Steamboat Springs A nine-word change to the city's Community Development Code has sparked concern in Steamboat Springs' real estate community.
The City Council voted 6-1 on Tuesday to approve an ordinance to, among other things, specifically include real estate offices to the code's definition of an office.
Offices are not, by right, allowed to be along a pedestrian level street or other public access frontages in Old Town and at the base of the Steamboat Ski Area. Council member Loui Antonucci, a partner in Old Town Realty, was the dissenting vote.
Although the ordinance was approved, the council may vote on it again Tuesday night. Because of a computer glitch, the council did not receive 11 e-mails sent to the city the day of the vote. Council members have said that, in light of the additional comments, they likely would vote to reconsider the issue this week.
Realtors say the ordinance singles them out and that they offer a service that should be defined as commercial, as retail businesses are defined.
Some city officials, however, say the code revision is nothing but a clarifica-
tion of a stance the city has had since 2001.
The amended ordinance does not entirely restrict Realtors from taking office within the two districts, officials say. Instead, they will have to go through a conditional-use review by city officials. The code includes a 12-page description of that process, which costs applicants money and time, according to Realtors.
However, review processes should be nothing new to project applicants, council member Steve Ivancie said.
"Virtually everyone who proposes any community development in any of the zone districts has to meet certain conditions," he said.
Since the Community Devel--op--ment Code was revised in 2001, the definition of an office has been the same; it includes a list of what an office is not but contains no specific examples of what an office is.
If approved, the ordinance would add language specifically defining a real estate business as an office.
City Council members, as well as city staff, say those who drafted the code revisions intended real estate to be defined as an office use.
"There was quite a bit of discussion on this issue," said council member Paul Strong, who contributed to the 2001 code revisions. Strong said he voted to approve the ordinance because it upholds the original intent of the code.
"What the ordinance is intended to do is clarify that which everyone believed to be the case beforehand: that 'office' included real estate offices," City Attorney Tony Lettunich said. "There was a failure to expressly state that when the code was revised in 2001."
That failure became an issue for the City Council in 2003, when Colorado Group Realty appealed to have a pedestrian-level office space on Lincoln Avenue. During a July 2003 council meeting, Realtor Jim Cook told council members that he considered his business to be a commercial use, not an office use. The appeal was a move to ask the council to exempt Colorado Group Realty from having to go through the conditional-use review process.
Cook, who could not be reached for comment Friday, is taking part in several downtown projects, including the proposed redevelopment of the Harbor Hotel.
Council members approved the 2003 appeal; they also voted to refer the issue of real estate businesses to staff. Since then, city planner Jonathan Spence said, some council members have asked staff to include a definition of real estate in revisions of the code.
Strong said the change would provide a pre-emptive move to avoid the proliferation of offices downtown, which he said would diminish the area's vitality.
"You lose the pedestrian-level interest, and the downtown starts not to be very vibrant," he said. "Putting that in now gives us an opportunity to deal with it when it comes up."
Ivancie said he voted in support of the ordinance in part because he is concerned about sales tax revenues.
"When it comes to the downtown core location, our town is funded by a sales tax. You don't want to dilute that number," Ivancie said. "Since we don't have a real estate transfer tax, there is no real benefit when it comes to real estate offices on ground-level pedestrian areas in these two zone districts."
Ivancie, Strong and others point to Aspen as a city that has too many real estate offices downtown.
About a year ago, Aspen's City Council passed an ordinance to regulate the location of offices, including real estate offices. The ordinance prohibits offices from being on the ground level within the commercial core, Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud said. Most of the offices in the commercial core, she said, sell real estate.
The change was spurred by "a feeling that offices are not interesting places," Klanderud said. "When you're walking along, they're not very interesting when you're looking for shops and restaurants."
Some Aspen City Council members said they needed to do away with all offices in the downtown area, and others said the market on its own would alleviate a proliferation of offices, Klanderud said.
The ordinance included wording that "eased some of the angst" of Realtors, Klanderud said. Offices that already existed could stay, and if they are vacated, another office can take their places.
Steamboat's ordinance does not apply to existing real estate offices.
Klanderud said it was still hard to tell whether Aspen's ordinance would make a difference.
"I don't know that we really know whether it is accomplishing what it was intended to accomplish," she said. Even if downtown starts to see fewer real estate businesses and more retail, that change could have happened because of market demands, she said.
Antonucci said he preferred to see the market work problems out.
"Just let free enterprise do its thing," he said. "It usually shakes itself out. If there are too many of one type of business, it won't survive."
Antonucci said he doesn't approve of the ordinance because it singles out real estate businesses.
"Should we be singling out any specific businesses to try and control where in fact they are located?" he said. "A healthy business community means that you need to have a mix of a lot of different businesses."
Tom Wilson, president-elect of the Steamboat Springs Board of Realtors, said he didn't und--erstand why council members would address Realtors and not other businesses that offer services.
"It is an issue because we think that we have been singled out," Wilson said. "It's a bit alarming."
Dennis O'Connor, president of the Steamboat Springs Board of Realtors, said real estate officials collaborate with retail and restaurant business owners as a way to generate sales. The ordinance undermines that relationship, he said.
"A decision like this targeting one individual industry is short-sighted because it creates divisiveness between people used to working together to enhance each other's business," he said.
Board officials have contacted the National Association of Realtors, which has agreed to offer legal assistance if the council approves the ordinance, O'Connor said.
"We are not without resources to engage in future discussion for amicable resolutions to their concerns," he said.
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