Steamboat Springs Federal Express can get your package to London overnight, no sweat. But taking a new building through the city permit process in Steamboat Springs has proven to be more arduous.
City Council voted 5-1 Tuesday night to remand FedEx's plans to build a new shipping facility and offices in the Copper Ridge business park back to Planning Commission. Planning Commission already voted on March 23 to recommend denial of the project by a 7-2 margin. Tuesday night's public hearing was an appeal of that earlier vote to deny.
Council members were uncomfortable with the fact that the developers had made minor architectural changes to their building since the last time the project was reviewed by the commission. And the city planning staff had less than three working days to review the changes.
"I think the changes are significant enough to change Planning Commission's perspective," Romberg said. "Then, it could be a whole different situation. But Planning Commission and staff haven't really seen the changes."
A majority of council members agreed with Romberg. The lone dissenting vote was cast by Council President Kevin Bennett, but not because he favored the project as presented. Bennett said he would prefer to simply uphold the denial rather than send the project back to Planning Commission.
Federal Express is not the developer of its new building. Instead, the company signed a long-term lease contract with RTJ Copper Ridge, LLC. RTJ is a three-man company that has purchased the site on Elk River Road and would construct the building on behalf of Federal Express.
The new building would include 17,219 square feet and bays for 18 delivery vans.
The garage doors for those vans, half of which would face Elk River Road, had much to do with Planning Commission's vote to deny.
Commissioners pointed out that they have recently held light industrial developers whose projects front on Elk River Road to high architectural standards.
The commissioners felt they couldn't excuse Federal Express from the standards. Further, they felt that even when screened by landscaping, the row of nine garage doors didn't live up to the city's design guidelines.
Most commissioners favored rotating the building 90 degrees to lessen the visual impact of the garage doors. But architect Joe Simmons told City Council Tuesday night the constraints of the site simply won't permit it; the lot is narrow and rectangular, with utility easements bordering it closely on each side.
"Our request is that we be permitted to build this plan on this site as currently sited," Simmons said.
Simmons said his clients were willing to add glass panels in the upper one-third of the garage doors and add a row of windows near the top of the building. Also, Simmons proposed garage door overhangs that would cast attractive shadows on the building. Finally, he proposed dense landscaping to shield the public's view of the doors.
Local attorney Bob Weiss, speaking on behalf of the developers, said his clients had no forewarning that the garage doors would be a major issue.
"If the garage doors facing Elk River Road are a deal killer, we'd just as soon know that now," Weiss said.
Councilwoman Kathy Connell urged her colleagues to call for the Fed Ex building to be reconsidered as promptly as possible as it comes back through the planning process.
"My concern is that we do jeopardy to the petitioner," Connell said. "I think the role of City Council is different from that of Planning Commission. We can look at the community impact of having a diversified business, close to the airport and serving the community."
Larry Muckridge, project manager of properties and facilities for Federal Express confirmed after the meeting his company's willingness to work through the public process. Muckridge said their plans were to go back to Planning Commission for another round of hearings.
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