The Steamboat Springs City Planning Commission gave mixed reviews on plans for the Riverhouse Theater, proposed for Yampa and Eighth streets.
All Planning Commission members said the theater, which would seat 250 people and be home to local acting groups, was much needed in the community. But two Planning Commissioners thought the riverside spot was the wrong location because of concerns about flooding, parking, obstructing the view of Howelsen Hill and not allowing for the potential of an extended river trail to go through the property.
"I believe the overall concept presented tonight is very much needed in the community," Planning Commission Chairwoman Kathi Meyer said. "My concern here tonight is if this is the right place."
The proposal is for a three-story, 8,712-square-foot auditorium and theater building to go on the lot between Yampa Blue Coffee Shop and the Steamboat Yacht Club. Applicant Terry Koch said the theater could be home to local performance groups such as the Community Players and Ski Town Productions. He also sees it housing other community art events such as dance recitals and musical performances and as a place for large conferences and meetings. It also could attract outside performances for traveling theater and dance groups and well-known musicians, he said.
He pointed to the places where productions are currently put on --Steamboat Springs High School, local bars and in large conference rooms -- and said there was a need for a performing arts building.
All the council members agreed, and the majority said they were willing to grant significant variances from the planning code to allow such a facility to be built downtown. Planning Commissioner David Baldinger Jr. said the city's Planned Unit Development process was created for the purpose of allowing for variances for projects that showed a notable public good.
"If they get positive feedback from other members (of the Planning Commission) and the City Council, there is a good chance they could work through the restraints of the code," Baldinger said.
Meyer worried that the size and height of the theater might not fit in with the rest of the buildings along Yampa Street and that it would present environmental concerns.
In his staff report, City Planner Tom Leeson noted the proposed three-story theater would be significantly taller than the adjacent Yampa Blue and Yacht Club.
The city code also requires any commercial building within the 100-year floodplain to be either completely flood-proof or for the first floor of the building to be 1 foot above the established floodplain. Because of the number of windows and doors proposed in the project, Leeson noted the building likely would have to sit 1 foot higher than the established floodplain.
If so, the building height would require an even greater variance.
Planning Commissioner Dana Stopher also said she had concerns with the size of the building, noting it would block views of Howelsen Hill and the Yampa River.
"It is going to be hard for some of us to give that up," Stopher said.
Leeson noted that Eighth Street provided one of the better views of Howelsen Hill, and the proposed rectangular building, its height and lack of setbacks would obstruct the view more than what other buildings could.
Concerns also were raised about parking. The city has no parking requirements for the properties on the river side of Yampa Street, but staff was concerned with the increase in parking an auditorium with 250 seats would generate.
Koch said there were five nearby public parking lots, and users could access the Howelsen Hill parking lots if needed. Some Planning Commissioners said the question of parking pointed to the need for a better-developed transportation plan in the downtown area.