Some on council taking growth control in stride

Amendment 24 gives power to voters

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— People who own land within Steamboat Springs city limits may not be aware that a new Citizens' Growth Initiative could affect when and how they can develop their property.

"It will be interesting to see how many parcels in the city are affected," said city Planning Director Wendie Schulenberg.

If passed this November, the Citizens' Growth Initiative, also known as Amendment 24, will change the Colorado Constitution. The amendment will require residents to vote on what new developments can be built in their communities.

"Committed land" that has already been approved for development would not have to be approved by voters. Schulenberg also pointed out that single-family homes aren't affected by Amendment 24.

"It's any kind of industrial, commercial construction, or doing a subdivision," that's affected, she said.

For background, Amendment 24 was developed by state residents who believe Colorado, especially in urban areas, is being overdeveloped without appropriate oversight or planning.

The city Planning Commission is urging City Council to pass an emergency ordinance. The commissioners want the council to adopt a short-form "valid development application" (VDA) that can be filed quickly by landowners to avoid some of the lengthy approval processes required under Amendment 24.

The council will meet with Planning Commission Chairwoman Shelley Pastachack and Vice Chairwoman Kathi Meyer today to discuss the ordinance and other things related to Amendment 24.

Time is running out on the VDA option since all development plans that come in after Sept. 13 will be subjected to Amendment 24 rules.

If a development plan or valid development application is not in place by then, Amendment 24 requires the city to do a "growth area map" for each proposed development, which is then presented to the voters.

A growth area map would include an impact study on parks, new infrastructure, costs, schools, police and numerous other elements.

Growth area maps only can be approved in a November general election. So, if landowners or developers don't already have approved plans, they would have to wait until the next November to get residents to approve it for them.

While members of the Planning Commission appeared worried last week about the impact of Amendment 24, some on City Council don't seem to be as concerned.

"My guess is that City Council will be less reactionary than Planning Commission," said Councilman Jim Engelken.

"I do not feel the sky is falling," echoed Councilman Ken Brenner. "We're the third fastest growing state in the nation. We could probably slow down a little bit and not die."

Both Engelken and Brenner feel it wouldn't be the worst thing if landowners are subjected to Amendment 24.

"I would say I'm a firm believer in democracy," Engelken said. "If this initiative (Amendment 24) is the product of a democratic process, I would hesitate to circumvent it in any way."

They also are not sure a short form valid development application is the answer.

"Why are they (Planning Commission) coming to us now?" Engelken asked. "The growth initiative is not new."

To make matters worse, Engelken and others point out that the city has a moratorium on major development because of a shortage of employees in the planning department.

That's exactly why members of the Planning Commission say the situation is urgent. Many developers and landowners with plans already have been put off by the moratorium and now some of them may be delayed further if Amendment 24 passes.

So what happens if City Council decides not to act on the Planning Commission's suggestion to enact an emergency ordinance authorizing short-form development applications?

Schulenberg says you can always lobby.

"They (landowners and developers) can come up to any public meeting to discuss this issue," she said.

Schulenberg also said that city planning is still taking "minor" and "regular" development applications. Those include plans with less than four lots, with floor space of 1,500 square feet or less. Applications also are being taken for construction of one or more buildings or extensions with 6,000 square feet or less of new floor space.

The Routt County Board of Commissioners has taken advantage of a clause in Amendment 24 that allows counties with less than 25,000 people to opt out of its rules, if voters agree to do so. The board has voted to place an initiative on this November's ballot asking that question.

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