URA's back

Urban renewal authority talks return to the table

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More than three weeks have passed since the Steamboat Springs City Council voted to table a plan for an urban renewal authority. In the interim, Council President Paul Strong has been busy answering questions and talking to residents and officials from Routt County and Steamboat Springs School District in hopes of gaining support for Tuesday's vote.

The council is set to vote once again on the plan -- with the hope that more residents will be onboard the second time around.

The intent of the URA is to raise money to fund public improvements in the vicinity of the Steamboat Ski Area's base.

The authority would be funded through an increase in property tax created by new development or redevelopment in the area. The property tax revenues channeled to the authority otherwise would go to the county and school district.

Strong said the city has reached out to the public by writing a letter addressing the Routt County Commissioners' concerns, meeting with the Steamboat Springs School District and responding to questions posed by residents.

There could be a sense of urgency in Tuesday's vote to get the URA up and running. On Friday, Sen. Lois Tochtrop, D-Thornton, introduced a bill that would put severe limits on the municipal use of an urban renewal authority. Strong highly doubted the bill would have any effect on the city if the plan is approved Tuesday, and he noted that a similar bill overwhelming failed last legislative session.

Even so, Strong said, it would ease minds to have the plan passed.

"We have an unknown in the Legislature, and anytime you want to do something and have an unknown, it is better to do it now than later," he said.

Strong said he has been in negotiations with school district Superintendent Donna Howell on a compromise to its request for a hold-harmless agreement in the URA plan.

The two came to an agreement, which Strong said has to be approved by the School Board and the City Council.

The school district has feared the URA could cause it to lose money if the state decides to change the way it finances schools. Now, any tax-revenue shortfall the authority would create would be compensated by the state though backfill money. But the state funding could change, school district officials said, leaving it to make up the difference.

In December, school district officials asked that the city add a hold-harmless agreement into the URA plan or that the city agree to backfill any shortfalls created by the URA.

The city fears a hold-harmless agreement could jeopardize its chances at getting bonding for projects, Strong said.

Although he would not comment about the terms of the negotiations, Strong said he thinks the city has eased the school district's concerns. He is set to meet with the School Board on Monday.

"We are still expecting and hoping and working with the city for a hold-harmless agreement to work out," Howell said Friday.

County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said the county does not expect to reply to the council's Jan. 7 letter, which was in response to a number of concerns the county had about the URA.

"We all along have been supportive of the concept because we do believe there are some improvements that are needed in the base area," Stahoviak said.

County officials raised concerns about the URA boundary, which includes Tennis Meadows. They also were concerned about what they consider a lack of details in the plans and a lack of commitment from the city for contribution to project funding.

Stahoviak said that although the plan is not clear about the city's sales tax contribution, the letter clearly states it "intends to establish tax increments for both property tax and sales tax."

The letter also states that Tennis Meadows is part of the plan because it could be an integral solution to the base area's vehicular and pedestrian traffic-flow problems. Tennis Meadows is next to the Steamboat Ski Area's remote parking lot and could be used "for the purpose of maximizing public infrastructure changes that will improve connectivity and enhance public-transit opportunities in the overall base area," the letter reads.

For those who have questions, Tuesday's meeting will allow time for them, Strong said. The council agreed to alter its meeting format by allowing residents to ask questions at the start of the discussion. Council members will answer those questions, allow for public comment and then vote on the issue.

From calls received at the city, one of the biggest questions is what the boundary for the URA will be. Strong said the council is set to determine that Tuesday night, with some members wishing to include the undeveloped Tennis Meadows areas and others wishing to remove it from the boundaries.

The current boundary includes Tennis Meadows, runs along the south side of AprÃs Ski Way up to Ski Trail Lane across to Storm Meadow condos, down along Burgess Creek Road and south to include the Rockies, Moraine and Porches developments.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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