Steamboat Springs City government is weighing the relative merits of hot beds and green buildings.
Steamboat Springs City Council voted July 15 to delay until at least Sept. 12 a decision about whether to make a change in emphasis on the concessions it seeks from developers launching luxury housing projects at the base of the ski area.
A proposal drafted by Senior City Planner Bob Keenan would move green-building practices to the top of the list and bump hot beds two spots down in the pecking order.
Hot beds are a lot like warm pillows - the colloquial term implies resort lodging that is seldom empty and most often occupied by vacationers.
The city views high occupancy rates as a form of economic sustainability, both in terms of generating sales-tax revenues and contributing to a viable commercial district at the resort.
Garrett Simon, vice president of development for Atira Group, stood before City Council this month and urged it not to underestimate the efforts already being made by the development community to ensure a vibrant base area at the mountain.
"I cautioned them about lowering the priority for hot beds," Simon said. "They really drive the economy."
Simon's company is breaking ground on Edgemont, a large slopeside condominium project on the southern flank of the ski area. And on the northern side, it is tearing down 45-year-old buildings in Ski Time Square to make room for a larger condo project.
The priority list in question has to do with a passage of the city development code, which requires developers in the G-1 and G-2 (G denotes ski gondola) zones to provide additional community benefit in exchange for their permits.
Since 2005, Keenan said, economic sustainability in the form of hot beds has been at the top of the list, sharing that spot with employee and affordable housing units. Keenan's draft ordinance submitted to City Council this month would drop hot beds to third place and move LEED-certified energy efficiency and sustainable design to the top spot from its previous second-place ranking. At the same time, the reprioritization would raise the bar for developers, asking them to achieve silver status within the LEED guidelines. LEED is an acronym that stands for the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System created and monitored by the U.S. Green Building Council.
It bases its standards for sustainability on a point system. LEED silver certification requires more points than the basic LEED standards. It also may cost developers more money to achieve that point score.
Builders and developers seeking different levels of LEED status are free to score points in a wide variety of ways.
Keenan, writing with the approval of Planning Services Manager John Eastman, made the case that the city is not receiving a significant public benefit from the current priority ranking. He reasoned that the developers already are tending toward keeping their beds hot.
"Staff recognizes that economic sustainability (hot beds) is a key element in providing vitality at the base area," Keenan wrote. "The reason for lowering the priority level for hot beds is that staff has found that fractional ownership, check-in facilities and condo/hotels are being proposed regardless of the public benefit priority."
Simon disagrees. Instead, he said, Steamboat developers, motivated by the city's current emphasis on hot beds, have taken on increased risk in a difficult financial environment in order to provide smaller (hotter) units.
"Our sales at Edgemont have tended to be larger units," Simon said. "They are generally viewed as cooler beds - people aren't as likely to rent them. If you change emphasis, 100 units might turn into 50."
Without implying a threat, Simon is suggesting, for example, that 200 warm pillows in one-bedroom condos could be transformed by market conditions into a similar number of cool pillows in three- and four-bedroom condos if green building is bumped ahead of economic sustainability on the city's priority list.
Jamie Temple, developer of the future St. Cloud condominium project, reminded the council that developers can encourage buyers to put their vacation homes in the rental pool but cannot enforce that goal as a requirement.
City Council members weighed in and asked the planning staff to craft language that would take some of the guesswork out of the city's definition of what constitutes hot beds and public benefit in the gondola zone districts.
Councilman Scott Myller called the current language in the public benefits documents "very vague" and asked for a better definition of what constitutes fractional ownership at the base area. Councilwoman Cari Hermacinski asked for more information on the relative contributions made to the hot bed factor by condos marketed on a nightly basis and those reserved for owners of fractional interests.
Hermacinski added she would like to see standard LEED certification second on the priority list but to create the opportunity for LEED silver to share top billing with economic sustainability.
Council President Loui Antonucci agreed with the idea of splitting LEED silver and LEED standard.