Our View: Moving forward on gravel plan

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A solution to the unsightly gravel piles on the entryway into Steamboat Springs finally may be on the horizon.

Members of the city Planning Commission said they saw substantial public benefit to Yampa Meadows, the development that Ed MacArthur proposes on the 90 acres around his water ski lake just south of town. Part of MacArthur's proposal is to give 24 acres to the city for a public park.

We agree with the commission. MacArthur has offered a plan that is a great starting point for fixing a site that has become an eyesore for the community. It certainly beats doing nothing.

Yampa Meadows' history involves a sometimes bitter battle of wills among the city, the county and MacArthur. MacArthur originally proposed a 93-acre residential development at the site in 1997. Yampa Meadows was to include a 16-acre ski lake surrounded by homes and was to be annexed into the city limits. But in the spring of 1997, after months of work and significant investment by developers, the City Council pulled the plug on the development, citing flooding concerns.

MacArthur responded by moving ahead with plans to dig the ski lake anyway. He began digging in 1999, and wanted to take the resulting gravel off site for use in construction projects. The county saw MacArthur's move as the equivalent of operating a gravel mine without a permit and issued a cease and desist order.

Recognizing that he still could dig as long as he didn't use the resulting material, MacArthur finished the lake and piled the gravel on the site. The property hasn't changed since.

In 2003, MacArthur began making amends by donating time, labor and materials to construct a ski jump training facility at the lake and offering it essentially free of charge to the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. The jump offers training not available anywhere else in the state.

MacArthur's current proposal is to mine gravel at the site for two months per year for up to seven years. He would develop eight home lots at the site, and donate the land for the 24-acre public park, which would include lake access. Ultimately, the site would be annexed into the city limits.

There are questions. As planning staff noted at the pre-application hearing, the property is less than ideal for a gravel mining operation. Concerns about flooding must be addressed. And Mount Werner Water and Sanitation has concerns about the effect the development could have on its infiltration galleries. Preliminary indications are that each of those issues can be addressed.

There are those who will argue that approving Yampa Meadows equates to rewarding MacArthur for thumbing his nose at government when he dug the ski lake six years ago. Others would argue that MacArthur's work on the ski jump and his offer of a 24-acre park are generous, perhaps even a proper penance.

We would suggest an additional step -- using a portion of the proceeds of gravel sales to create an endowment to aid in the development, construction and long-term maintenance at the public park.

No one benefits as long as the piles of gravel sit unused at MacArthur's site. We applaud his proposal and the Planning Commission's open-mindedness to it, and we hope that it leads to a lasting solution. That would be a win for everyone involved -- the city, the county, MacArthur and the community.

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