700 brews excitement

Concerns raised about traffic, review process

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— The first major public presentation of the Steamboat 700 development drew mostly enthusiasm from a packed Centennial Hall audience Tuesday night.

Developers spared no resources in their pitch to a joint gathering of the Steamboat Springs City Council and Planning Commission. Several consultants - spanning disciplines from traffic to affordable housing - joined Steamboat 700 partner and Project Manager Danny Mulcahy in presenting the project that proposes to bring more than 2,000 homes throughout 20 years to 700 acres west of the city. Mulcahy hopes to have those acres annexed into city limits.

No action was taken on the proposal Tuesday night. The city's main goal was to discuss the process by which the annexation request and proposed development will be reviewed. Or, as Planning Services Manager John Eastman said, Tuesday's meeting was a bureaucrat's specialty: "a meeting about meetings."

Eastman said the proposal represents uncharted waters for the city, and as part of the process proposed a seminar series that would help prepare both the City Council and staff members.

"There's parts of this annexation that are new to all of us," Eastman said. "We need to bring some people in to educate all of us."

The city's West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan calls for 33 percent affordable housing, with 20 percent provided by the developer. Mulcahy's affordable housing plan drew large support Tuesday. Peter Smirniotopoulos, Steamboat 700's affordable housing consultant, described Steamboat 700's developers as "enlightened" and said this is the first time his company, UniDev, has agreed to work with a private developer.

In addition to deed restrictions and other traditional approaches to affordable housing, Mulcahy hopes to establish a "perpetual transfer fund" for affordable housing. Mulcahy sees this fund as being comprised of a 1 percent fee on all retail sales within the development, in perpetuity. Mulcahy said Monday that such a fund would provide more flexibility than other approaches.

"Not one community in the country has affordable housing figured out," Mulcahy said. "The best thing to do is get a pool of money together so there's a variety of options available."

Local attorney Ralph Cantafio said Steamboat 700 represents one of the city's last opportunities to address affordable housing.

"If this vision is not adopted, I believe we run the risk of more 35-acre lots and more trophy homes," Cantafio said.

Setting the table

The city's review process for Steamboat 700 was billed as the major focus of Tuesday's meeting, and it also proved to be the main bone of contention regarding the development. Concerns have been raised about the Community Development Code's requirement of a "pre-annexation agreement" that has been subject to differing interpretations.

The code states that, "No petition of land shall be reviewed or approved until the petitioner and the city have negotiated and entered into a pre-annexation agreement." Some, including Councilwoman Meg Bentley and former Councilman Towny Anderson, have interpreted that language strictly and believe the city should not engage in any review process until a comprehensive pre-annexation agreement is worked out.

City staff and Bob Weiss, a local land-use attorney representing Steamboat 700, both have responded by moving the pre-annexation agreement further ahead in the process than originally proposed, but some anxiety remains. The different interpretations for what the pre-annexation agreement should be were voiced in a brief verbal spar between Bentley and Councilwoman Cari Hermacinski.

Hermacinski said an overly broad agreement early in the process could tie the city's hands in the future. She said the pre-annexation agreement should look more like a "table of contents" to the ultimate annexation agreement that would be approved with an annexation ordinance.

Bentley disagreed.

"Our community code, to me, is much more precise and demanding than that," she said. "I would like to see a pre-annexation agreement - in great detail - before anything else is done. To me that's the law and we need to abide by the law or change the law."

Anderson added similar remarks during public comment, noting that the pre-annexation agreement is City Council's "opportunity to lay out the policies that will guide this development." But he also joined the prevailing opinion that Steamboat 700 "is a pretty exciting plan."

"The manifestation of new urbanism at this level is absolutely remarkable," Anderson said.

The other prevalent concern raised Tuesday was traffic. Bill Fox, Steamboat 700's traffic consultant, noted that the project will encourage public transit and result in new roads being built. But many still are concerned about already heavy traffic on U.S. Highway 40, particularly at the 13th Street bottleneck where the highway goes from four lanes to two, heading west.

"I think that's a major issue we as a community need to work out," Steamboat resident Bud Rogers said. "I very much think we need to get that solved first."

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