City to look at big-box ordinance

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— The Steamboat Springs City Council will get its first look tonight at the ordinance intended to go into effect when a 90-day moratorium on big-box retail expires.

Approved by the city Planning Commission on Thursday, the ordinance limits any commercial or retail store located south and east of 13th Street to 20,000 square feet. The ordinance also will require commercial or retail buildings larger than 12,000 square feet to go through a more subjective review process before city approval.

The two regulations were the few clear cut directions that the council and Planning Commission agreed on during a lengthy discussion last month on regulating large retail stores.

Other possible restrictions on big-box retail -- such as more stringent site, design and architectural standards, requiring an economic study for large retail stores and putting a size cap for stores anywhere in Steamboat -- may come later.

With both the city planning department and council looking at busy summer schedules, City Councilman Paul Strong predicted some of the issues will not be resolved until the fall.

On March 16, the city approved a 90-day moratorium temporarily preventing plans for any commercial or retail stores larger than 12,000 square feet from entering the planning process.

The ordinance being discussed tonight is intended to go into effect when the moratorium expires.

During its April 13 meeting, council voted 5-1 to cap the size of big-box stores located south of Third Street at 20,000 square feet and to review existing regulations in the downtown area to make sure that large retail buildings could not be developed. The council also voted unanimously to require retail stores larger than 12,000 square feet to go through the more subjective planned-unit development review process.

Despite the general agreement in April, Strong expects some discussion on the ordinance. Concerns have been raised about whether the ordinance would restrict stores in the impacted areas, such as City Market and Wal-Mart, from expanding. With City Market at 52,000 square feet and Wal-Mart at 55,000 square feet, the stores are well beyond the size cap of the proposed ordinance.

As part of the April 13 discussion, council also talked about limiting the size of stores in the downtown area to much less than 20,000 square feet. The largest existing downtown store is the 9,000-square-foot Soda Creek Mercantile.

The city planning staff and Planning Commission said existing regulations and available lots downtown would not make a store more than 10,000 square feet feasible.

Another item up for discussion tonight is beefing up the PUD process, which any retail store larger than 12,000 square feet would have to go through, according to the proposed ordinance. The PUD process allows developers to have variances from the code if they can prove the project will be of some public good.

Strong suggested that for big-box stores, the larger the store is, the more public good it will have to provide.

The first reading of the big-box ordinance is part of the council's consent calendar in tonight's agenda. Those items usually require little council deliberation and can be passed with a single motion.

Strong said the big-box ordinance would most likely be pulled from the consent calendar to open the discussion up to the council and for public comment.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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