Our View: Fix it and move on

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The Steamboat Springs City Council is running out of time to make a decision about lots in the Fairview and Miller-Frazier subdivisions.

The council seems to have its fingers crossed that an acceptable compromise is going to emerge soon. That seems unlikely. If mediation last fall couldn't produce an answer, it's a stretch to expect council members Loui Antonucci and Towny Anderson to produce one this week.

Yet, that was the council's strategy at Tuesday's meeting -- appoint Antonucci and Anderson to meet with property owners again. Anderson and Antonucci are to report back this week. Absent a solution, the council appears poised to pass a fourth moratorium on building in the subdivisions.

We don't have a magic answer, either. But extending the moratorium, which has been in place almost a year, seems like little more than stalling. This problem was created by the City Council, and the City Council owes the neighborhoods' residents a decision sooner rather than later.

The roots of this debate are more than a decade old.

In the 1990s, the City Council put together a team to negotiate the annexation of the Fairview and Miller-Frazier subdivisions. As part of the negotiated deal, the city agreed to sell several open lots to adjacent homeowners in the neighborhoods for the modest sum of $1,000 apiece.

Antonucci was on the council at the time. So were Paula Cooper-Black and Pat Gleason. All say the intent of council then was that the adjoining lots would be preserved as open space. The problem is that no one bothered to put that intent in writing. "There was some legal work that was never followed up on," interim City Manager Wendy DuBord said.

Since then, many of the properties containing the lots have been sold -- at fair market value -- and the new homeowners think they should be bound by what's on the books, not by what the council intended a decade ago. Some of those new homeowners -- Scott Drybread and Ben and Marjorie Wilcox, for example -- want to build homes on the lots. They bought the properties with that in mind, they said.

Last summer, the council appointed a mediator to work with residents. That mediation produced no significant progress.

Now, Anderson and Antonucci have a week to fix the problem. If not, the council likely will vote to again extend the moratorium, which expires April 18.

Councilman Paul Strong opposes continuing to extend the moratorium. He suggested last Tuesday that the city look at buying back the adjacent lots at fair market value. That could cost $1 million or more. But Strong isn't sure that there is any other choice. The city created the problem, he said, so now it's the city's responsibility to fix it.

Strong's plan has merit. Although it's certainly not much of a deal for the city's taxpayers, it may be the only fair approach the city can take.

The truth is, this problem doesn't have a "win-win" solution. Somebody is going to be unhappy with what the council decides, and delaying the decision won't ease that unhappiness. Therefore, it's time for the council to decide and move on.

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