Friday, February 25, 2005
The Steamboat Springs Planning Commission saw substantial public benefit this week in a plan that would create a city park and public lake access while annexing 88.3 acres to the city and permitting intermittent gravel mining operations for the next six or seven years. Ultimately, the project also would create eight new home lots.
Ed MacArthur's Yampa Meadows development would be created just outside the current southern boundary of Steamboat Springs along U.S. Highway 40. The project would be within the urban boundary delineated in the Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan.
"I'm convinced the project would offer significant public benefit," Planning Commission chairwoman Kathi Meyer said. "The community access it would offer is really exciting. This community has spent millions of dollars to acquire open space. To have a developer give us 24 acres is astounding."
Meyer qualified her praise by agreeing with city planning staff that MacArthur has technical problems to solve before he can obtain a development permit.
City planner Jonathan Spence noted that the proposed eight-lot subdivision complies with the future land use map. However, he gave a preliminary recommendation that the proposal not be supported by the Planning Commission.
Spence based that recommendation on his conclusion that the site was given a low score in the community's ranking of available sites for gravel mining, and therefore was not in compliance with the Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan.
Yampa Meadows was up for a pre-application review Thursday, and no formal vote on the project was taken. However, MacArthur received the sign he needed to invest more money and effort in refining his plan. Among the seven commissioners, only Dick Curtis said he couldn't envision voting to approve the plan as outlined.
MacArthur countered that the Community Plan ranking of potential gravel pit sites presumed a long-term operation. His operation would be relatively short-term, and mining would take place only for about two months a year in late fall, he said.
The site is dominated by an elongated water ski lake and two large gravel piles that have been there since the mid-1990s, when the water ski lake was created. The project first was turned down for annexation by the city in 1995. MacArthur and different groups of partners have made subsequent attempts to approve a mix of residential development and mining operations, to no avail. All the while, the gravel piles have stood at the entrance to town, and the situation has been viewed as a standoff.
Bob Stoddard of Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District said his office has identified concerns with the project. They include anticipated difficulties with providing water and sewer service to the lots. There are possible unknown effects on the district's buried water infiltration galleries just downstream along the Yampa River, Stoddard said. The galleries collect water for municipal use. He is also concerned the expansion of the lake could alter the present path of a plume of gasoline spreading out from a known leak at a nearby filling station, making it more of a threat to the infiltration galleries.
District wildlife manager Valerie Masiello of the Colorado Division of Wildlife told the Planning Commission that she is happy with the developer's efforts to minimize effects on the nesting bald eagles and to avoid sensitive riparian habitat along the adjacent Yampa River. The late autumn mining operations represent an effort to avoid disturbing the birds during courtship, breeding and while the young are in the nest.
Curtis agreed with Spence that MacArthur could have pursued other options that would have resulted in the removal of the offending gravel piles and creation of the subdivision.
MacArthur countered that his site allows for much-needed gravel to be delivered to construction projects at the base of the ski area and for large homes in the south valley, without the need for heavy truck traffic through downtown Steamboat Springs.
Commissioner Cari Hermacinski stepped back from the details of the proposal and summed up her feelings.
"The site is what it is, and we need to find a way to make it more appealing," Hermacinski said.