City planners say developers should build more sidewalks

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— Traveling on "a road to nowhere" has become more than just an existential dilemma in the city of Steamboat Springs.

Property owners looking to develop or redevelop often object to city requests that they build sidewalks and trails when those paths may not connect to anything. If the sidewalk dead ends at the end of their property line, perhaps leading pedestrians into traffic, to what useful end is the sidewalk?

And in a town where the cost of doing business is already high, why is the owner of the property being asked to cash in tens of thousands of dollars to finance a public thoroughfare?

The city is quick to answer those questions, noting that new commercial and residential development causes much of the traffic that strolls its way down the city streets. City staff also is analyzing the situation from a broader perspective, taking into account long-range plans to make Steamboat a more pedestrian-friendly city.

Although a developer may be building a sidewalk that does not currently lead anywhere, when the adjacent property owner's land goes up for redevelopment, the sidewalk will gain a connector. In that way, the city will gain the infrastructure necessary to make Steamboat walkable.

"We're thinking about where we want to be in 10, 15, 20 years as the property is redeveloped," said Assistant Planning Director Tim McHarg. "We have to start somewhere."

The city's Mobility and Circulation Plan and Mountain Town Sub-Area Plan call for sidewalks on all the streets in the downtown area, a goal that has been only partially met.

The plans also call for varying amounts of sidewalks throughout the rest of the city.

But as new developments come to City Council and others come up for redevelopment, the city has been unable to get many of those sidewalks constructed.

Battles over sidewalks and trails have been waged recently at West End Village, the Nordic Lodge, and the Krueger Lake Subdivision.

The vision of a comprehensive system of city sidewalks can get blurred in City Council meetings where council is able only to look at one project and a supposedly cash-strapped developer at a time, McHarg said.

The problem with dealing with sidewalk issues at the City Council and Planning Commission levels is that the arguments of a developer suddenly appear much more compelling when viewed on a case-by-case level, McHarg said.

The argument that the initial cost of building the infrastructure is prohibitive to doing business in the city can be hard to dispute when council is dealing with the particular needs of a developer, McHarg said.

"Every lot and every property has its own eccentricities," said City Councilwoman Arianthe Stettner. "You try to be fair and you try to look at the property owner's responsibility and also consider the good to the entire community. It's never easy."

Stettner said she sometimes wishes the city could draw on some other source of funding, such as property tax money, to pay for things like sidewalks.

In the case of the Nordic Lodge, located at 11th street and Lincoln Avenue, the owners of the property objected to the city's request for them to build a sidewalk on 11th Street and a sidewalk along Oak Street.

The sidewalks would have necessitated building two bridges over Soda Creek, the sum total the owners said would cost them about $160,000 and make the project financially unfeasible.

Public Works Director Jim Weber, who has to make sure developments are built according to city standards, said the cost of building a sidewalk without any major environmental constraints involved is about $8 per square foot.

With a lot of the undeveloped land remaining within the city limits wrought with environmental constraints, the cost factor has increasingly become a sticking point during negotiations, he said.

"We have a community here where we invite people to walk but we have no place for them to do it," Weber said. "From that perspective, we have to provide some kind of accommodation."

Developers and property owners don't necessarily disagree with the idea of making Steamboat more pedestrian-friendly. They do have a problem, however, with being asked to foot the bill.

"I don't think you can force a private developer to pay it if (the development) is not adding to congestion," said Jay Wetzler, the owner of the Super 8 Motel and the Bunkhouse Lodge behind it.

Wetzler successfully fought the city on its request that he build a trail when he wanted to build the Bunkhouse Lodge about five years ago.

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