Friday, November 28, 2003
Last June, I wrote a commentary about the irony of Routt County commissioners and the Steamboat Springs City Council asking us to participate in the update of the Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan while they were making decisions contradicting the language and intent of the plan.
Since writing that commentary, county commissioners deliberately have dismissed the community plan in their erroneous decision to locate the new courthouse adjacent to the county jail at the west end of town.
The gravity of this error was reinforced during the first week of November when retail business and downtown revitalization consultant, Kent Burnes, met with business owners and community leaders in Steamboat Springs. He culminated his visit with a public presentation Nov. 5. Burnes reinforced what many of us have come to understand: Government offices play a crucial, vital role in the life of downtowns.
For Burnes, who has more than 20 years of experience in downtown revitalization in small towns across America, the issue was a "no-brainer."
"Why did it take an Act of Congress to direct the U.S. Postal Service to keep its downtown locations?" Burnes asked. "Because Congress recognized the importance of government institutions to the economic vitality of America's downtowns. This is true for government institutions of every level -- federal, state, county and local, including judicial facilities.
Burnes' comments validate the wisdom articulated in the 1995 Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan, Section IV-9 (Future Land Use Directions, No. 6):
"In a healthy community, institutional and government functions are seen as integrated uses, interspersed with residential and commercial uses. Today, various federal, state, city and county government offices act as anchors within Old Town and should continue to be located downtown."
There are two important reasons the commissioners should reconsider their decision to remove a critical component of downtown vitality. One, the county commissioners were a driving force behind the development of the 1995 plan. They wanted to see growth more closely coordinated between the city and the county, in part spurred by the city's extension of water and sewer lines to outlying areas (sprawl). Two, the vote for the 1995 plan was unanimous among all members of the county and city planning commissions, the county commissioners and Steamboat Springs City Council. There was standing room only at Olympian Hall that evening, and the audience broke into applause when the vote was completed.
The president of the Steamboat Springs City Council and the chairpeople of the Routt County Board of Commissioners, the Steamboat Springs City Planning Commission and the Routt County Regional Planning Commission, all were signatories to the final plan in 1995. The signatories wrote in the introduction (Section I-2) that "the results of this process represent a collaboration between more than a thousand of the community's citizens, our elected and appointed bodies, and their representative planning staffs. ... We feel that the results speak for themselves, as a framework for the future that represents the desires of the community, and a series of specific actions for fulfilling those desires."
Eight years after signing the Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan, the Routt County Board of Commissioners decided to override the expressed desires and specific actions of the plan and locate a new judicial facility three miles west of downtown.
One already can hear the giant sucking sound called sprawl emanating from that location, draining economic vitality from downtown.
Editor's Note: This is the first in a three-part commentary examining Routt County's decision to build a new justice center west of the city. The series will continue Sunday and Monday.