Steamboat Springs When locals were asked what they would like Routt County and their community to look like in 20 years, the most common answer was surprisingly simple.
"Friendliness. That's what people value the most," Vision 2030 co-chair Kathy Stokes said. "And that's great to hear, because that is our community - that sense of character."
Vision 2030 is a collaborative citizens' effort to help define the future of the Yampa Valley, update 1994's Vision 2020 Report of Recommendations and create a community vision. In gathering information through community meetings and surveys during the past year, Vision 2030's recently released interim report revealed the largest percentage of respondents - 35.9 percent - were most concerned about preserving the character of the Yampa Valley.
Of those who thought character was the top priority, more than 70 percent said that meant retaining small-town feel and friendliness, and nearly 22 percent defined preserving character as maintaining a connection to local history and roots - with historic buildings, a Western feel and ranching tradition.
Vision 2030 aims to take these subjective opinions and value judgments from area residents, then have relevant stakeholders consider and use them in tangible ways. For example, developers could keep in mind that people want a certain type of community - they're not hoping to see strip malls and big box stores, or live in stereotypical suburb-type communities where they don't know their neighbors.
"If someone says what they really value most is friendliness, with the Steamboat 700 (proposed development), that means it should have bike paths, schools, community meeting places - all those things that create community," Stokes said.
Questions of growth
A quarter of respondents were most concerned about changing economic development patterns, making growth the second-largest area of concern. Two-thirds of people wanted to see "managed growth," defined by diversity in its residents and the economy, and the ability of people of all ages to live and work locally. Most of the remainder were anti-growth.
"People really are asking and trusting our decision-makers to manage it," Vision 2030 Project Manager Tammie Delaney said, noting many of the elements of managed growth tie right back in to maintaining Routt County's community character and charm.
Though an element of managed growth, affordable housing was lower on peoples' lists of concerns for the future than Stokes would have suspected.
"People talk about affordable living, but affordable housing did not come up as often as we thought it would," Stokes said.
However, it is a valid question as to whether those responding to Vision 2030's online surveys or attending its community meetings primarily worry about affordability for others, not themselves, Stokes said.
About one-fifth of respondents focused most heavily on preserving open spaces and ranch and agricultural land.
While maintaining a sense of community was reported to be a significant value across the board, what that meant was different across the county. In meetings held last fall in Steamboat Springs, Clark, Hayden and Oak Creek, attendees discussed and ranked the elements that mattered most to them in their respective communities.
In South Routt, residents stressed that they wanted a low transient population in their communities and preservation of their neighborhood's heritage, such as the dirt streets in Yampa. Hayden residents were passionate about having a safe community where doors can remain unlocked. West and North Routt residents wanted their 2030 communities to foster friends and neighbors taking care of one another.
Steamboat-area participants stressed safety, community involvement and keeping the town "authentic" in terms of people, architecture and heritage.
"This is our community, and everyone needs to be involved in the vision for the next 20 years," Stokes said. "This isn't just about Steamboat."
The road ahead
Focus groups continue to work on specific areas - including transportation, government, community, economy, education and environment - consulting with experts to reconcile what Routt County residents say they want with what is feasible or even possible.
In the future, Vision 2030 will also work on what Stokes termed "scenario-planning" - using Google Earth to literally show what people's ideas of the future of Routt County look like, bearing in mind all possible repercussions of different decisions.
"For example, in Steamboat, if you say that you don't want to extend the urban growth boundary - you want to grow up rather than out - what does that look like, and what does it mean for everything?" Stokes said. "If you want to have zero growth, and want to preserve all open space, maintaining any affordable housing is almost impossible."
Further, what each community chooses affects all other communities in Routt County, Stokes said. Along the same line of thought, if Steamboat wants to go down a "zero growth" path, that will have a huge effect on outlying communities, Stokes said.
Additional community gatherings are planned for November, to gain further information and discuss the findings of the interim report, and to come forth with tangible recommendations that individuals and groups can champion in the future, Delaney said.
"We can make them reality, instead of just ideas," Delaney said.