Steamboat Springs Colorado developers are buying up Hayden at a record pace and promising that everything from a revitalized downtown to new schools will accompany the addition of thousands of residents to the quiet agricultural town of 1,634 people.
Longtime locals say they've heard it before and aren't impressed. Others are convinced the face of Hayden is about to change forever.
Of all the recent developments, only the Yampa View Estates subdivision was organized by a Hayden resident Mike Bell.
Several of the other developers are longtime Routt County locals from in and around Steamboat Springs, but for many Hayden residents, Steamboat is still the "outside."
"I don't want to be anti-growth, but new people make these proposals during a boom time," Planning Commissioner Donna Hellyer said. "When things got tough in the past, the new people left and the people who have been here forever were stuck with the bills."
Lifelong Hayden resident Kelly Hayes said locals are calling the sudden interest in developing the town as "the second Golden Meadows," a reference to a similar time 30 years ago.
"In the 1970s, studies were done and projections were made that indicated a lot of growth in Hayden," said Jack Giessinger of Bear River Realty. "The population of Hayden by the year 2000 was supposed to be well over 3,000 people.
"Hayden built a sewer that could handle that kind of population," he said. "The projections were energy-driven coal, oil and gas. There was a power plant going up in Craig and the mines were going. Then there was an energy bust. It took the wind out of our sail."
"There was a lot of hype about growth, but it didn't happen," Hellyer said. "Instead, people left."
"Then Steamboat started picking up. People started relocating. Now the growth is driven by Steamboat," Giessinger said.
There are six proposals for new subdivisions in varied stages of the planning process, including a high-end subdivision outside of town in the county.
Only two have been approved the Sagewood Subdivision and Yampa View Estates. Hidden Springs Ranch has been approved by the county pending the resolution of water issues.
Hayden hasn't decided how to respond to this barrage. If all the plans on the table make it to the building stage, almost 2,200 additional homes will be added to Hayden. Those figures have some residents worried.
"It's scary," Hellyer said. "I don't think Hayden has ever been faced with this before outsiders coming in and buying up land. These guys are professionals and we (the Town Board and Planning Commission) are not."
Most residents want to see growth, but on Sept. 6, the Town Board passed a mandatory end to all lawn watering because of a drought-induced water shortage. The thought of adding even 100 homes to a water system in crisis has officials and residents worried.
"We are concerned that all these developments are going to go in and we won't have the infrastructure," Hellyer said. "What are we going to do if we don't have enough water?"
"Water will most likely make or break most of these subdivisions," said Tom Fox, owner of Fox Construction and a developing partner in one of the largest development proposals in the history of the town.
"I think it's good that the Planning Commission is looking at the impacts of growth in our community," Town Manager Rob Straebel said.
Conversations about growth, especially when referring to the proposed 900-acre, 2,000-home Sunburst Ranch subdivision, describe Hayden doubling overnight. The truth is the houses will be built only as fast as they can be approved and as fast as they will sell.
"These things take a long time," said Randall Hannaway, president of the Steamboat Springs Board of Realtors. "They can make grandiose plans, but they take time, horsepower and public acceptance."
Much of the new building has been spurred by a need for affordable housing in Steamboat.
Hayden is a 25-mile commute on a well-maintained highway.
In Steamboat, the median price of a home is $395,000 this year, which is an impossible purchase for lower- and middle-income home buyers.
"Most of these proposals are going to offer reasonably priced housing for working-class families," said First National Bank of the Rockies loan officer Terry Jost. His desk is piled with maps and folders full of material from developers looking for capital.
Five of the new developments will offer lots for around $50,000 and the opportunity to move into a home for less than $200,000.
"This is happening in response to the market," Jost said.
The Sunburst Ranch development began simply because Tom Fox and Ron Sills, both in the construction business, saw their workers struggling to find affordable homes.
"If we have a problem, then a lot of people must have this problem," Fox said.
Fox and Sills were originally buying land to build housing for their workers, then saw the opportunity to expand their thinking.
Their 902-acre development will grow over the course of the next three decades, Fox said. Fox considers Sunburst Ranch to be an investment for his children. His daughter is a student at Colorado State University majoring in construction management. Fox Construction will be passed on to her when her father retires.
Sills, who is older than Tom Fox, registered his share of the development to a family trust.
They chose Hayden "because it was the only ground we could afford," Fox said. 4S Development Limited bought almost 2,000 acres outside of Hayden. They made the purchase in stages from several different landowners over the past three years.
Sunburst Ranch shares a property boundary with Hidden Springs Ranch, a high-end development in the county, covering 770 acres with plans for 28 lots.
Some of the land owned by 4S was not included in either plan and will be utilized for needs such as water storage for the two developments, Fox said.
Almost a third of Sunburst Ranch is inside Hayden town limits, but the two-thirds that is not has become a matter of debate. 4S plans to ask for annexation of that remaining property into the town limits, allowing them access to Hayden's water and sewer services.
The first stage of Sunburst Ranch, if it is approved, will be the sale of mobile home lots and small lots for single-family homes.
"I'm looking at selling mobile home lots for $20,000," Fox said.
Developing land in towns near a resort area is nothing new to the world of real estate, but it is new to the Steamboat area.
"Until recently, Steamboat was arguably affordable," Hannaway said.
That is no longer the case.
"The same dynamic is happening in the Yampa Valley as was experienced in the Roaring Fork Valley," Straebel said. "Real estate prices are increasing exponentially and forcing out the service workers, and it is putting pressure on the neighboring towns."
Other Colorado ski towns experienced a migration of their workers years ago. The working class of Aspen commutes from Carbondale. In Vail, they drive from Eagle.
Hannaway said the growth increased traffic but made the outlying towns it affected more "visually stimulating" and "revitalized."
"This growth will have a definite upside for the Hayden community that the people there may like," he said. "I've sold homes in Hayden to a lot of people who just needed to get in, but when they had the money, they moved to Steamboat."
They make the move because there is not much to do in Hayden, Hannaway said. Downtown Hayden is a very quiet place.
"Growth will give that town new life," he said. "When your town gets to a certain size, you can afford things like a swimming pool.
"Someone may also be able to realize their dream of owning a small business by opening a neat store or a coffee shop downtown."
"We should develop. We need to grow," Hellyer said. "But I want us to grow in a sensible way without urban sprawl. I want to keep our hometown community feel."
However uncomfortable Hayden residents may be with the changing face of their town, few can deny growth is inevitable. They can only control how it happens.
As a first step, Straebel has been working on an ordinance that would require developers to pay their own way.
In the past, the town has lost money during the review process. Straebel and Town Attorney Mike Holloran jointly drafted an ordinance to increase subdivision fees to $500 for each sketch plan, up from $280. There will also be a $10 fee for each lot.
The ordinance also requires the developer to pay all legal, survey, engineering and publication costs.
Developers will be required to pay a deposit of $7,500 at the beginning of the review process. Any costs to Hayden above the deposit amount will be charged to the developer. If they are not paid, a lien will be put on the property. Any money not spent out of the deposit by the town will be returned to the developer.
Until recently, many said, there was a large faction in town that wanted to see a closed-door policy in Hayden.
Now, people are warming to the idea of growth as long as it is slow and responsible.
"It didn't used to be this way," Giessinger said. "There is a change with new people with new ideas. There is a changing of the guard."