Water District could hold up co-housing project

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Members of the Steamboat Springs Planning Commission praised the concept behind the planned River Place co-housing project, but said there are technical details that must be addressed.

The development along U.S. 40 and north of Steamboat Christian Center Church would include 12 single-family homes and six "work-live" units and a common house. The project would include shared parking and storage.

Most commissioners spoke in favor of the creative housing development and the prospect of providing housing for locals, but expressed concerns about the development's closeness to a public water supply.

The commissioners liked the idea of clustering homes around wetlands, placing live/work buildings along U.S. 40 and the use of creative design, even if residential homes did not match the city's future land use designation of community commercial for the site.

"If we don't do this, then what is appropriate? If not something like this, would we really like what we asked for," Chair Kathi Meyer said.

The idea of locals creating their own development was another idea that caught the commissioners' approval. Among those who have expressed interest in homes in the co-housing group are ski instructors, a school administrator, builders, an architect, restaurant owners, an accountant and a landscaper.

"I like it. I like it a lot," Commissioner Randall Hannaway said. "This issue of keeping the community intact, of keeping people here who are stakeholders, is of incredibly high importance."

The major concern is the impact the development would have on the infiltration gallery that sits more than 300 feet away from the closest house. A type of horizontal water well, the infiltration gallery is operated by Mount Werner Water and Sanitation and collects groundwater through holes in a large PVC pipe.

In June, the City Council denied a proposed development plan for a gas station, car wash and liquor store that would have been built 1,000 feet from the infiltration gallery.

The Mount Werner District is working on a study to determine if the development is in an influence zone of the infiltration gallery. Part of the study would see if the groundwater underneath the development flows toward the infiltration gallery and at what speed.

Bob Stoddard, manager of the Mount Werner District, said he was not willing to put his stamp of approval on the project until the study was complete. But he could not say when the study that might be.

Ellen Hoj, speaking on behalf of the co-housing group, told commissioners the group is willing to assume the worst-case scenario in terms of groundwater infiltration and mitigate for that impact. That could mean grading the development so water would drain away from the infiltration gallery. Homeowners also would have to agree not to use certain chemicals and pesticides, not to wash cars in the parking lot and not to change oil on site.

But commissioners said they wanted experts, not the applicants, to tell them that the infiltration gallery would be protected the next time they came before the board.

"When you come back, we want to hear from someone besides the applicants. We want to hear that (it is safe) from somebody else," Commissioner Dan Baker said.

Rob Dick, who owns the property, said that research has been done and the impact of residential use is less than what a commercial development would bring.

"We have done lots of research on this point. We are convinced we don't have any serious concerns that we can't handle relatively inexpensively," Dick said.

Dick had owned 20 acres of land near the infiltration gallery before Mount Werner District condemned 13 of those acres and bought it for less than $300,000. As part of the settlement agreement, Dick said, Mount Werner District agreed that development could go within 300 feet of the infiltration gallery.

When the application comes back, Dick said he plans to have the district's approval.

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