Growth forum draws residents, informative discussion

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Residents wrestled with regulating the free market, providing affordable housing and diversifying the economy as they talked about managing growth Thursday night.

The Routt County Democratic Party and the Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley hosted a growth forum, and almost 20 residents weighed in on the incentives and struggles that came with managing growth.

John Spezia of the Community Alliance gave four examples of how Steamboat could manage its growth.

Controls could be put in place through residential growth caps, commercial growth caps, limiting growth by the capacity of capital facilities and requiring new businesses to meet job-to-housing ratios.

Spezia pointed to towns across Colorado such as Elizabeth, Lafayette, Golden, Berthoud Pass, Boulder and Aspen as examples Steamboat could look to.

"They made some very good mistakes that we can learn from," Spezia said.

If the city continues to grow at its current rate, Steamboat would double in size to 20,000 residents by 2020, he said.

Although growth restrictions run the risk of raising housing prices, Spezia recommended putting in affordable housing quotas that would mean a percentage of all development had to be affordable. A managed growth rate also would even out the construction boom and bust cycle, Spezia said.

In the case of commercial growth caps, Spezia recommended giving incentives such as subsidized rents and loans for businesses that diversify the economy and provide goods and services residents want but can't find here. The idea of a locally owned big-box store, or one owned by a cooperative, also was mentioned.

A regional plan also would have to be put in place, Spezia said, to ensure the growth limits set in Steamboat would not just push growth outside its limits and create sprawl.

By limiting growth through what city managed facilities could hold, Spezia said the community could see a balance between the amount of residential and commercial units built.

"This is the way to treat everyone fairly. Instead of choosing residential or commercial caps and raising a lot of flags, we treat everyone fairly," Spezia said.

The fourth growth management tool Spezia discussed is requiring businesses to provide housing for almost every job they create.

"I think a lot of the things that John brought up are really great tools to put in our tool bag as a way to deal with growth and change that occurs too quickly for infrastructure to keep up," County Planning Director Caryn Fox said.

But Fox also advised the free market might address some of the problems growth management tools would fix. She said if the economy and skier days continue to or drop, the city might see its new affordable housing units becoming old vacation condos and million dollar homes turned into apartments.

Bill Sayter, who recently moved to Steamboat, also spoke to the effects growth management could have on the free market.

"I think that the free market has something to be said for it. If you try to change it too much, you are going to create problems," Sayter said. "In trying to preserve the character of the community, I am not really sure you can say, I am here now, don't let anyone else in and don't let anything change."


-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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