New planning process draws criticism

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— The Steamboat Springs Planning Department intended its new community development code to speed up the planning process, but developers have complained of increasing hurdles since the code was implemented in December.

Planner Tim McHarg said that a change in the new code that makes the pre-application process optional, as opposed to the previous required conceptual plan, should speed up some plans by six to eight weeks.

But, those heavily involved in taking plans through the process said they have seen the opposite. Eric Smith of Eric Smith and Associates, a Boulder based firm that has taken countless applications through Steamboat's planning process in the past 30 years said that he deals with the code's changes on a daily basis.

"It has been a real learning curve," Smith said. "I think what we hear is that (developers) are trying to understand the nuances in code."

With changes to policies and sub-area plans, Smith said it is one of the most confusing codes his staff and clients use, and that includes working with municipalities from New York to California.

McHarg said that the new code is more prescriptive and technical, which should make things easier for planners. But he said there is still a lot of review time.

Smith said his firm has around a half dozen plans that are being processed under the new code.

Every year, Smith said the planning process takes longer from start to finish. He now advises clients it will take a year to get approval in Steamboat.

Councilmen Steve Ivancie said he has heard complaints from developers that the planning process is taking longer and there is a backlog of projects at the planning department. Ivancie broached the subject at last Tuesday's council meeting.

"I've been hearing from certain people that it is harder to get through the city planning office," Ivancie said. "But with any new code, there are things that need to be ironed out and need to be streamed lined. I think (the planning department) is very open to making the process better."

McHarg said that since the development code was implemented on Sept.19, just five plans have been taken before planning commission and only 13 have been submitted.

"I'm not sure it does take longer," McHarg said. "We haven't had a significant number of new codes for large scale developments to draw a conclusion on the time frame."

The old code required all development plans, final development plans and concurrent review plans to go through the conceptual review process. In the revised code, the conceptual hearing was replaced with a pre-application hearing and plans are not required to go before the planning commission or council.

Most plans are required to go through a pre-application with city staff, but eliminating hearings before the two official boards should cut six to eight weeks from the process.

McHarg said planners do recommend that large scale developments appear before planning commissioners and City Council for a pre-application hearing and said it often gives developers a gauge on what direction to go early on in the planning process.

"They want to know before they involve the time and energy. And they recognize it behooves them to have information up front as to the general premise and the major issues to focus on and resolve," McHarg said.

To encourage developers to take plans through the pre-application process, the planning department has requested the city give developers a $500 credit off the $1,000 pre-application fee. The credit would go toward subsequent development plans and preliminary plat fees.

Besides changes to the pre-application process, McHarg said that the City Council could now fit more development plans on to its agendas. Before council would hear only two planning items on its first and third meeting of month.



To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229 or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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