More than a dozen city and county officials stood Thursday in the center of what has been designated the heart of development west of Steamboat Springs.
They stood in the intersection of two dirt roads, surrounded by wildflowers and sagebrush, staring across hundreds of acres of undeveloped land. The only activity in sight came from an antelope running about 200 yards away.
It has been five years since the community created and approved the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan, a 100-page document focused on housing the city's growing population.
The plan mapped out where industrial, residential and commercial areas would go, drew new major roads and added a requirement for one-third of all housing to be affordable for working families. It addressed 1,200 acres and anticipated 2,400 new homes.
In the intervening five years, West End Village is the only subdivision to be approved and developed in that area. The city is just now approving an intergovernmental agreement with the county, setting up the guidelines to implement the plan.
City and county officials continue to think the plan is workable and is the best solution for Steamboat's affordable housing problem.
"To say the plan is dead is wrong," City Councilman Ken Brenner said. "It just needs to be reassessed."
With the completion of the Steamboat Springs Community Area Plan Update, the group overseeing that plan, the Area Plan Coordinating Committee, has turned its focus to updating the west of Steamboat plan.
Thursday kicked off that effort. Council members, county commissioners and members of planning commissions and planning staffs boarded a bus to tour the land and visit the landowners who are central to the community's future growth.
What the landowners said was not new to the officials. They talked of being unable to convince financers to back what they call an ambiguous plan. They discussed the expensive cost of infrastructure and its burden on the first landowner who chooses to develop. They said the east-to-west phasing of the plan didn't match the market demand that was driving west to east, sparked by the success of Steamboat II, Heritage Park and Silver Spur.
At this Thursday's Area Plan Coordinating Committee meeting, the group will come together to discuss those issues.
"It will be a very open discussion, on what do we see, what do we want to do because this plan hasn't moved forward," county planner John Eastman said.
The first stop on the bus tour was the Steamboat Springs Airport. From the runway, the group looked west toward Walter Scott's property.
A key element in the plan, and one council members and commissioners said they are not willing to change, is developing east to west. Under that philosophy, Scott's property would be the first to be developed.
In the past year, Scott has come before the council asking whether it would be willing to create a special district to cover the cost of a $12 million infrastructure project needed to develop the land. One of the reasons the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan has languished for years, Scott has said, is the difficulty and expense of bringing water and sewer services to the land.
"A special district is really vital for the west of Steamboat plan," Scott has said. "It is the foundation for it. The plan simply isn't going to work without utilities."
Brenner said part of the process would be looking at ways to form and finance the special district, which would spread the cost more evenly of bringing infrastructure into undeveloped areas.
Charlie Williams, whose family owns the West Acres mobile-home park and adjacent land, was the next property owner the group visited. As Williams pointed to where roads and sewer lines might go, he also told the council about the difficulty of getting financial backers.
Williams said creating development plans to bring to the city requires financial support, and developers are reluctant to do that because they are uncertain of what the city and county want.
"Nobody is willing to put money into the plan unless they know what is going to happen. No one is willing to take a chance," Williams said.
It's a Catch-22 situation, some of the members in the group said, that could be seen throughout the west of Steamboat area.
"How do you get out of this loop?" asked Routt County Regional Planning Commissioner John Ayer.
One piece of property does look promising for development. On Wednesday, plans were submitted for 154 residential lots on 59 acres immediately west of West End Village and West Acres mobile-home park. The owner, Jay Weinberg of Carbondale, is proposing that 100 of the lots be between 0.11 and 0.16 acres for bungalows or small modular homes.
Steve and Mary Brown own almost half of the 1,200 acres targeted under the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan.
The intersection where the group stood Thursday was in the center of the Browns' property. It is close to where the proposed east-west running Victory Parkway -- a road that would follow close to where the old U.S. Highway 40 crossed -- would intersect a north-south running road from U.S. 40.
On the map, the intersection is surrounded by a village mixed-use center with a combination of commercial and residential buildings.
The Browns have long been critical of the plan and more than a year ago platted their land into 35-acre lots, which is the only alternative to developing the land after the west of Steamboat plan.
In the past, the Browns have said the density in the plan is too high and does not take into account the hilly topography. Mary Brown has said the affordable housing requirement, the infrastructure costs and the lack of direction from the city have made prospective buyers unwilling to go through with developing the land.
During the tour Thursday, Marilyn Guire waited by her truck with her sheep dog for the group to arrive. She stood just off Routt County Road 42 and looked out over her land, the last piece of property the group would see that day.
Guire's property is across C.R. 42 from Sliver Spur and has been looked at by developers.
"I am still a farmer, but I have land for sale, and I have buyers. So, I would like to let it go," Guire told the group Thursday.
This winter, Rapid City developers' plans to build 1,000 affordable homes on Guire's 160-acres died when city and county officials refused to deviate from the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan.
The developers hoped to build single-family homes, duplexes and townhomes priced between $135,000 and $220,000. They gave up on the project after the county said the land would need to be annexed into the city to support such high density, and the city said the land could not be annexed because it was not next to the city boundary.
The Brown property sits between the Guire property and the city boundary.
Brenner said he remains firm that city annexation and developing east and west are key tenets to the plan.
On Thursday, Guire said the land is under contract by another group, The Pacific Company, a retirement and low-cost housing group. She asked the city and county officials to keep an open mind when plans do come through their doors.
"You're not dealing with lines on a map, you are dealing with people's lives," Guire said.
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