Routt County growth scored

Forum will assess communities' preparation for expansion

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— Routt County will be graded Tuesday night.

The test will be on how well the county has grown and residents will score based on the Colorado Smart Growth Scorecard.

In a follow-up to last year's growth forum series, the Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley is hosting a forum led by Colin Laird, the executive director of Healthy Mountain Communities.

The nonprofit organization has created a scorecard that is used to assess how well communities are preparing for growth. It could also prove to be a useful tool for many of the residents who have worked for the past year on updating the city and county's Community Area Plan.

John Spezia of the Community Alliance said the scorecard would look at how well the city is centered around the downtown, if mass transit is effective and if affordable housing is close to the center or forces people to live in outlying areas.

"The whole idea of Healthy Mountain Communities is that growth is a process for change," Spezia said. "(The question is) how we are going to deal with it in a way so it stays positive instead of negative."

The scorecard was developed with the help of the Orton Family Foundation, which worked with the Vermont Forum on Sprawl to create the Vermont Smart Growth Scorecard. That scorecard made it significantly easier to create the Colorado Smart Growth Scorecard and Healthy Mountain Communities believes the scorecard is a perfect fit given the rapid growth rate and lack of practical tools to manage growth in Colorado.

The organization claims the scorecard is a way for residents to identify local policies and incentives for encouraging sprawl and to help communities rate their strengths and weaknesses in moving toward smart growth.

"It is a way to assess how healthy our community is in terms of growth patterns," Spezia said.

The scorecard specifically helps residents uncover inconsistencies in zoning and planning documents, understand the impacts of public infrastructure investments on land-use decisions, look at the impacts of land-use patterns on municipal and county budgets and discover how tax policy can help or hinder smart growth efforts.

Rich McClintock of Livable Communities Support Center and Sam Sager of the Colorado Environmental Coalition will join Laird in helping residents score Routt County. Following the assessment will be a discussion on the future of development in the Yampa Valley.

To join in on the discussion, Spezia said the Community Alliance invited elected officials, planning commissioners and planners from not only Steamboat and Routt County but also from Hayden and Craig.

This is the first forum the Community Alliance has sponsored in 2002. As the city and county prepared for the community plan update last year, three forums were sponsored by the Community Alliance with the contribution of other community organizations.

Those forums brought speakers from all over Colorado, including Pitkin County Commissioner Mick Ireland and Michael Kinsley, a senior researcher for the Rocky Mountain Institute and former Pitkin County Commissioner.

Spezia said the group decided to bring back the growth forum to keep the discussion continuing on growth. Census records show that Steamboat has grown 47 percent population-wise in the past decade.

"Growth is a really important thing. We need to keep it on the agenda," Spezia said. "The comprehensive plan is dealing with growth where all aspects directly or indirectly relate to growth."

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