The Steamboat Springs City Council enacted an emergency moratorium Tuesday, stopping housing development in "backyard" lots in the Fairview subdivision.
The 90-day moratorium would allow residents in the Fairview and Miller-Frazier subdivisions a chance to work with city staff and come up with a proposal for what should be allowed on those lots. The connected subdivisions are on the west side of 13th Street.
In the early 1990s, when the two subdivisions were annexed into the city, the city sold extra lots to property owners. The lots were smaller and accessed from an alley behind the homes. The intention, some Fairview and Miller-Frazier residents said, was to use the land as extended back yards.
The city sold the lots with a deed restriction that stipulated the lots could not be sold separately, meaning the owner of the home also had to own the backyard lot behind it. However, the deed restrictions did not mention any prohibitions on developing the land, City Attorney Tony Lettunich said.
Under the current neighborhood zoning, Lettunich said, the owners could build a second unit and an accessory structure, which could increase density substantially in the subdivisions.
The intention of the moratorium would be to temporarily prevent issuing any building permits for development on the backyard lots while the city works with the Fairview and Miller-Frazier neighbors on a resolution as to how the lots can be used.
This winter, residents became concerned about the potential to put second homes on those lots when a neighbor, Ann Yuhas, put her house and the backyard lot up for sale. Neighbors noticed the ad for the home indicated the backyard lot was developable.
Residents said negotiations with the city in the late 1980s indicated otherwise. More than 18 lots were sold by the city to the residents, with adjacent property owners given the first chance to buy the lots. The lots also were sold under market value at about $1,000 each.
Fairview resident Noreen Moore said she was involved in the negotiations to annex the subdivisions into the city. Moore said that at that time, the neighborhoods were not particularly in favor of being annexed into the city and part of the tradeoff was allowing residents to purchase the city land and to keep it as open space.
"The idea was to add benefit to the primary homeowners as a yard, but it was never intended, in the sale of all the lots, as a windfall to anybody," Moore said. "And that was discussed over and over again."
Neighbors and council members suggested at the time of sale that zoning regulations, which have since changed, did not require wording in the deed restrictions to preclude development on the backyard lots.
Yuhas' attorney, Hugh That-cher, objected to the moratorium and said the issue was not one of zoning. He also pointed to the annexation agreement, which mentions the sale of the lots but does not give any restrictions on how they could be developed.
"There were restrictions on what the city could do on the city lots, but it didn't place restrictions on what the property owners could build," he said.
Councilman Loui Antonucci, who was on the council at the time of the annexation, said he also remembers the intention to keep the lots as extended back yards, not as places for second homes.
Council members said part of the problem is that the city and neighbors had not factored in the jump in land prices and that the small backyard lots someday would be considered developable.
"When deed restrictions were placed on those lots, we didn't anticipate what was to happen at Steamboat at that time," Antonucci said.
The city could go back and look at what the zoning was at the time of the lot sale and establish similar zoning, Council President Paul Strong said. He asked that city staff work with residents to solve the issue.