Council narrowly supports Inspiritu Verde

Vote gives go-ahead to development at Fourth and Oak streets

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— The Steamboat Springs City Council moved forward - albeit hesitantly - Tuesday with three items related to sustainable building practices.

For John Buchanan, a close vote in favor of his proposed development at Fourth and Oak streets brought a fitting end to what was described at Tuesday's council meeting as a lengthy and trying review process for the Denver architect and developer. Buchanan entered the city planning process in July 2007.

The project, Inspiritu Verde, was granted seven variances from the Community Development Code in exchange for its promised benefits. The project's name fittingly translates to "inspired green," as it proposes to be the city's first project to earn a "gold" Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. It also includes a voluntary affordable housing unit and storm water and sidewalk improvements in the public right-of-way.

Comments from the public were mixed between supportive and critical, with most arguments against the project focusing on its mass and scale. The project consists of two new buildings that would replace two yellow, stucco 1949 duplexes. Buchanan requested a five-foot increase in the buildings' average plate height, encroachment on three of the 7,000-square-foot lot's building setback requirements and a 34 percent increase in the allowable ratio of floor space to lot area.

The formula used to calculate the ratio calculated Inspiritu Verde's square footage at 4,711, but city planner Bob Keenan confirmed that number does not include reductions for garage space, basements and bonuses for the development's proposed employee housing units. Without those reductions, Keenan said, the square footage is about 9,100 square feet in size.

For Councilwoman Meg Bentley and Councilman Jon Quinn, the project was too large to swallow.

"I think the design is fantastic; I love it," Bentley said. "I wish it wasn't in Old Town or that it was in a different part of Old Town. : I think it's fantastic, but I can't" support it.

Others were willing to compromise.

"I think this is a courageous project," Councilman Scott Myller said. "I'm ready to go for it."

City Council President Loui Antonucci, who said he was torn on whether to support the project, said the decision boiled down to a choice between moving the community more toward green building practices or sticking "with traditional design which is what Old Town stands for."

The project passed, 4-2, with Antonucci, Myller, Councilwoman Cari Hermacinski and Councilman Walter Magill voting in favor of the project, Quinn and Bentley voting against it and Councilman Steve Ivancie stepping down because of a professional connection to the project.

Also Tuesday, City Council approved the first reading of an ordinance that would make sustainable design a top public benefit priority for projects at the base of the Steamboat Ski Area. Council approved the ordinance, 6-1, with Hermacinski in the minority.

LEED certification of silver or higher replaced "hot beds" as one of three No. 1 public benefit priorities. "Hot beds" is a colloquial term implying resort lodging that is seldom empty and most often occupied by vacationers. Developers create hot beds by selling fractional ownership units or facilitating nightly rentals with services such as check-in facilities and maids.

Noting the cost of such services, Hermacinski said the changes might be too financially burdensome on developers.

"At least before they got some credit : for that tremendously expensive thing," she said. "We need to do everything we can to encourage redevelopment and rebuild our main economic driver."

In a joint meeting earlier in the night with the Routt County Board of Commissioners, a proposed Green Building Program was presented to the elected bodies. No vote was taken on the program, which could one day mandate sustainable building practices for new residential construction in the city and county. Council members and commissioners were supportive of a program of mandatory review and voluntary compliance for one year that would be reviewed thereafter, but they expressed concerns about projections that the program would require additional personnel to administer.

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