The Steamboat Springs City Council faces perhaps its most important challenge in working with Steamboat 700 LLC on plans for housing developments west of the city.
Steamboat 700 LLC is a consortium of developers who purchased 700 acres that had been owned by Steve and Mary Brown. The Brown property has been considered the linchpin in Steamboat's housing future, since it makes up about 90 percent of all land in the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan. For years, city and county officials have agreed that it is the most logical site for the development of affordable housing on a broad scale, but there could be no movement on the housing front until the land sold.
On Thursday night, more than 170 people came to Olympian Hall to get a glimpse of preliminary plans for the property. Some of the people were developers and Realtors. Some were city officials. But the overwhelming majority were simply homeowners or prospective homeowners, eager to see what options might open for them in the future.
So far, Steamboat 700 LLC and its project manager, Danny Mulcahy, have done all the right things.
Mulcahy has embraced building 20 percent of all housing units as deed-restricted affordable units, as the West of Steamboat plan requires. Beyond the affordable housing, he has said the group wants to develop neighborhoods with housing in reach of working families. Plans include a village center with retail, including a grocery store.
That's music to the ears of many.
But there's a difference between conceptual plans and what gets built. The Steamboat market is undergoing a significant expansion that most never anticipated. Take, for example, the Silver Spur subdivision, which Mulcahy often cites as a model for the type of housing Steamboat 700 intends to deliver. At the turn of the century, Silver Spur featured a handful of modest single-family homes, most of them modulars, selling for less than $350,000. But as the lots sold out and available homes became scarce, prices in Silver Spur soared.
The last phase of Silver Spur features several homes of 3,000 square feet or more. A home in the neighborhood is on the market for more than $1 million and several others are under contract for just under that barrier. The days of finding a home for less than $500,000 in the neighborhood are behind us.
What's happened in Silver Spur is a natural evolution of Steamboat's housing market, but it's doubtful that county officials anticipated homes would become this pricey this quickly when the subdivision was approved in the late 1990s.
That's the City Council's challenge as it works with Steamboat 700 LLC on development plans. We know the city of Steamboat Springs needs what Steamboat 700 is proposing - an increased supply of attainable housing and new retail on the west side of town. But the speed at which this development occurs will be critical. Go too slowly, and the upward pressure on home prices will continue unabated and short-circuit Steamboat 700's vision; go too quickly, and the influx of new inventory could disrupt equity and appreciation that many Steamboat homeowners have worked to build.
At Thursday's meeting, Councilman Towny Anderson made a telling statement. "It took us 106 years to get where we are now," Anderson said. "And now we're going to nearly double in size in 20 years. It deserves considerable thought."
We could not agree more. We like what Steamboat 700 LLC is bringing to the table, but we're counting on the City Council to make sure this critical growth plan comes together the right way.