Council OKs moratorium

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The City Council passed a 90-day moratorium on big-box retail, giving it time to create a more permanent solution on how to manage large, national chain stores.

The emergency ordinance was passed in a 5-2 decision at the end of a 2 1/2 hour discussion that packed Centennial Hall with almost 70 residents.

Tuesday night's decision was not focused on answering the big-box question, City Council President Paul Strong said, but was an attempt to give the council a timeframe to come to a consensus on whether regulations should be in place.

"It is time to make a decision; otherwise we will keep talking forever," Strong said. "I think we can do this in 90 days."

Councilwoman Kathy Connell worried that 90 days would not give the city enough time to develop a permanent ordinance.

The emergency ordinance, which needs only one reading, put on hold for 90 days any development application for retail commercial space of more than 12,000 square feet for a single owner or tenant.

At Tuesday's meeting, council members agreed to add language to exempt from the new ordinance developments that have been approved or are in the city's planning process. There are five developments in that category: Wildhorse Market Place, where developer Whitney Ward has named Gart Sports as a likely tenant; Sundance North; Central Park Plaza south retail development; Cook Chevrolet sales center; and True Value Hardware's move to Curve Market.

Strong brought the emergency ordinance to the council after working with the Downtown Business Association, the Mountain Business Association and the Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley. For the past two years, the community has been talking about regulating big-box retail, Strong said, and the council has held forums on the subject. It was the focus of last year's Economic Summit.

Not every council member was willing to move forward with the moratorium; Loui Antonucci and Nancy Kramer voted not to support the ordinance.

Antonucci said he was in favor of the free market. Residents were spending money at big-box stores outside of Steamboat or online, he said, meaning the city was missing opportunities to collect sales tax revenue.

He worried that the big-box stores the city would keep out would be the ones that would help to make living in Steamboat more affordable.

"Competition is good for us, the consumer," Antonucci said.

Kramer said she did not see a need for an emergency ordinance.

Public comment came from those asking for the moratorium and regulations on big-box retail, those supporting a free market and those worried that their development might be subject to the new ordinance.

Residents raised concerns about how big-box stores would affect the character of Steamboat and about the money that would be funneled out of Steamboat by national chains.

"The free market doesn't have a heart and a soul, but we do," said Linda Lewis of the Peace and Justice Center.

Peter Van De Carr, owner of a downtown sporting goods store, said he believed in a free enterprise system even if it allowed big-box stores in Steamboat, but he asked consumers to support local stores.

"Put your money where your mouth is. If you don't approve of these big-box stores, don't shop there," Van De Carr said.

On April 13 the council will discuss the options available to regulating big-box stores and plan to direct staff on a more permanent ordinance.

In other council business:

n The council set the adoption hearing for the Steamboat Springs Community Area Plan Update for May 3. The hearing, which also will include the city's Planning Commission, the county Planning Commission and county commissioners, had been postponed from Monday for revisions to the draft.

n The council agreed to extend the application deadline for openings to its boards and advisory committees. The council will hold interviews for those openings starting April 6.

n The council approved the sale of geospatial data at reproduction costs for nonprofits and at competitive retail costs for businesses. The data is part of the city's aerial update project budget last year. Nonprofits could purchase the databases, which have high-resolution aerial photographs and other building information, for $100. For-profit business would have to pay $350 for a database within the city limits, $966 for the urban growth boundary area and $3,795 for the Steamboat Springs Rural Fire Protection District.

n The council approved two grant applications to the State Historical Fund of the Colorado Historical Society to help restore the old depot, home to the Depot Art Center and to develop a management and maintenance plan for city-owned historical buildings.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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