Steamboat Springs It's been called everything from the biggest thing to face Steamboat Springs in 30 years to the city's last chance to confront its affordable housing crisis.
Regardless of where they stand on those claims and others, all 10 candidates for Steamboat Springs City Council agree on one thing: If elected, the potential annexation of the Steamboat 700 development is one of the most - if not the most - important issues they will face in years to come.
Interviews with the candidates reveal that the results of this Tuesday's election, in which five of the council's seven seats are up for grabs, could directly affect the future development of 700 acres west of the city - including whether such development goes through.
Candidates offer different opinions about how to negotiate a pre-annexation agreement with 700's developers and how demanding the city should be with requirements such as infrastructure and community benefits. Steamboat 700 Project Manager Danny Mulcahy said he and his partners have several contingency plans in place, should the city demand so much that the project is no longer profitable. Mulcahy would not expound on those plans except to say that he might walk away from the project "in a heartbeat" if that happens or sit on the land for 10 years until prices reach "Aspen levels."
But Mulcahy hopes not, and doesn't expect, to put those contingency plans to use.
"I don't expect the community to push back to a point that I'm going to walk away," he said last week. "We're here to get this thing done."
Mulcahy would not respond to any candidate statements leading up to the election. He said he hopes that whoever is elected will be temperate in their requests and work "in collaboration instead of confrontation."
"I'm not looking for anything special, except that we work in a timely, efficient manner," Mulcahy said.
At-large candidate and incumbent Councilman Towny Anderson is the candidate who has most often cited Steamboat 700 annexation as the most important issue that will face the next City Council.
"It has the potential to nearly double our population," he said. "That's the level of impact, and that's its remarkable opportunity and potential. : I can't think of a single other community that has the opportunity that Steamboat has. We literally could define a whole new course in community planning."
Anderson is also the candidate who spoke strongest for the city sticking to its guns and getting what it needs out of an annexation agreement, without bending to the developer.
"There's no example of a municipality looking back at an annexation and saying we were too hard on a developer," Anderson said. "Because this community struggled for so long, there's a fear that if the developer walked, tumbleweeds would be blowing down Lincoln Avenue. Now if a developer walks, there's probably going to be 10 more behind him. We've been discovered. It's OK to take the time to get it right."
Representing a more cautious standpoint is Jon Quinn, candidate for a four-year District 3 seat.
"We're going to get everything we possibly can out of the 700 development," Quinn said. "But if the city pushes them too far, their contingency plan is to parcel that lot out into 35-acre lots and at least walk away intact. That would be a disaster. : We need to see through the development of a community there. We don't need another Marabou."
Cari Hermacinski, Anderson's at-large opponent, agreed that it is fair for the city to make strong demands on Mulcahy and his partners, and said success realizing those demands will take skilled negotiators.
"One of the things that Towny Anderson especially points out is that we need a negotiator at the table," said Hermacinski, who is a lawyer and owns a telecommunications-consulting firm. "I negotiate complex contracts every day. That's what I do."
Quinn's opponent in District 3, Councilwoman Karen Post, said the city has a unique advantage with this development.
"Annexation is the greatest tool a city has to make sure the people who are going to pay for the development will also pay for the impact on the city," Post said. "It's not that developers are bad, but people are going to want to make what they can make."
District 2 candidate Paul Hughes said perfecting the annexation agreement "is going to take some artful discussions."
"You only get one chance to get it right," Hughes said. "I think the City Council has an obligation to get the very best deal it can from a developer, who, after all, needs to become part of the city to develop."
Hughes' opponent, Meg Bentley, could not be reached for this story. But at an Oct. 23 forum, Bentley expressed concern about the amount of mixed-use development already being allowed in the city and the effects it may have on existing and already struggling local businesses.
"Why should we add to that pressure by permitting too much competition too fast?" she said.
Vince Arroyo, a candidate for the two-year District 3 seat, said the annexation of Steamboat 700 raises a number of concerns, from traffic to meeting an increased level of public safety services.
"You don't have enough safety for those houses yet," he said.
Arroyo's opponent, Walter Magill, said he hasn't reviewed enough information to say what he specifically would hope to get out of an annexation agreement. He did note, however, that his background as a civil engineer gives him unique understanding of the infrastructure issues at hand.
Magill said he hopes that City Council's demands don't hold up the development indefinitely.
"I think that's a possibility," Magill said. "I think they could put the whole development on hold. It's going to take a series of meetings, but I don't think the annexation should take three years."
City Council President and District 1 candidate Susan Dellinger said the Steamboat 700 development and annexation present a number of strains on Steamboat's infrastructure, from schools to sewers. She said the method by which infrastructure improvements are funded would be the biggest question when looking at an annexation agreement, followed by how the development is zoned.
Dellinger's opponent, Scott Myller, said he is well suited to confront the challenges of annexation.
"I've been on both sides of the table as a (Steamboat Springs) planning commissioner and as an architect on the construction side," he said. "I think I understand the desires on the one hand and the limitations on the other."
Dellinger said the review and work she has already put in as a council member in anticipation of the annexation puts her in the better position to address the issue.
While their approaches differ, the candidates as a whole, like Mulcahy, believe the development and the annexation will go through.
"It's described in our area plan as the only place our community is going to grow," Myller said. "If that's true : we better not lose it."
Anderson said the annexation has to have either a neutral or a beneficial effect on the city. The key to achieving that, he said, is for both sides to be earnest and open in negotiating their mutual goals.
"You don't negotiate out of fear," Anderson said. "That's a terrible way to negotiate."
Quinn agreed that the attitude with which discussions are approached could make all the difference.
"In my opinion, we're going to get more in the end if we approach this from a cooperative spirit as opposed to an adversarial spirit," he said. "In my opinion, we're going to be in a better bargaining position if we work with them, not against them."
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