The cost of business

Steamboat City Council regulates commercial growth

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— Grocery stores now are the only single-tenant commercial developments larger than 40,000 square feet permitted in Steamboat Springs, according to regulations approved by city officials Tuesday.

The Planned Unit Development, or PUD, regulations also state that single-tenant commercial developments larger than 15,000 square feet - except for grocery stores - are not permitted south and east of 13th Street.

Ending weeks of debate with a lengthy discussion and public hearing at Centennial Hall, the Steamboat Springs City Council approved the revisions to the PUD regulations. The regulations apply to development projects that seek variances to city building codes, and they are intended to give city officials control over the design and impacts of large commercial developments, especially "big box" retail stores.

The council has been divided in recent weeks about issues including the appropriate size for projects subject to the stringent PUD regulations, which require developers to construct aesthetically pleasing, environmentally efficient buildings while also providing the city with public benefits such as local infrastructure improvements.

"There are high expectations of any PUD project," Brian Berndt, assistant director of city planning services, told the City Council. "There are added costs, regardless."

Before the revisions approved Tuesday, any commercial development larger than 12,000 square feet was subject to PUD regulations. The council voted 5-2, however, to exempt multiple-tenant commercial buildings of up to 20,000 square feet from the PUD process.

"We've got to give some flexibility if we want a viable and vibrant downtown," council member Towny Anderson said.

Anderson and council members Loui Antonucci and Paul Strong expressed concerns that small, local businesses could incur PUD costs if they share a large building with other businesses.

"Most small spaces are occupied by local businesses, which is what we want," Antonucci said. "I see this as doing nothing but driving up the cost of business."

City Council President Ken Brenner and President Pro-tem Susan Dellinger voted against the 20,000-square-foot exemption.

"This is a huge change (to previous regulations)," Brenner said.

Single-tenant commercial developments will be subject to PUD regulations according to where they are constructed. A section of the city's new ordinance reads: "In all zone districts south and east of Thirteenth Street, any single tenant commercial space (excluding grocery stores), including building supplies and lumber yards, larger than fifteen thousand (15,000) square feet net floor area shall be prohibited. This prohibition is absolute and shall not be modified through the variance or PUD process."

"In all zone districts north and west of 13th Street, any single tenant commercial space (excluding grocery stores), including building supplies and lumber yards, larger than forty thousand (40,000) square feet net floor area shall be prohibited. This prohibition is absolute and shall not be modified through the variance or PUD process."

Berndt said Wednesday that it will take time to gauge the impact of the new ordinances, which city officials could revise in the future through another public process.

"I think we'll need to test the ordinance out a little bit," Berndt said. "It's premature to say that there will be problems, but there usually are with new ordinances. Design by committee is a tough way to do it."

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