City's consideration of a policy requiring developers to provide water rights as a condition of annexation
Idea makes sense if clarified, but compromise should be reached with plans already in the pipeline, such as Steamboat 700.
It's a good idea - and likely long overdue - for the city of Steamboat Springs to require developers of annexed properties to provide water rights or water development resources as a condition of annexation.
But Steamboat Springs City Council should not make such a requirement mandatory for developers of Steamboat 700.
As the Steamboat community grows and demands for water inevitably increase, municipal services will increasingly be taxed. At some point, for example, the Mount Werner Water and Sanitation District will need a costly new filtration bay to meet local needs. And entities including Shell Oil and a Front Range water district are eyeing the Yampa for their water needs. It is only fair, and common sense, to require those driving city growth to help ensure the necessary water supply and infrastructure.
But it is not appropriate to make such a requirement for proposals already in the pipeline, such as Steamboat 700. While a clear, specific policy is hammered out for future development proposals, city officials can work with Steamboat 700 to reach an agreement that improves water infrastructure in west Steamboat and ensures 700's future water needs are met.
Directing city staff to work with 700 developers to pay a portion of costs needed to develop water infrastructure, for example, is a sensible compromise.
There are justifiable arguments on both sides of the issue. Steamboat attorney Bob Weiss, representing Steamboat 700, has pointed out that a water dedication policy is not specifically addressed in the West Steamboat Springs Area Plan or the development's pre-annexation agreement.
Tom Leeson, the city's director of planning and community development, has countered that both documents discuss the need for annexations to be revenue-neutral, while also paying for a proportion of expansion costs - and the pre-annexation agreement includes a water and wastewater capacity analysis.
Steamboat Springs City Councilman Steve Ivancie said last week that Steamboat 700 developers should not be surprised that water is now coming up as an issue, because of repeated conversations about the topic.
But that argument doesn't have merit. If it's not in the agreement, it's not in the agreement - and adding such a weighty requirement now would send a message to developers that the city's planning process is not always reliable from the start.
That is not a message the city should send in troubled economic times. Steamboat 700 Project Manager Danny Mulcahy has made clear that his team is frustrated with the lengthy city planning process, which has proven to be a testing ground for an annexation proposal of this size - the development could add 2,000 homes to the city.
With news looming last week about Fortress' financial woes, which could forecast an uncertain future for some redevelopment projects at the base of Steamboat Ski Area, it is not farfetched to think that financial backers of Steamboat 700 could be rethinking their plans.
That presents a gloomy worst-case scenario - of undeveloped parcels on both ends of Steamboat Springs - that city officials should work constructively to avoid.
Now is not the time for an excessively forceful water policy that could flush Steamboat 700 out of the valley. Instead, the city should work toward a constructive solution that benefits both parties.