City opts out of Am. 24 loophole

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— Steamboat Springs City Council will not allow landowners to use a shortcut that would help them avoid the proposed Citizens Growth Initiative, known as Amendment 24.

If passed this November, Amend-ment 24 would allow residents to vote directly on what development they want in their communities.

Under Amendment 24, the Citizens Growth Initiative, new development can occur within "committed areas" where development has already occurred, or has been processed by Sept. 13, and where development would be served by central water and sewer service. Committed areas are defined as: 1. Land within a recorded subdivision or town site where at least 50 percent of the lots have either had primary structures built or water and sewer service extended to them. 2. Land where a pending development application has been submitted by Sept. 13, but only to extent the property is or will be served by central water and sewer. 3. Land that directly abuts, with at least 50 percent of its perimeter, land meeting criteria No. 1 above, and along the remainder of its perimeter by open space, federal lands or bodies of water; and land is identified for development Source: Colorado Municipal League

In a 6-1 vote Tuesday afternoon, City Council decided to ignore the recommendation of its Planning Commission to develop a short-form valid development application through an emergency ordinance.

The short application could have been filed quickly, allowing landowners to avoid a lengthy approval process required under Amendment 24.

Landowner Mary Brown couldn't understand why the council would not pass the emergency ordinance. She said the ordinance doesn't give anyone the right to proceed with development plans.

"It only says a citizen may bring us a plan," Brown said.

Brown and others expressed particular concern over the West of Steamboat Community Plan that residents and officials spent five years developing. The plan allows for affordable housing development. In return, the city has promised to annex the area.

Under Amendment 24 rules, the West Steamboat plan is not considered a "committed area" that is ready for development (see box for definition of committed area).

That means the city would have to develop a very complicated, detailed "growth area map" of West Steamboat. A growth area map would include an impact study on parks, new infrastructure, costs, schools, police and numerous other elements. Voters then would approve or reject the West Steamboat plan. That can happen only during November elections.

"We get to start over, and a lot of that work has already been done," complained Brown, a former city councilwoman. "This community has always embraced long-term planning. To throw it out the window is difficult to understand."

City council members asked city Attorney Tony Lettunich if Steamboat's community plans could be protected as "committed areas." Lettunich said there was no other way. Only landowners can file applications for development; the city couldn't do it for them.

"I hear from people saying we're going to lose our (community) plans. I resent that," Councilman Ken Brenner said.

Brenner said most of the work done on community plans can be used in the growth area maps required by Amendment 24.

"The community will approve it," he assured the public.

While council voted against the shortcut, members were sympathetic to landowners who might be affected by Amendment 24.

"I am completely torn as to whether this is the right action," Councilwoman Kathy Connell said. "If we don't prepare, shame on us."

That was landowner David Baldinger Sr.'s thoughts.

"You're my City Council and you need to protect me," Baldinger said.

Baldinger is one of those landowners who has property inside the city and will be caught in the Amendment 24 net because his property was never platted. Platted land is land subdivided and recorded with the city.

"I don't think the people who made up this initiative meant for this kind of land to be included," Baldinger said

Many people are under the impression that just because their land falls within city limits, it is already "committed land" with access to water and sewer and therefore ready for development. The city attorney said that is not the case.

Meanwhile, several council members have voiced support of the county commissioners' efforts to stop Amendment 24 by placing a local initiative on the November ballot.

Because Routt County has a population of less than 25,000, residents can vote to opt out of Amendment 24 for four years.

"It would allow the wrinkles to be ironed out," Councilwoman Arianthtettner said.

To reach Frances Hohl call 871-4208 or e-mail fhohl@amigo.net

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