Updated area plan may spur development

Officials, landowners optimistic something will get done this time

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The West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan lays out Routt County and Steamboat Springs officials' development goals for the area west of town.

But implementation of the plan depends on a lot more than officials' goals. It also relies largely on the vision of area landowners Mary and Steve Brown.

The Browns own about 540 acres west of town, comprising about 85 percent of the land identified in the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan. "It's kind of different to have a lot of people taking sort of an ownership perspective on property that belongs to you," Mary Brown said. "By the same token ... I believe there is interest in the community for more urban-level development on this parcel."

The West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan was initiated in 1995 by city and county officials who recognized that the most logical place for residential growth was west of the city. The original plan was adopted in 1999 and established guidelines for new residential development and annexing that development into the city. In the six years after the plan was approved, no development and no annexation occurred.

Officials set out in 2004 to start revising the plan. Nearly two years later, a draft of the revised plan has been through a series of public and official reviews and is up for final adoption in the coming weeks.

The new draft of the plan makes several key changes. One is that the plan no longer sets specific land uses and locations. Also, the plan requires 15 percent affordable housing instead of the original 33 percent.

The idea, city and county planners have said, is to create a more flexible plan to lure developers.

Working with the Browns is imperative to carrying out the new plan, said Towny Anderson, a member of the Steamboat Springs City Council.

"I believe that (revising the plan) was important to do because the reality is that we have one major landowner. The success of this hinges on how well we negotiate that annexation," Anderson said.

A catalyst

Brown said she is hopeful the changes to the plan will be a catalyst for getting something done with her property. She said the original plan fell short of what was needed.

"To date, they have not been able to put in place a development plan that made sense to us," Brown said. "I hope this will come to fruition sometime in the near future."

Brown has seen fresh developer interest in her property since the plan rewrite.

"Clearly the willingness of the city to review and update the plan created some interest in the development community," she said. "Once it is adopted, we'll see how that goes."

Brown approves of the in----creased flexibility provided in the plan.

"I think it's a good thing that the plan has been changed so that it is a little more goal oriented than a specific development plan," she said. "It gives the opportunity to say, 'Our goals are this, this and this, and this is how they can be achieved.'"

She said the plan now creates the opportunity for her to be more proactive than reactive during interaction with the city.

Anderson agrees, and he said that the plan helps create the opportunity for a collaborative negotiation rather than a contentious one.

"The measure of success of that plan is how collaborative that negotiation is," he said.

Anderson also thinks that the plan's new focus is beneficial.

"This plan is focusing on public benefit," he said. "I think that, as a community, we're far better served in focusing on public benefit comensurate with or greater than the cost to the community." He said developers respond well to that.

Questions raised

Brown still has some questions about the updated plan and its effects.

"It is difficult to know that the plan can be implemented in a fashion that makes economic sense to the community," she said.

The plan aims for required and desired affordable housing levels, a commercial center, parks, fire stations and other elements.

"When you lump it all together, it will require the development of a feasibility study to see if they can do all of those things," she said. And she said it is unclear how much financial assistance the city will provide to accomplish these goals.

Brown said the affordable housing goal of 33 percent "raises a red flag."

"When 33 percent was a requirement, it was a significant disincentive" for developers, she said.

Anderson said that by setting an affordable housing goal, everybody is put on notice about what the city hopes to achieve. Having a goal will make a difference, he said.

"Do I think we can achieve it? Yes. Absolutely," he said.

Brown and Anderson say that it's hard to tell what the property will look like if it is developed.

Anderson said that if there were a vision, it would be that the area would be similar to Old Town -- pedestrian friendly with small lots and affordable residential units.

However, it's up to the property owners, he said.

"They are obviously going to entertain an offer that meets their price and their aspirations for the land," he said. The debate is about the difference between what a developer is offering as far as an evaluation of the land and what the Browns' expectations are, he said.

"That's something that they have to work out," he said. "We don't have any control over that."

Brown said it is too early to describe what development on her land would look like.

"We certainly envision a community environment that includes a broad spectrum of housing, as well as community amenities, as well as commercial and perhaps industrial uses of some kind," she said. "It is a large tract of land, so there should be a pretty significant mixture of uses and housing types."

Weighing options

In the end, Brown said, any project will have to reflect personal goals.

"Our significant motivation at the end of development is to really be able to look at what occurred there with some pride and to feel like it is a significant asset to the community," she said.

Also, the Browns' land is one of three parcels in contention for a possible Northwest Colorado sports complex that would, in part, provide additional fields for Triple Crown. Triple Crown is a sports organization that hosts regional and national baseball and softball tournaments in Northwest Colorado.

"The Triple Crown conversation is one that, if there were a desire by the community to see that property develop as that kind of facility, we would certainly entertain that," Brown said.

Brown said the discussion is in the conceptual stage.

"We certainly gave our permission to the folks looking at Triple Crown to take a look at the property," she said. "They have done that. There is no concrete proposal, no 'Gee, this is the direction we want to go.'"

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