Wakeup call

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The decision by the largest landowners in the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan to subdivide their 538-acre parcel into 35-acre lots is a wakeup call for the city of Steamboat Springs, Routt County and others interested in controlling Steamboat's growth to the west.

Steve Brown and Mary Brown own almost half of the 1,200 acres targeted for dense housing in the plan, which was approved in 1999. The plan envisioned 2,400 new housing units, one-third of which would be affordable housing, in the area over 20 years. If that housing were to be evenly distributed, roughly 1,100 of those homes would go on the Brown property.

But some fear the Brown property will become the site of 15 trophy homes given the recent subdivision of the land.

No one should blame the Browns for trying to protect their right to sell the land in 35-acre parcels, which could prove easier and far more profitable than identifying developers willing to take on the risks associated with larger, denser housing projects. In fact, Mary Brown said the Browns have no specific plans for the property and only subdivided it in order to preserve their options.

The truth is, Mary Brown got it right when she issued a warning the night the plan was approved. "If two or three offers go away, the guy who wants to buy a (35-acre parcel) looks pretty good three or four years from now," Brown said then. "Within two years, if nothing has been developed, we need to do a pretty immediate re-evaluation of what's in this plan."

Brown could not have been more prophetic. Four years later, nothing has happened in the area's boundaries, and a review of the plan's effectiveness is long overdue.

Some things to consider:

n The General Improvement District tax in the plan is an unfair obstacle to housing development in the area where it should be encouraged most. The tax would be imposed on new homeowners within the plan's boundaries and would be used to extend services such as fire and police to the area.

n The plan's "new urbanism" design requirements -- including sidewalks and outdoor lighting -- should be reviewed to determine the impact they have on development proposals.

n The affordable housing component of the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan should be reviewed to determine how practical it is.

n Despite promises that the planning process would be streamlined, winning planning approval continues to be an onerous, costly and time-consuming task, particularly for high-density developments.

Directing growth and development to the west of Steamboat Springs is completely logical. From topography to infrastructure there is no better direction to go than west along U.S. Highway 40. In that respect, the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan is right on target. But there can be no denying the plan has problems.

If city and county officials truly want the plan to succeed, they should sit down with developers and the landowners in the area to determine how to fix it.

It is not the Browns' responsibility to make the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan work. Rather, the city and county must work with the Browns and the area's other landowners to alter the plan in such a way that it can succeed.

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