Jeff Winston, the urban planning consultant who guided the city and county through the West of Steamboat Area Plan, calls the 600 or so acres that comprise the plan "a staggeringly beautiful piece of land."
As beautiful as the land is, the ability of the plan to deliver on its promise is in considerable doubt. Four years have passed, nothing has happened and undeveloped ground surrounding the city isn't getting any cheaper.
As they consider what to do next, city and county officials would be wise to remember that the plan isn't as important as its objectives -- to contain urban sprawl while ensuring those who work here can live here. If the plan needs to be amended to achieve those objectives, then that's what should happen.
As it stands, landowners, potential developers and government officials are at odds over the need to rethink the plan, which was adopted in 1999. The plan would create 2,000 new homes and a major arterial road paralleling U.S. 40. It would allow residents to reach shopping without further clogging the highway. The plan also calls for new development to proceed from east to west.
Landowners said they need the ability to build less density than the plan allows, and they want freedom from the "east to west" requirement. County Commissioner Doug Monger said he won't budge from the east to west stipulation. City Councilman Ken Brenner said he would reject a reduction in density. And Winston said both men are right to stick to their guns.
But blanket rejection of possible changes to the plan won't help us accomplish the plan's objectives. If the plan isn't achieving what it was designed to achieve, then it must be scrutinized for changes and all aspects of the plan should come under scrutiny.
Winston argues the overall density is critical because less density would not sustain mass transit, and without mass transit, the region's arterial roads would be overwhelmed by new housing in West of Steamboat.
Winston also said the mandate that development proceed from east to west was meant to allow construction of a new road in manageable segments. Building the entire road in one swoop would be cost prohibitive.
Winston's concerns are valid. But there have to be other options. For example, the plan recommends that local governments consider a public/private partnership that might front the cost of infrastructure, like roads and water, to developers, allowing them to repay the money at a later date. Such partnerships have yet to happen.
The developers who have looked at the West of Steamboat Plan have so far decided not to pursue any projects. Several have opted instead for Hayden, which could ultimately create the kind of down valley sprawl the plan was designed to avoid.
Too much is at stake in the next decade for city and county officials to stand on the sidelines and defend the West of Steamboat plan against change. They must actively review the plan, tweak it where necessary and become more active in identifying developers and projects that meet the plan's objectives, if not the plan itself.