Groups discuss issues for area plan update

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— A group of city and county residents sat in a Centennial Hall conference room Thursday and talked about the community's most pressing issues for more than four hours.

The conversation spanned from developing infill within Steamboat Springs to creating green industries within the community.

The meeting was part of the Area Community Plan Update process and brought together members from the area plan's working groups, public officials, city staff and consultants.

Since early May, 10 working groups have examined a specific community issue, prioritized the needs of each issue and have sent those findings to the area plan's consultants, Clarion and Associates.

On Nov. 20, a public meeting will be held to talk about the findings.

More than 100 community members are part of the working groups. They are divided into groups focused on community design; economic development and sustainability; growth management; capital facilities; environmentally sensitive areas; historic preservation; land use; natural and scenic resources; open lands, recreation and trails; housing; and transportation, mobility and circulation.

The intent of the working groups is to give the consultants a sense of what is important to Steamboat as they update the plan. Right now, the consultants are working on different alternatives for the future of the city with different growth projections and the policies that could be implemented with those alternatives.

At Thursday's meeting, the group discussed common objectives among the 10 working groups. One of the most talked-about issues was maintaining Steamboat's character and neighborhoods.

"One of the main characteristics associated with a small town is all of the activities," City Planner Tom Leeson said. "It doesn't matter how big we get as long as we maintain that character."

Sally Wither, a member of the capital facilities working group, said another characteristic of maintaining small-town character is having people of mixed incomes living in the same neighborhood.

"Part of maintaining small-town character is that a big rich person lives next to a person making minimum wage," Wither said. "There should be ranges within the neighborhood."

During part of the discussions, the group talked about enhancing neighborhoods and creating planning principles around neighborhoods.

Encouraging infill and preventing sprawl was another theme among the groups. And some suggested providing incentives to developers through more flexible regulations to encourage infill.

The discussion also spurred concerns over regulating big-box retailers and national franchises. Working group members said they wanted to see architectural guidelines and know the impact these chain stores would have on the local economy and social fabric.

"It is really important that the impacts (looked at) are not just design and economic," working group member Stuart Orzach said. "But also the social impacts. The types of jobs they create. People do not like working for these (companies), but they will work for them if they are here."

Working groups also identified creating a diverse and stable economy as a common goal. City Planning Director Wendie Schulenburg talked about keeping local wealth as a way of creating a stronger economy.

"It is trying to keep money circulating within our community with local businesses," she said.

The working groups also talked about the need for environmentally responsible industries. Some of the most attractive industries the group discussed were those using computer and Internet technologies and taking advantage of the local airports.

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