Steamboat Springs Eleven people have applied for three vacancies on the Steamboat Springs Planning Commission - a body the City Council has discussed giving more authority to, and a group that proved to be fertile training ground for two recently elected council members.
The three vacancies were created by the elections of former commissioners Cari Hermacinski and Scott Myller to City Council, and the city's hiring of former commissioner Nancy Engelken to be its community housing coordinator.
Planning Director Tom Leeson and City Councilman Steve Ivancie said they have never seen so many people apply for the unelected body that advises City Council on development applications. Leeson said three or four applicants is a more typical amount.
City Clerk Julie Jordan said heightened interest may have been spurred by recent City Council discussions about possibly distancing itself from some planning decisions and therefore further empowering the commission.
"That's a great, great community outpouring to serve in a volunteer capacity," Jordan said. "If decisions are not going to be scrutinized at the council level, (people) might be more interested in running."
City Council will hold a special meeting Monday to interview some applicants and will conclude the interviews at its regular meeting Tuesday. Each council member will vote for three of the applicants. The applicant receiving the most votes will be given a regular Planning Commission seat expiring March 31, 2009. The applicant who comes in second will be appointed to a regular seat expiring March 31, 2008, and the third-place vote-getter will be appointed to an alternate seat expiring March 31, 2009.
Council members and city officials alike have stressed the heightened importance of this particular round of Planning Commission appointments. The members appointed next week likely will oversee the development application and expected annexation of the Steamboat 700 project west of the city that could include the construction of more than 2,000 homes.
"City Council seems to be taking it very seriously, and they've got some great options," Leeson said. "There are some big issues out there that have really sparked people's interest."
Councilman Steve Ivancie implored his fellow council members at recent meetings to think long and hard about the type of Planning Commission they want.
"First of all, there's our annexation coming up, and our whole future of how we grow and where we grow," Ivancie said Friday. "I just felt it was very important that we as a council spend time amongst each other discussing what we want."
"It's crucial that we get a good Planning Commission so we don't have to overturn their decisions or even question them," Myller said. "As a planning commissioner too, I felt like it was a waste of time since it wasn't final."
While Myller has been a proponent of empowering the Planning Commission, Ivancie has brought a cautionary approach to the discussions. He said the idea raises many questions, such as whether a more powerful Planning Commission should be elected rather than appointed, and whether its members should be paid.
While he was frustrated by its sometimes lack of relevance, Myller said his time on the Planning Commission was a helpful precursor to City Council.
"I understand how the city works much better from that," Myller said.
In evaluating the applicants, Ivancie said he will look not just for architects and other design professionals, "but all the people development affects."
"I'm going to be looking for someone who is open-minded, experienced and has the best interests of our community at heart," Ivancie said. "It's a very interesting position to be in, and I think as a community we need a very diverse group of people in that group."