The Steamboat Springs City Council was right to implement a 45-day moratorium on growth around the base of the Steamboat Ski Area, but we would urge the council not to prolong the moratorium unnecessarily.
The council voted to implement the moratorium last week. The emergency ordinance prohibits the council from approving any development plan or accepting any new pre-application plan for property within the boundaries of the urban renewal authority.
The moratorium -- which likely will be extended in March -- gives the city a chance to finish the Mountain Town Sub-Area Plan Update and ensure that it has standards in place to guide new development in the URA. We think that's a smart move, so long as the city moves with a sense of urgency on finishing the update by its self-imposed deadline of July 31. Otherwise, the city inadvertently could stifle the most significant momentum toward redevelopment that the base area has seen since it was built.
The URA is a taxing district in the vicinity of the ski area base that dedicates a portion of future property tax revenues in the district to funding infrastructure improvements in the district. Since the council approved the URA last month, developers have announced plans for a half-dozen condominium projects.
The emergence of so many projects is no accident. The council's public investment in the URA has, as many predicted, spurred private investment.
Five pre-applications within the URA have been submitted to the planning department: One Steamboat Place, Aspen Ridge, The Pointe, Christie Base Parcel B and Wildhorse Meadows. Bear Claw III hasn't been submitted but is expected and was approved previously. The Chadwick has re-emerged, and City Planner Steve Stamey said he has had discussions with a developer about the Clock Tower Building. Developer Whitney Ward's plans for Wildhorse Meadows include a new "cabriolet" gondola that would move people from the existing Tennis Meadows area to the base of the existing gondola.
These developments have the potential to transform a base area that has fallen behind its competitors in the industry. The URA "has become a rallying point to generate confidence," said Chuck Porter, general manager of the Sheraton Steamboat. "Now there's something that's unifying instead of the fragmented development that's occurred over the last 30 years."
That's why the moratorium is necessary -- to give the city time to make sure the fragmented development of the past doesn't happen again. The city has hired a consultant to finish the Mountain Town Sub Area Plan Update by the end of July. The plan will include design standards, height restriction, density limits and other requirements for property in the URA. Such standards will provide guidance to developers and planners and prevent the kind of disconnected, pedestrian unfriendly environment that exists.
City Manager Paul Hughes thinks that, in the long run, the moratorium will be nothing more than a blip on the screen of base area redevelopment. "Ten to 20 years from now, my hope is that no one even remembers that we took six months off to make sure we got this right," he said.
We agree with Hughes -- the moratorium gives the city the opportunity to be a partner in remaking the base area the right way. But that opportunity will be squandered if the Mountain Town Sub-Area Plan Update, and thus the moratorium, drags on.