For five years, city and county officials have watched the proverbial paint dry.
After struggling through a major public process to lay out a growth plan for the area immediately west of Steamboat Springs -- the place pinpointed for the city's seemingly certain expansion -- development there has remained stagnant.
The West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan laid out a somewhat utopian strategy for dealing with the city's expected growth in the next 30 to 40 years. It required one-third of future housing to be affordable, stipulated that new homeowners pay $720 a year to offset the city's cost for providing millions of dollars in infrastructure to new, high-density development, and included a map of what and how land should be developed.
In reality, even before the plan was approved, landowners were objecting to the plan's parameters and warned they would make development difficult. They were right.
Since the plan was adopted in 1999, the majority of the growth has been within in the city limits or on unincorporated land that already had vested approval before the plan's adoption.
Within the plan's boundaries -- from the Steamboat Springs Airport to Routt County Road 42 -- the land remains largely unchanged.
On Tuesday night, the City Council and the Routt County Board of Commissioners will begin a more focused discussion about updating the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan. The two boards intend to examine how they want to go about the process. More importantly, they will look at what tenets they want to keep and what they are willing to part with to see the plan succeed.
A 100-page document addressing the city's growing population, the West of Steamboat plan mapped out where industrial, residential and commercial areas would go, drew new major roads and set up a taxing system. The plan encompassed 1,200 acres and anticipated 2,400 new homes.
In preparation for changing that plan, the Area Plan Coordinating Committee created a matrix of 16 possible policy changes that the city and county planning commissions have weighed in on. Councilman Ken Brenner hopes that council members and commissioners can give direction on those proposed policy changes Tuesday night and jumpstart the plan's update process.
The policy changes, which focus on affordable housing, fiscal effects, land use and growth, could allow the city and county to be more flexible and meet some of the landowners' needs.
"We spent a significant amount of time listening to the concerns of the property owners, and we distilled them down into 16 questions," Brenner said. "The answers that we give on the 16 items will dictate the level of modification and review to the existing plan."
One of the key issues to be discussed Tuesday night is how to revise the affordable housing component.
Council President Paul Strong said the plan's stipulated one-third of units is a high ratio. Not even Aspen, which has much higher prices for market-rate houses, has a ratio requirement that high, he said. One of the policy changes suggested is to reduce the affordable housing requirement. The matrix also proposes allowing affordable units to be built in separate neighborhoods from the market-rate units.
Another stumbling block in the plan is the stipulation for massive amounts of infrastructure that would take millions of dollars to build -- in areas that might not see housing development for 20 to 30 years.
A proposed policy change is to have the city and county form a special district to make the cost of major infrastructure distributed, predictable and fair.
Some elected officials are hesitant to form a special district, scarred by the history of disagreements among the city and existing water and sewer districts.
"I don't think there is any quibbling with the fact the area is going to pay for its own infrastructure. The question is how you pay for that," Strong said.
One of the most controversial items in the plan is a requirement that any new development annexed into the city would have to pay a $720 per unit annual fee to compensate for the added expense to the city to service the annexed area.
"Why should they have to pay extra (for services)?" Strong said. "There is a huge fairness question there. I think there is a way to get there. But, I am not in favor of supporting a tax that is inherently unfair."
The matrix recommends eliminating that fee and, in its place, having the city and county share in the costs of providing the new services, such as street plowing, police and roadwork.
The logic is that the county still would be getting the property tax from those residences, but it would not have to service them. The city, in turn, would get the added sales tax the residents could bring in by spending dollars in the city. However, if those residents lived elsewhere in the county, chances are high they already would be spending their money in Steamboat, Strong said.
The matrix also proposes more flexibility in land use, suggesting that density as shown in the plan should be re-evaluated based on geographical, environmental, infrastructure and market constraints.
The city and county have long held to the belief that the land within the plan's boundaries should be developed from east to west, so that the city could grow outward from its existing border and more easily extend services.
Some landowners have objected to this theory, saying it makes more sense to develop close to the Sliver Spur and Steamboat II developments, where infrastructure already is in place.
The city always has contended that it is not logically feasible -- and quite possibly not legally feasible -- to annex land that is not adjacent to the city's boundaries.
The matrix recommends that, to allow the developer more flexibility, the plan's phasing schedule for land contiguous to the city limits should be eliminated, but without lifting the east-to-west requirement.
The plan approved in 1999 also laid out a series of pods for residential units, a mix of residential and commercial uses. The plan is not clear about the flexibility of the boundaries, densities and uses of the pods. The matrix recommends that the update allow for flexibility in the development pods.
Mary and Steve Brown, who own almost half of the land within the plan's boundaries, have raised concerns that the pods and placement of the roads might not lend themselves to a successful development.
"(The Browns) play a key role," Brenner said. "A lot of the plan is trying to address Mary and Steve Brown's questions and concerns."
The matrix also suggests reevaluating the need for and location of a village center, which was laid out clearly in the original plan.
Other suggestions in the matrix include not exempting the West of Steamboat area from any growth controls the city would implement in the future and evaluating the affect of the Steamboat Springs Airport on the growth in the area. The matrix also recommends expanding the urban-growth boundary further in the Slate Creek area to allow for higher densities on the north end of the proposed connector road between U.S. Highway 40 and Routt County Road 129.
Tuesday's meeting also will give the two boards a chance to decide how to proceed with the updating process. The Area Plan Coordinating Committee thinks three options exist: hiring a consultant, fast-tracking the update through the city and county planning departments, or having the planning departments work on the project but not at the expense of projects already under way.
Brenner said the Area Plan Coordinating Committee does not think the plan needs to be rewritten entirely. Instead, it supports amending the existing documents to meet the changes brought about by the revised policy directions. The updated plan would keep the basic format and underlying philosophy as the original West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan.
"You are going to see the council and commissioners being more involved and put whatever additional resources necessary to move the plan forward," Brenner said.
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