Survey key step in area plan update

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— The brightly colored "Key Choices and Directions" packet looks harmless enough sitting at the city's planning department. But inside, it holds questions that have been debated from dinner tables to City Council chambers for years.

It asks whether there should be growth rate controls, how to solve the traffic congestion at 13th Street and Lincoln Avenue and whether the city should allow big box retailers.

Growth Management

Of three questions posed in the growth management policy area, the most controversial asks if the community's growth rate should be managed.

According to the 2002 Steamboat Springs Community Survey, growth management was among residents' top five priorities; most said they would like to see the city do more to manage growth.

The section discusses the impacts different growth rates -- from 1 to 3.4 percent annually -- would have on the community.

One way government could control growth would be through restricting the number of permits allowed for new residential and non-residential space, consultants said. If growth is controlled through permits, the consultants said, permits could be given on a first- come, first-served basis or issued based on government criteria such as adequacy of public facilities, conformance with the area plan and the amount of affordable housing.

Although controlling growth would ease demand on public facilities and services, it could also send already high housing prices soaring and cause growth in neighboring communities.

Land Use and Transportation

The land use section covers everything from infill development to finding a balance between commercial and residential growth to where development should be phased next.

The transportation section touches on some of the same issues, asking what role U.S. Highway 40's traffic capacity should play in directing future development, and asks about traffic congestion and residents' interest in public transit.

The first question in the land use section asks whether the city should take a moderate or aggressive approach to encouraging infill development and redevelopment. Infill means building on vacant sites in an already built-up neighborhood or replacing buildings that do not make effective use of the land they are on.

To encourage infill, the city could provide incentives, remove zoning barriers and change regulations to allow for a higher density within the core of the city.

Another question asks how development should be patterned within the city to balance areas for housing, shopping and jobs.

Commercial growth, and the possibility of restricting it in the future, is an issue brought up by Councilman Bud Romberg in the last few months.

"The question in (the land use section) deciding how much residential use versus commercial use is right where Bud is going when he asked 'when is enough, enough.' It is about balancing residential against commercial," Strong said.

After the key findings came out last month, Ben Beall, who is chair of the transportation group, said the transportation and land use groups met because their issues overlapped.

"We are trying to coordinate what they are trying to do with what we are trying to do," Beall said. "Where people live is a big connection to transportation. It doesn't do any good to make decisions in a vacuum."

Beall said both groups looked at creating nodes in the community where growth would occur and leave open space between them, and how to get public transportation to those areas. Beall pointed to the Curve, Old Town, Pine Grove, Central Park Plaza and the mountain area as nodes of development.

Past surveys have shown locals are not riding the city's free buses, Beall said, which makes creating a community where people drive less even more of a challenge.

The transportation section also tackles the issue of improving the congestion in the bottleneck at 13th Street and Lincoln Avenue. Doing nothing and living with the congestion could eventually add 10 minutes to a 15-minute trip between the Curve area and Old Town, the consultants estimated.

The questionnaire also asks whether restrictions should be placed on the west of Steamboat area to minimize traffic and whether a bypass should be built to accommodate future traffic.

"There is no silver bullet answer," Beall said. "You have to just kind of bite the bullet."

Community Design

and Identity

In the community design section, one of the most pressing questions is how to protect corridors and gateways.

Key view corridors and gateways could be designated as desired open space, or development standards could be put in place for these areas to improve their appearance but still allow development.

Strong, who was on the community design working group, said the group discussed whether gateways should be subject to stricter regulations and more design standards.

Jerry Nettleton, who was chair of the community design group, said some of the discussions revolved around how to blend areas where urban development and agriculture meet.

The section also asks whether the updated community plan should include more stringent design guidelines to preserve neighborhoods' character and whether polices should be implemented requiring new development to reflect the city's historic character.

For residential development, the city has guidelines but no design standards, Nettleton said.

"Is that appropriate? Does that provide connectivity? Do we need to go a little further down the road to a more regulatory design environment?" Nettleton asked.

Open Space and Natural and Scenic Areas

The open space, recreation and trails working group spent little time talking about whether open space is important. The group had a very clear indication from the 2002 community survey that open space is one of residents' top priorities.

But determining the community's standards -- which might be higher here than elsewhere -- in defining "open space" proved more elusive.

"What would people call open space, but we would be disappointed in? What would break our hearts to see gone? Should new development have to have a park or put money into a fund to buy a big chunk of open space?" were some of the questions that came up, open space group member Margaret Berglund said.

Finding a funding source for that open space was also a top discussion point, Berglund said.

"What we realized right away, if we wanted to do a lot of the things we were talking about, we must find the money," she said. "That becomes really important: Are people willing to pay for it?"

The natural, scenic and environmentally sensitive areas working group had the same question. Both sections in the packet ask residents whether a dedicated funding source should be adopted and, if so, what type.

Affordable Housing

Larry Oman, who was part of the affordable housing working group, said his group came to a consensus on issues more easily than he thought it would.

"We had people on the committee that thought affordable housing is not an issue, with the point of view that the market will solve it," Oman said. "And some of us had the point of view it is really important for people who work in the community, or at least a good percentage of them, to be able to live in the community."

Oman said the group decided to encourage the use of government incentives and inclusionary zoning over raising taxes to fund affordable housing.

In the end, most of the group also decided that deed restrictions are necessary in maintaining affordable housing, he said.

From those discussions, the questionnaire asks residents how much emphasis should be placed on removing barriers to affordable housing.

As part of the plan, the city is also doing a housing-needs assessment to evaluate the local stock of affordable housing.

Other Areas

The packet also asks questions about when and where to build capital facilities, preferred types of economic development and establishing a historic district in Old Town.

Residents are encouraged to fill out the questionnaires in the back of the packet. Packets can be picked up at the city and county planning departments.

A complete overview of the update process can be found at www.yampavalleyinfo.com.

Strong said the questionnaires will be used as guidelines, but will not be the only indicators used in updating the community area plan.

A draft of the updated plan is expected to be finished by mid-summer with a public meeting to discuss the draft sometime in July.

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