Steamboat Springs Steamboat Springs City Council made it clear Monday night it will not be adding a new architectural review board to the planning process this year.
Also appearing very unlikely after this week's joint meeting between City Council and the Planning Commission was the possibility that the council might shift review of development permits away from the commissioners to an outside land-use attorney acting as a "hearing examiner." However, a narrow majority of City Council expressed enthusiasm for the possibility of replacing the city's Board of Adjustments with a "zoning" or "variance" administrator.
Planning Director Wendie Schulenberg told City Council she and her staff were not making a formal recommendation that it adopt the positions of "zoning administrator" and "hearing examiner." Instead, she wanted to present them as options as council begins final deliberations on the city's new development code. Schulenberg presented both pros and cons of the two positions.
Steamboat's Board of Adjustments considers resident requests for variances from the Community Development Code. A variance might allow a property owner, for example, to build a new deck that extends further into the lot line setback than it should. Often, property owners would need to demonstrate some hardship to be granted a variance.
Schulenberg said shifting that responsibility to a dispassionate administrator, perhaps the planning director herself, or possibly the assistant city attorney, would result in a more predictable and streamlined process.
"I think it's a wonderful concept," Councilwoman Arianthe Stettner said. "It would be a lot more efficient and consistent."
Council President Pro Tem Kathy Connell said she is in full support of appointing a "zoning administrator" in lieu of a Board of Adjustment. Councilmen Jim Engelken and Paul Strong said they, too, were in favor. However, Council President Kevin Bennett, Councilman Ken Brenner and Councilman Bud Romberg all said they want to talk to members of the Board of Adjustment before they make up their minds. Bennett suggested they should be able to make those consultations on their own and give a final recommendation to planning staff by June 4.
Council seemed unanimous in its agreement that Steamboat isn't ready yet for a "hearing examiner" to assume Planning Commission's traditional role of holding public hearings on applications for major development permits.
Council heard Planning Commission Chairwoman Kathi Meyer say that her board feels the most important role it plays is fine tuning individual development applications.
Meyer said Planning Commission also feels it has been doing a good job of scrutinizing the architectural aspects of proposed new developments, and that it can continue in that role.
There was some sentiment among council members in favor of revising the Planning Commission makeup to ensure it includes more architectural expertise among the commission's members.