Development plans for the controversial Thunderhead project at the base of Steamboat Ski Area return for a second hearing before the Steamboat Springs City Council tonight.
Approval of the project was stymied in a tie vote of the council in February. Although there are seven council members, Councilman Jon Quinn has recused himself from council hearings involving The Atira Group - developers of Thunderhead and other large projects at the base of the ski area - because his business, Northwest Data Services, does work for the company.
Atira hopes to break the deadlock by kicking in an additional $235,000 for affordable housing. But another tie vote remains a possibility. Quinn reiterated Monday his commitment to stepping down on issues involving Atira.
"We understand that council members must make impartial decisions and avoid real or perceived conflicts of interest," Atira Vice President for Development Mark Mathews wrote in an e-mail Monday. "Jon takes this responsibility seriously, and we respect that."
Nonetheless, Mathews also confirmed that Atira and its partners recently considered severing their business relationship with Quinn. Mathews said the intent was to avoid any appearance of impropriety.
"Although Atira hired Northwest Data because they do good work, it could be perceived that by hiring Jon's company we are attempting to influence Council - even informally," Mathews wrote.
Quinn, who has worked for Atira since before he was elected in November 2007, said last Tuesday that he was angered when Mathews called him four or five weeks ago to discuss the issue. Quinn said he didn't understand why there would be any perceived conflict when he has consistently recused himself from council hearings involving the company.
"I pretty much said I thought that was ridiculous," Quinn said. "Basically you're firing me for doing my civic duty. : It is important to make sure people feel like they can run for office and not jeopardize their client list in the process."
During their telephone conversation, Quinn said he asked Mathews to reconsider. Quinn said a severance of the business relationship has not been discussed since and that he continues to work for Atira. The work includes the installation of phone systems, server support and computer networking.
Asked if a severance of Atira's business relationship with Quinn would be accompanied by an expectation that the councilman no longer would step down from hearings involving the company's projects, Mathews wrote, "It is ideal to have all council members representing their constituents and weighing in on important decisions. It would be up to Jon and his fellow council members to determine if it would be appropriate for him to vote on Atira Group projects."
Quinn said he told Mathews that he would keep stepping down on Atira's projects whether or not he continued to work for the company.
"The bottom line is that ... I just need to be careful both personally and professionally that I'm doing the right thing," Quinn said. "I would never vote on that stuff because that perception is still out there. I think there always would be."
Quinn said he subsequently notified City Council President Loui Antonucci and President Pro Tem Cari Hermacinski about his conversation with Mathews, but was not looking for either to intervene.
Hermacinski said she told Quinn that he had done the right thing by telling Mathews he would continue to recuse himself from hearings involving Atira. Antonucci said he offered to call Atira but that Quinn told him that would be unnecessary.
Debate at the February City Council hearing on Thunderhead centered on the project's requested variances - including two proposed buildings more than 100 feet tall and 30 feet above code - and whether the project included enough public benefit to offset those requests.
At a City Council meeting in March, Mathews presented a revised summary of public benefits that included the $235,000 affordable housing contribution. That amount is in addition to $2.6 million Atira already has proposed to pay to satisfy the city's affordable housing ordinance.
For projects seeking substantial variances at the base area, the city ranks public benefits by priority. Additional affordable housing is one of the city's first-tier public benefits. Atira already proposed a second top-tier public benefit - economic sustainability - by accommodating nightly rentals in the project.
In the second tier, Atira has proposed a public turnaround in Ski Time Square Drive and donating permanent space to Yampa Valley Medical Center for its injured skier transport center.
The project also will seek a silver Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. Other public benefits include public restrooms, landscaping and other amenities.
With the additional affordable housing contribution, all three council members who voted against the project in February - Steve Ivancie, Walter Magill and Meg Bentley - said Atira was on the right track toward winning their approval.
In addition to height, other concerns raised about the Thunderhead project include Atira's proposal to build private improvements in the public right of way and the company's request to extend the period of time before it must pull a building permit from three years to five. Many surrounding property owners, including residents of the Bronze Tree and Kutuk condominiums, oppose the project.