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A pair of new waterslides proposed for the Old Town Hot Springs would be clearly visible from Lincoln Avenue.
Too visible, members of the Steamboat Springs Planning Commission said Thursday night.
Commissioners Dick Curtis and Steve Lewis strongly opposed the waterslides, which are a cornerstone of the $3.5 million renovations planned for the hot pool area at the Old Town Hot Springs facility, at a Third Street and Lincoln Avenue location commonly referred to as "the entrance to downtown." The Planning Commission recommended approval of the renovations with a 4-2 vote, but whether the waterslides mesh with Steamboat Springs' "community character" caused a lengthy debate, which initially had the commission deadlocked and made it unclear whether the Steamboat Springs City Council will give final approval to the renovations April 3.
The pair of new waterslides, colored two shades of gray, would descend from a 41-foot tower built onto the east end of the Hot Springs building. The current slide was built in 1981 and is set into a hillside, making the big, green tube barely noticeable to people driving past the building in either direction on Lincoln Avenue.
Andrew Barnard of the Denver architectural firm Sink Combs Dethlefs provided the Planning Commission with a rendering of the new waterslides Thursday. In an image that superimposes the waterslides and tower onto the Hot Springs building, showing a view from westbound Lincoln Avenue, a significant portion of the curving slides can clearly be seen.
"It's very visible, and I'm sure it will attract a lot of people, but I'm not sure how good it will be for F.M. Light (& Sons) and Allen's," Lewis said, citing retail stores that exemplify Steamboat's ranching heritage. "This is a little bit too much of Disneyland at the entrance to our town."
"I truly have a problem with this proposal," added Curtis. "We're changing the current natural feel to an amusement park feel. This slide needs to be redesigned so it's less visually intrusive from Lincoln Avenue."
The Steamboat Springs Health and Recreation Assoc-iation is a private nonprofit organization that operates the Old Town Hot Springs. The SSHRA is not affiliated with the city of Steamboat Springs.
SSHRA Director Pat Carney told the Planning Commission the tower is positioned to provide easier access to the waterslides - and warmer access in the winter months - while allowing re-vegetation of the hillside. She also said the waterslides are a key source of income for Old Town Hot Springs.
"Why should tourists leave their condo? The answer is the waterslide," Carney said. "It's very economically important to us."
Kathi Meyer, chairwoman of the Planning Commission, agreed the new waterslides would bring "economic vitality" to downtown, and said the renderings "overstate the visual impacts."
Along with commissioners Tracy Barnett and Scott Myller, Meyer supported the renovation proposal, which would also combine several existing hot pools into a large, landscaped pool area and close the hot pools from April into November.
While commissioner Nancy Engelken initially opposed the waterslides, causing a 3-3 deadlock, Engelken changed her vote after Barnett added a condition that landscaping be implemented to help shield the waterslides from Lincoln Avenue.
But there may be little, if any, room for additional landscaping at Old Town Hot Springs.
"I have concerns that they're not going to meet that condition," said Tom Leeson, director of the city's planning department. "There is no place on this site plan to put additional landscaping."
Barnard said "some opportunities" for landscaping exist.
"We're very willing to look at the options," he said. "I think we heard loud and clear what the concerns are."
Barnard also said the new slides, slightly shorter than the current slide, have "some pretty steep sections."
"There's a little more 'thrill' to them," he said.
Carney said she did not expect the renovations' approval process to experience any delays, which would halt the project until at least next spring.
"I'm in shock," Carney said. "This will take some lobbying to the City Council."
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