Hayden has always been an affordable and appealing alternative to Steamboat Springs. The town of 1,635 people 25 miles west of Steamboat has the best infrastructure and the best access to Steamboat of any area community, and housing remains affordable.
Given the increasing popularity of the Yampa Valley, the question has never been if Hayden would face the prospect of dramatic growth, but when. That time, it appears, is now.
Consider the Hayden-area projects that were either approved or presented to the town this summer:
n Construction has begun in Yampa View Estates, a 15-lot subdivision.
n Sagewood, a subdivision of 65 lots, has been approved.
n Developer Paul Flood is planning a 25-lot subdivision that may be approved by next spring.
n Former Steamboat Springs City Council members Kevin Bennett and Jim Engelken have presented plans for Old Farm Village, a 28-lot subdivision that could be annexed into the Hayden town limits.
n Hidden Springs, a 28-lot subdivision, has been approved by Routt County. The subdivision is just outside the Hayden town limits.
n And Thursday night, 4S Development Limited presented to the Hayden Town Board plans for Sunburst Ranch, a 900-acre development that would include 2,000 homes, a golf course, lake and a town center.
Rob Straebel, Hayden town manager and the community's sole planner, said the level of pending development is unprecedented for the town. "I'd certainly say we are at a crossroads," he said. "Hayden is going to be a different community 10 years from now, but it's hard to predict exactly what will happen."
What will happen depends largely on how Hayden chooses to handle what's happening now. Straebel said the town is in good position to meet the infrastructure demands of 160 new housing units, the total of all subdivisions excluding Sunburst Ranch. A water-treatment plant improvement will increase capacity by 25 percent. The town's sewer system is at just 25 percent of capacity. The Hayden School District has seen enrollment declines each of the past three years, and Superintendent Scott Mader estimated the district's campuses could absorb another 30 students each comfortably.
The biggest challenge is roads. Much of the development is planned for the south side of Hayden with only one street Poplar providing access. Straebel believes the city will need an east-west thoroughfare on the south side. And a 1 million-gallon water tank eventually will be needed on the south side.
But even more important than the infrastructure is how the town accommodates the new development. How will the subdivisions be connected to the downtown area? Will parks or open space be required in the new subdivisions? Can the town identify and recruit retailers to provide the services the new growth will demand? Can amenities such as sidewalks and lighting be used to ensure the new developments are appealing?
Outside of Steamboat, no other community in the Yampa Valley has faced the kind of development pressure Hayden faces. How the town responds will go a long way in determining if it will retain its independent, small-town character or if it will evolve into a bedroom community whose residents spend most of their time and energy someplace else.