community housing units.
■ Jan. 15, 2008
The first major public presentation of the Steamboat 700 development drew mostly enthusiasm from a packed Centennial Hall audience during a joint gathering of Steamboat Springs' City Council and Planning Commission. The city's main goal was to discuss the process by which the annexation request and proposed development would be reviewed.
■ April 16, 2008
The Steamboat Springs School District asks developers of Steamboat 700 to provide 14 acres for a new elementary school — and cover half the cost of building it.
■ May 30, 2008
Local officials tour the former Stapleton International Airport in Denver, which has employed new urban design principles that Steamboat officials hope to see implemented in Steamboat 700.
■ Aug. 13, 2008
Steamboat 700 developers tell city planners they intend to move forward with pared-down development and annexation proposals after their application to extend the urban growth boundary by 185 acres was denied Aug. 12, 2008.
■ March 3, 2009
City Council votes unanimously not to require the developers of Steamboat 700 to bring water rights or large-format retail to the table as a condition of annexation. Instead of water rights, Steamboat 700 is asked to pay for improvements to put the city's existing water rights to use.
■ Aug. 13, 2009
Developers and the school district agree on a 0.5 percent real estate transfer fee to help pay for new schools.
■ Sept. 29, 2009
Routt County Board of Commissioners votes, 2-1, to send a letter in support of Steamboat 700 to the city. Later that day, City Council gives preliminary consideration to a collection of ordinances and resolutions annexing Steamboat 700.
■ Oct. 13, 2009
City Council votes, 4-3, to approve the annexation of Steamboat 700, a project ultimately expected to bring about 2,000 homes, 380,000 square feet of commercial space and 4,700 residents to the western edge of the city.
■ Oct. 20, 2009
Steamboat Springs residents Omar Campbell, Greg Rawlings, Terry Armstrong, Tim Rowse and Cindy Constantine form a committee known as Let's Vote to lead a petition drive to send the Steamboat 700 annexation to a public vote. The group begins collecting the 829 signatures needed to put the issue to a vote.
■ Nov. 17, 2009
City Manager Jon Roberts confirms there are more than enough verified petition signatures to put Steamboat 700 to a public vote. Constantine says Let's Vote collected about 1,500 signatures.
■ Dec. 15, 2009
City Council unanimously approves a public vote on Steamboat 700 and schedules a mail-only referendum election to conclude March 9, 2010. Earlier in the week, Let's Vote submits questions to City Council about Steamboat 700's impacts on city funds, traffic, water supply and more.
■ Dec. 22, 2009
Good For Steamboat, Let's Vote campaigns formalize efforts for and against Steamboat 700, respectively. Around this time, the groups file as campaign committees with City Clerk Julie Franklin.
■ Jan. 14, 2010
Steamboat 700 opponents, advocates debate the impacts on the housing market in a meeting hosted by the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association. Public debate intensifies through January and February.
■ Feb. 18, 2010
As ballots are mailed to city voters, residents pack Olympian Hall for a public forum that focuses on a variety of Steamboat 700 issues.
■ March 9, 2010
Tally is in: City voters reject the Steamboat 700 annexation.
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