Council passes big-box rules

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The Steamboat Springs City Council adjusted the wording of a big-box ordinance before approving it in the first of two readings Tuesday.

The ordinance limits the size of large retail stores to 20,000 square feet south and east of 13th Street. It also requires any retail store bigger than 12,000 square feet to go through a planned unit development process, which is a more subjective planning process that requires applicants to show the public that advantages of the project outweigh disadvantages.

City Councilman Paul Strong said that with the PUD process, the size of the store should correspond with its public benefits: The larger the proposed store, the more public benefits it should provide.

"We need to have some proportionality built in there," Strong said.

The council voted to approve the ordinance, 6-1, and to add wording to the ordinance requiring more public benefit for larger buildings.

During public comment, members from the Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley and the Steamboat Springs Peace and Justice Center asked for the PUD process to be strengthened and for the council to look at other regulations west of 13th Street.

Steve Lewis, from the Peace and Justice Center, suggested guidelines the city could use when looking at the PUD process. For a 12,000-square-foot building, he suggested the city require the development to have excellent design standards and one other public benefit. For a building with 30,000 square feet or more, he suggested the applicant provide excellent design standards, improvement of neighborhood services, economic sustainability, affordable housing and a positive financial impact on local government.

"What the PUD process asks is that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages," Lewis said. "I think the intent is already in the PUD process, and it is something we can follow up on."

Christi Ruppe, of the Community Alliance, asked that the council look at large commercial developments west of town, which were not covered by the ordinance. She asked that the council prohibit lot consolidation on commercial properties, set a maximum lot size and re-examine how much of the lot can be covered by buildings and other surfaces such as parking lots.

Public comment also was made opposing the ordinance. Paul Hilf said big-box stores could be good for competition in Steamboat and bring shopping dollars back to the community.

"What is limiting big-box going to do to help the average consumer in this town?" Hilf asked.

Councilwoman Nancy Kramer voted against the ordinance saying it is ratcheting down the town's ability to provide affordable shopping.

"We are decreasing the ability to have an affordable living situation here," Kramer said.

City Planner Tom Leeson said the ordinance would exempt any building that already is here; allowing stores such as Wal-Mart and City Market to expand in the restricted 20,000-square-foot areas.

Council members noted this was the start of the city's regulation of big-box retail. The ordinance could be amended, and the staff is looking at more stringent design standards.

"We are stepping through the door. This is the beginning of the process," Councilman Steve Ivancie said.

In other council business:

n The council discussed adopting an intergovernmental agreement between the city and county on the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan. The council also discussed how to provide water and sewer services to the west of Steamboat area. Both items were complicated issues, members said, and they asked to postpone the meeting to a later date when they could have more time.

n The council voted to not increase building permit fees and planning permit fees by $30 to help cover the cost to the city for updating its Geographic Information System data.

n City Manager Paul Hughes announced that the city is at 33 percent on budgeted spending, which is in line with sales tax collected. "We continue to run under, but are very, very close to budgeted expenditures, which is a good thing," he said.

n Hughes also announced that the Routt County Regional Building Department is much busier than last year. The first four months of 2003 had 35 permits. This year the building department has seen 67.

n The council approved the second reading of an ordinance that will increase or add fees for fire permits and for plans reviewed and inspections provided by the city's fire prevention services. The fee increase for permits is in line with the 12 percent increase the building department had in 2003.

n The council amended an ordinance that bans carrying firearms in city buildings to allow the American Legion post, which leases the Steamboat Springs Community Center, to store firearms in the building so they can be used for ceremonial purposes.

n The council approved providing $14,127 in matching funds to leverage a $67,960 grant from the Colorado Department of Transportation. The money would be used for reducing air emissions and would include the purchase of a dustless sweeper.

n The council approved a liquor license for Bluebonnet Catering, allowing alcohol to be served at the Strings in the Mountains site.

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