Steamboat Springs In the works for almost five years, the city's new Community Development Code, which will guide new development in the city for years to come, is ready to be presented to the public for its education and, says the city's planning director, its direct input.
The current code was implemented in 1985 and, according to many in both the public and private sectors, has long outlasted its usefulness.
"When our code is as complicated as the IRS forms, we know we've got a problem," said City Council President Pro Tem Kathy Connell.
Connell described the current code as "vague, inconsistent, confusing and convoluted," partly because the code calls for too much interpretation rather than laying out the rules and allowing people to plan accordingly.
The five-year delay, said Tracey Hughes, who has worked in the city's planning department for about four years, came about because there has been almost constant turnover in the department over the past five years.
The department is now at full staff for the first time in more than a year.
Planning Director Wendie Schulenberg said the city will continually update the new code to stay abreast of new trends in development and not get stuck with an outdated document.
"It's a living document that's amended when we find things don't work," Schulenberg said. "As you're going through a code, you can review it, but it doesn't really make sense until you start to apply it."
She added she thinks the new code will be in place for a number of years unless the city's priorities take a drastic turn. One change that could cause the code to be altered would be if the city's new comprehensive plan, schedule to be redrafted this year, necessitates a change in the planning process.
The code that will be debated in the next two months is likely to evolve through public discussion, given that many of the specifics, such as the city's affordable housing policy, are still up for question.
The code was prepared initially by the city's planning department and then sent off to planning consultants Clarion and Associates. The consultants, who are familiar with jurisdictions throughout the country, used their experience with other cities to help Steamboat Springs get in line with current trends.
"They wanted an outside unbiased look at the code, a fresh set of eyes," said City Planner Tom Leeson, who came to the city from Clarion. "We also made sure the language in there could pass legal muster."
The code will not govern the direction of the city's growth, per se, but will determine the nature and the rules regarding the public process of development review, said Schulenberg.
In the interest of making things a little simpler and more predictable, the new code is more explicit than the current one about how developers can use the land on which they hope to build.
Don Elliott, the vice president of Clarion, said the consultants made an effort to help the city better express its requirements.
"The more precise you can be in articulating what the standards of good development are, the better the code works," he said.
The rewrite of the code will make the process more predictable because of a change in the definition of "uses-by-right" as opposed to "conditional uses."
Uses-by-right allows developers to use a piece of property in a defined manner, while conditional uses, which must be reviewed by the City Council under the current code, demand public review before approval.
That, according to some developers, causes their investments to depend on the whims of elected officials, which clouds the process with uncertainty.
"I'm in favor of more uses-by-right," said local developer Herald Stout of Elk River Realty. "It's more predictable, more reliable to have it that way. It's quite an investment to go into the process and have to guess what will be approved for this site because so many uses are conditional."
The new code, according to city staff, will greatly streamline the process in terms of simplifying applications for more minor permits such as final plats and minor changes in use.
Partly in consideration of people who could care less what a final plat is, the planning department and Clarion and Associates have teased out six key, and possibly controversial, issues they think demand public input before the plan is implemented.
Today from 1 to 3 p.m. and again from 6 to 9 p.m., Schulenberg, in concert with five staff members and consultants familiar with the plan, will present the biggest issues to the public at the Steamboat Springs Community Center, 1255 Lincoln Ave.