City moves forward on URA

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The Steamboat Springs City Council agreed to move forward with forming an urban renewal authority by sending out public information notices and ordering a blight study.

The council's 7-0 decision will allow the city to publish and mail public notices about a Dec. 7 meeting to approve the urban renewal authority and a Dec. 21 meeting to approve the plan for the authority.

As proposed by a local group of businessmen, the urban renewal authority would use revenue from incremental property taxes at the base of the Steamboat Ski Area for public improvements.

The Base Area Reinvestment Coalition, which has spent thousands of dollars researching the creation of the authority, is asking that the authority be approved by the end of the year so it could capture more than $100,000 in taxes for 2005. If the authority is passed before 2005, the revenue could leverage more than $1 million in bonds.

Part of the city's approval also includes the start of a $14,000 blight study, which will begin today. Even before Tuesday's decision, the city was in negotiations with Ken Schroeppel from the Denver-based consulting firm URS Corporation.

Before adopting the plan for an urban renewal authority, a blight study has to be done. The state has established a list of 11 criteria for what a blighted area entails, and an area must meet four of those criteria to form an authority.

An authority also could be formed if one of the criteria is met and the property owners and tenants have no objection to it.

City Attorney Tony Lettunich said it would take a few weeks to complete the study and that he hopes a draft will be finished by the first or second week of December and a final report will be complete for the council's Dec. 21 meeting.

Council President Paul Strong supported moving forward with the authority. He said he knew property owners at the base of the ski area who were waiting for the city to move forward with the authority before undergoing major projects.

"If we don't move forward, their projects are not going to move forward," Strong said. "They can't make a business case for renovating projects as things are now. But if the city will go forward with this, then they will feel comfortable with redeveloping."

About a dozen residents came to the council meeting Tuesday to speak in favor of the urban renewal authority.

As proposed by the coalition, an urban renewal authority would pay for public improvements such as sidewalks, streetscapes, public art and escalators at the base of the ski area through an incremental tax. If approved by the city, the authority would capture a fraction of the property tax revenues resulting from development and redevelopment of land at the base.

The urban renewal authority would generate $5 million to $10 million during its 25-year lifetime without imposing a new tax on property owners.

But additional property tax revenue that would otherwise come into Routt County or the Steamboat Springs School District during the next 10 to 20 years would go to the authority instead.

Councilman Ken Brenner expressed concerns about the effects the authority could have on Routt County and the school district, and he said he worried about the speed at which the creation of the authority was moving.

"In general, this tax is not found money. This is in fact taxpayer revenue," Brenner said.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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