Steamboat Springs Applause broke out in City Council chambers Tuesday night as about two dozen supporters of Federal Express cheered a unanimous vote to approve a new building for FedEx in the Copper Ridge industrial park.
The new building, just off Elk River Road, will allow FedEx's 25 employees to load delivery vans indoors during winter weather for the first time. Developers working on behalf of FedEx have been going through the city planning process since the first of the year they received their first recommendation of denial form Planning Commission in March. Now, they say, as soon as they get a building permit, they'll begin construction.
City Council voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve two separate developments that go by similar names. Sunray Meadows, Lots 1, 1a and 2 will create 80 new residential units in the area about three-quarters of a mile south of the ski area. Developer Wintergreen Homes completed the Villas at Walton Creek here, and is in the midst of building Quail run, not far away. The second project, Sunray Meadows, Lots 5 and 6, would create 19 duplex lots roughly across Village Drive from the first project. They will be built near the intersection of Village Drive and Meadow Lane, close to another project under construction, The Enclave.
"We've lost two months, but we're going to go for it," Tom Kahn said after the City Council meeting. Kahn is one of the principles in RTJ Copper Ridge, a limited liability company that will build the new FedEx facility and lease it back to the company.
"Our goal is to give them a building by Thanksgiving," Kahn said. "The steel is already stored on the site."
Members of City Council recognized Planning Commission's efforts to require RTJ and FedEx to improve the appearance of their building during the planning process. But they also recognized the need to balance those planning goals with the essential service provided by FedEx.
"I applaud the efforts of Planning Commission to raise the bar, this is a gateway to our community," Councilwoman Kathy Connell said. "Now that we're at City Council, it's a matter of degree. I feel very comfortable with what FedEx has done."
During its extended debate on the project, Planning Commission objected most strenuously to a row of large garage doors that will face Elk River Road. The garage doors will admit the delivery vans to an enclosed loading area served by a conveyor belt. Planning Commission succeeded in convincing FedEx to add windows to the garage doors, vary the roof line above them, and beef up the landscaping to screen views from Elk River Road. During its last public hearing on the project on May 25, Planning Commission split 4-4 on the project, which amounted to a denial, and led RTJ to appeal the vote to City Council.
Councilman Paul Strong said he felt Planning Commission's efforts had improved the project.
"When I first saw this, it was a good looking building," Strong said. "I think it's a better looking building now."
Council President Kevin Bennett said the most troubling aspect of the FedEx proposal, in his mind, was that the developers had no way to know, going into the planning process, that the garage doors would become such a significant issue.
Councilman Jim Engelken said he felt it was important for council to consider the service FedEx provides to the community.
"To some extent, you can look at it as a level of infrastructure," Engelken said.
Among those speaking on behalf of the new FedEx building were some of the local employees.
Ginny Winn told City Council that she believes the new FedEx garage doors will actually have less impact on the public than about 10 garage doors on buildings in Copper Ridge that are further from Elk River Road. Those buildings are elevated on benches and are not screened by landscaping, Winn pointed out.
Local retailer George Noyer said he'd come to plead with City Council to approve the project.
"The presence of FedEx in this town is paramount to the success of many small businesses," Noyer said.
Gary Haberlan, pharmacy director and materials manager at Yampa Valley Medical Center told City Council the hospital depends on FedEx for the timely delivery of medical supplies.
"They come through for us almost all of the time, and we need to have this business located in the city," Haberlan said.
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