Steamboat Springs Meg Bentley is urging her fellow members of the Steamboat Springs City Council not to yield too much authority to city staff and the Steamboat Springs Planning Commission when it comes to negotiations with the developers of Steamboat 700.
"It's my feeling that based on my interpretation of the (Community Development Code) and my intention to be accountable to the public : we, the council, need to be in on the ground floor negotiating the details of the pre-annexation agreement," Bentley said at a City Council meeting Tuesday.
Steamboat 700 is a proposed development west of the city that could include more than 2,000 homes. Residential construction is scheduled to begin in the fourth quarter of 2009. Developers hope to have the project annexed into city limits, a process that will involve extensive negotiations between the city and the developers.
The result of those negotiations will be spelled out in a pre-annexation agreement that could include a number of public-benefit demands on the developer - from the construction of roads, a fire station and other infrastructure, to affordable housing requirements.
Considering the size of the project - which some have referred to as a whole new town - and its potential to address city needs, Bentley said elected officials need to be the ones leading the process in a public setting.
"It is huge, and I really think we need to step up to the plate," she said.
City Council President Loui Antonucci noted that council members will be the ones ultimately responsible for the pre-annexation agreement and other decisions, but he questioned the feasibility of the seven council members handling every aspect of the negotiations.
"I believe that in the end we need to be the ones who approve the pre-annexation agreement," Antonucci said. "I'm just trying to figure out how we make this work."
Bentley responded by pressing for more than just final approval.
"I'm not sure I'm comfortable just being responsible in the end," Bentley said.
Steamboat 700's developers, legal counsel and consultants have begun meeting with city staff on a weekly basis for discussions that are not open to the public and do not include City Council members. City Attorney Tony Lettunich said such meetings are typical of any development application. He said the meetings include a lot of "give and take" and candid conversations that would not be possible in a public setting.
"They're just staff meetings," Lettunich said Tuesday. "This happens frequently."
Planning Director Tom Leeson said staff considered having a council member present at the meetings but decided it would be better to present information to City Council as a whole. Leeson said it is difficult to respond to Bentley's request that negotiations become "more public" when the city has not yet talked about "how public" they will be in the first place.
"She (Bentley) was making the assumption that all the negotiations are going to be done by staff," Leeson said Wednesday. "That's certainly not our intent."
Leeson said city staff will ultimately do whatever the City Council decides, but he said it would be best for them to stick to the major policy issues involved and leave the minutia to staff.
"I think it will be very difficult for the City Council to be the ones who negotiate all the details in a public setting," Leeson said.
Leeson also said the meetings being held now are not of any great consequence and have mostly concerned process, expectations and scheduling.
"We haven't started any kind of negotiations," Leeson said.
Bob Weiss, the Steamboat 700 developers' local legal counsel, agreed and said there has been "no discussion of any substance at all."
"I think the Planning Commission and the council are going to be fully involved in this," Weiss said Wednesday. "It's certainly going to be a project controlled by them, which has always been our expectation."
The first public meeting scheduled since developers turned in their initial submittal for the project is Jan. 15 during a joint meeting of the City Council and Planning Commission. Routt County officials also will be invited.