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Meeting the Community's Needs

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The developers, including Rob Dick and Mark Halvorson, proposed building a residential neighborhood on 6.27 acres in the vicinity of Steamboat Crossing. Cottagewood would feature 46 residential units, including some live/work spaces designed to meet the needs of small-business owners. The neighborhood, which would be on the south side of U.S. Highway 40 between the highway and the railroad tracks, would be designed primarily for working families. Driving the conceptual idea is the site's proximity to child care, groceries and bus service.

"We see this as the perfect place for work force housing," the developers said in their application. "The site is centrally located near many commercial establishments and the core trail, which we feel will significantly reduce dependence on the automobile given the proximity to the bus stop."

Cottagewood -- which is merely in the conceptual stages of development -- would seem to be exactly what Steamboat needs -- a high density residential neighborhood for working families in an ideal location.

But the Cottagewood concept doesn't fit current zoning. The property is zoned low-density residential or one home per acre. City planning staff said no more than 24 units can exist on the site. Staff also told the developers to add sidewalks and create 25-foot setbacks from wetlands in the area. The restrictions could derail a project such as Cottagewood, which is not financially feasible below a certain number of units.

We don't fault city planning staff members for their comments on the project. Their suggestions were appropriate given planning and zoning regulations.

But cases such as this highlight the need for flexibility within the planning process. As development occurs and land use changes, zoning criteria do not always reflect what's best for a particular parcel of land.

This property is near the railroad and is adjacent to commercial development. It seems an unlikely site for low density, luxury homes, as current zoning indicates. Rather, a high-density residential neighborhood that aims to provide housing for working families could be a better fit for the site.

The Cottagewood project is in the preliminary stages and changes are sure to occur. But overall, the concept appears to be a good one, even though it doesn't comply with current zoning.

Smart development should be encouraged, even if it doesn't completely conform to the rules. As it moves through the planning process, Cottagewood gives the Planning Commission and the City Council the opportunity to encourage a development that could go a long way toward meeting a community need.

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