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Perhaps no document has had more influence on growth and development in and around this city than the Steamboat Springs Community Area Plan.

The plan is cited again and again by the Steamboat Springs City Council, Planning Commission and Routt County commissioners. It is the overarching policy document for growth and development in this area.

For more than a year, city and county officials have been working on an update of the plan. The update is meant to accommodate for changes population growth, development patterns, infill etc: during the past seven years and to recommend policies that will help achieve the vision outlined in the plan.

The update is designed to be a collaborative process including the city, county and the Orton Family Foundation.

The foundation's motivation is to drive citizen participation in the planning process, a key component of ensuring the update truly is a "community" plan.

Getting such public participation is not always easy, particularly when the issues are as sweeping and complex as deciding the direction Steamboat should grow, how quickly it should grow and what that growth should look like. But city planner Tom Leeson would much rather have participation now than complaints and frustration later.

"One of the biggest challenges in a process like this is getting the public involved," Leeson said. "If you don't get that involvement early, then inevitably, at the 11th hour, the public will say, 'wait a minute, what's this all about?'"

Already more than 100 community members have worked on the update. They have been broken into 10 groups to work on the different issues the plan addresses including capital facilities; community design; economic development; growth management; housing; land use; natural, scenic and environmentally scenic areas; transportation; historic preservation; and open space, recreation and trails.

Everything that has gone into the process so far has been recorded and is available at the Orton Foundation's new Internet site, www.yampavalley.info. Residents can visit the site, review the work that has already gone into the process and offer their input, including e-mailing Leeson directly.

The next step in the update is developing options on growth and development for the public to review and comment upon.

Those alternatives should be available in February, Leeson said. But residents don't have to wait until then to offer their thoughts.

The Steamboat Springs Community Area Plan is one of the most valuable tools our elected officials have in making decisions that affect the future of our city. Residents can help shape that future by reviewing the plan update and offering their comments.

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