The city Planning Commission approved the River Place co-housing project, but said it wanted an 8-foot sidewalk along U.S. Highway 40 to go with it.
Applicants Rob Dick and Kathy Crawford said the sidewalk, which would cost $100,000 to $150,000 and would have to go over wetlands, could be a deal-breaker for a group of residents using the project as a way to create an affordable place to live.
In a 5-1 vote, the commission approved plans for 12 single-family homes, six live/work units, a common house and detached garages on 2.8 acres of land.
The site, along U.S. 40 and between Steamboat Christian Church and Super 8 Motel and Bunkhouse Lodge, came with challenges. The applicants faced wetland issues, a pair of nesting bald eagles almost a third of a mile away, close proximity to the city's water supply and fitting in a city-required sidewalk along U.S. 40.
The applicants asked for 10 variances.
Planning Commissioner Randall Hannaway wrestled with his vote to approve the project. If the development were for a commercial use, it would be ridiculed, he said. He questioned whether the applicants were playing the affordable housing trump card.
"Since I have been on Planning Commission, it is the toughest application I have ever looked at and I still don't feel good about it," he said before approving the plan.
Planning Commissioner Dick Curtis voted against the plan.
Planning Commission Chairwoman Kathi Meyer said the plan requested the most variances she has seen in her six years as a planning commissioner and she was not willing to waive the final variance request for the sidewalk.
"We are going to continue to have this disagreement on whether required sidewalks are going to go in," Meyer said. "And there are 10 developers ahead of you saying why they can't put in (sidewalks)."
The planning staff recommended requiring the U.S. 40 sidewalk because it provides public foot and bike access around sites in the commercial zoning districts, something private walkways within the development don't provide.
Ellen Hoj, a future resident and planning consultant who is helping develop the site, said residents have been tied to the co-housing project for more than three years, and families are starting to drop out because of the time and money it would take to complete it. Of the families in the group, half make less than 80 percent of the area median income, she said, which puts them between $42,000 to $52,000 a year.
Although the homes are not deed-restricted or part of the Regional Affordable Living Foundation, the project is aimed at working families in Routt County.
Putting in a sidewalk would tack on another $5,000 to $8,000 per home and delay construction until next spring.
"It is kind of a deal-breaker for us," Hoj said.
Hoj questioned the need for a sidewalk along U.S. 40 because the back of the site will have paths connecting to the Yampa Valley Core Trail. The required 8-foot-wide sidewalk also would be difficult on land that is designated as wetlands.
Just about eight feet of available land lies between the retaining wall next to the highway and the utility easements next to the garages. That land also is wetlands.
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