Plan in full swing

Mobility, circulation issues key in base area redevelopment

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Efficiently moving people and vehicles is the No. 1 goal in updating the Mountain Town Sub Area Plan.

The consultants working on the plan, which will shape how the base area is redeveloped, have pointed to mobility and circulation as the overriding problems plaguing the base area. The need for more street signs, sidewalks and clearer traffic patterns rose to the top of the list of things to change as Stan Clauson Associates LLC investigated the base area this winter.

Steamboat Springs is not alone in being a ski area that isn't pedestrian friendly, Stan Clauson said, but it is a noticeable flaw.

"Right now, to move from one place to another, it is not really as inviting as it might be for a first-class place like you think of Steamboat," he said.

One focus of the plan update is looking at how connectivity can be created between different buildings, so "people can walk easily to places and feel like they can understand where everything is," he said.

The plan also will look at what materials and finishes should be used for new or remodeled buildings and whether the base area should have an architectural theme. A third component of the plan will look at the need for commercial space and what can be done to make the base area more commercial friendly.

Updating the Mountain Town Sub Area Plan began in November. The process has received added attention during the past two months because of the importance of the plan to the new urban renewal authority. The Steamboat Springs City Council recently instituted a moratorium on development at the base of the ski area to allow time for the update's completion.

City officials have said that the plan's update, which is expected to involve almost a dozen public meetings, will help determine which projects the URA should take on first.

The original Mountain Town Sub Area Plan was adopted in 1999. But little has been done with that plan since its adoption, and more details are needed, Clauson said.

"It didn't necessarily make the connection and define what some of the design actions should be," he said.

Kicking off

Last fall, the City Council approved spending $50,000 to update the plan.

A week ago, consultants met with base-area stakeholders and then held a public meeting at the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel. More than 50 people showed up at the meeting, including a mixture of shuttle drivers, bartenders, condominium owners and developers.

A steering committee was formed that includes city staff, developers, Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. officials and U.S. Forest Service employees.

This month, the public input portion of the process begins in earnest.

On Wednesday, consultants are holding an open house and kick-off meeting. Speakers at that meeting include Vail town planner Russ Forrest, Aspen Skiing Co. Vice President of Planning Bill Kane and Ski Corp. President Chris Diamond.

On Friday, a design charrette is planned, which is a meeting where residents can offer suggestions and get their ideas on the drawing board.

Suzanne Bott, with Stan Clauson Associates, said getting community input is a key ingredient in the plan.

"No one knows the base area better than the locals, and we certainly can't come in and anticipate everything that needs to happen. We are only here for a limited time period. Locals are on the ground 365 days a year," Bott said.

The consulting firm has quite a bit of experience working with mountain towns. Members of the Steamboat team have worked in Crested Butte, Snowmass and New England resorts. The need to update the base of the ski area is "going on all over the place," Clauson said.

Steamboat's base area might be a little more circulation challenged than other base areas, Clauson said.

"I think (building) has grown up around the base in a way that hasn't forced interconnectivity to occur like it has in other places or other bases. But it is a pretty universal problem," he said.

Improving connections

David Baldinger Jr., who is on the steering committee and is a member of the Steamboat Springs Planning Commission, sees two ways to improve the city's lack of circulation.

First, he wants to improve connections among the three main nodes of the mountain area: Ski Time Square, Gondola Square and the Village Center.

He also thinks a better bus stop and turn-around in Ski Time Square are needed.

In a quest for a more pedestrian-friendly base area, one of the ideas is to build a U-shaped promenade along the "beach front" of the ski area. The sidewalk would run along the convergence of the ski slope and properties. It could go from the Best Western Ptarmigan Inn to the Christie base properties.

Peter Patten, who is working with developer Whitney Ward on two base area projects, said one intent of a promenade is to have a main walkway with clear signage that would make giving directions much easier.

Baldinger agrees that a promenade makes sense and would give the area along the ski slope more life.

"It is the most logical, visually shortest distance between two points," Baldinger said. "Other ski areas have done a great job of that."

Tying it together

Second, Baldinger would like to see common architecture guidelines throughout the base area. Clauson and Baldinger said the city is firm in its desire to not change the zoning, height or density of the base area. But the plan will look at the materials and finishes for new development or remodels at the base area.

The base area might want to go with an architectural theme that draws on Steamboat's Western heritage, similar to how Vail has its international village, and Telluride has mining-era buildings, Clauson said.

Baldinger said the common elements could be the rocks used at the base of buildings or window styles on storefronts.

"We don't want it to all look like Disneyland where it is all same, but have common elements that make it look tied together," Baldinger said. "What is up in the air will always be hard to match, but the Grand, Sheraton and (other buildings) on ground level look a lot alike."

Expanding retail

Another facet of the planning is examining the need for retail and commercial space. Clauson said one of the questions will be how to expand retail business at the base of the ski area beyond ski season.

One possible way to draw customers to the base area in the off-season is to create public spaces for festival and exhibits. The plan will look at what kinds of retail is appropriate and the reasons behind the large number of vacant shops on Ski Time Square right now, Clauson said.

Spending

With the URA and the city's five-year capital improvement plan, the council is making an obvious effort to invest in improving the base area.

In January, the council approved the URA to raise money for public improvements in the vicinity of the ski base area.

The authority is funded partially through the increase in property tax created from new development or redevelopment in the area. It also is funded through incremental increases in sales tax in the area.

The city's five-year capital improvement plan includes more than $2 million worth of public works projects in the mountain area.

For 2006, the city has budgeted $625,000 for reconstruction of Ski Time Square, including the mid-block turn-around area, and $515,000 for improvements at the Mount Werner Circle and AprÃs Ski Way intersection.

For 2007, the city plans to spend $625,000 for a Ski Time Square and Christie Base turn-around. The city also scheduled $310,000 for improvements to mountain area roads.

"I really think the plan is right on track. My biggest hope is it gets done really quickly, so we can start implementing it," Baldinger said. "There is a huge opportunity to start seeing things change rather than talking about it."

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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