Steamboat Springs Effective immediately, the city has put a 90-day moratorium on the admission of major development permits into the planning process.
City Council voted 6-0 Tuesday night to pass an emergency ordinance allowing the moratorium to go into effect. The moratorium means developers of new subdivisions, condominium projects and commercial buildings will have to wait until Oct. 18 to begin working with city staff on the city approval process.
Council's action was precipitated by the resignation of city planner Kathleen Easley, who has been employed at the city for about a year.
"This is troubling for two reasons," City Manager Paul Hughes told City Council. "First, because Kathleen's work has been very good. And second, because she has handled about one-third of all of the major development permit applications. This widens the chasm between the work we have to do and the resources we have to do it."
City Council gave Hughes tacit permission to hold up processing new development permits more than a year ago, if he deemed it necessary.
On Tuesday, Hughes said he found it necessary. He told council he's decided that even if it had a full complement of employees, the planning staff would be two planners short of what is needed to handle the influx of development permits that has taken place since 1998.
Easley's resignation marks the latest in a series of departures that have left the city planning department in a state of flux for two years. Hughes said the city is currently interviewing candidates for the position of assistant planning director and planning technician. A key member of the planning support staff also recently resigned.
In addition to Planning Director Wendie Schulenburg, the city is currently left with three planners: Scott Woodford, Tracey Hughes and Leif Myhre.
The planning department is currently has a list of development projects waiting to be assigned a planner. Hughes told council he could not say how many projects are close to entering the planning process. He predicted that a 90-day respite from new projects would allow the planning department to regroup.
"At the end of 90 days, if at all possible, we'll have an educated, energized and trained planning services staff," Hughes predicted.
He added that at the end of 90 days, he expects the rewrite of the city's new community development code to have progressed significantly.
Council's passage of an emergency ordinance meant the public hearing did not have to be advertised in advance. It also means council was able to bypass the normal ordinance process, which calls for a first and second reading at least a week apart.
City Attorney Tony Lettunich said that, had City Council opted to go the normal route, new major development permits could have been submitted to city hall during the intervening time, and the city would have been obligated to process them.
City Council President Pro Tem Kathy Connell was emphatic that council is taking a stand to back up the remaining members of the planning staff.
"We consider them excellent race horses, but we don't want to run them until they drop," Connell said.
Ed MacArthur, president of the board of the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association and an excavating contractor, told City Council he understood what they were attempting to do. But he worried about what would happen at the end of 90 days, and about the possibility the moratorium could be extended.
"Have you identified what you're going to do to hang onto your next staff?" MacArthur asked. "It doesn't sound to me like it's going to be real appealing when the door opens back up."
Councilman Jim Engelken said he, too, worried that when the moratorium is up, pent-up demand from the development community will be a problem.
"I do think there will be a downside at the end, when the floodgates open and the development permits begin rushing in," Engelken said.
Councilwoman Arianthtettner put the issue in human terms.
"We have to be fair to our community and we have to be fair to our staff," Stettner said.
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