Big box stores should not be a must for developments west of Steamboat Springs seeking annexation, the city Planning Commission recommended Thursday.
With a unanimous 6-0 vote, the Planning Commission sent a strong message to City Council, which next will consider the question of whether large-format retail stores - which studies show would substantially boost government revenues but which also raise community character and landscape concerns - should be a condition of annexation.
Two major developments vying for annexation - Steamboat 700 and 360 Village - have submitted dual land-use plans, with and without big box pads included, while they wait for the city to decide what it wants.
Steamboat 700 Project Manager Danny Mulcahy stressed that it was the city that instigated the discussion of large-format retail in west Steamboat. An economic development study conducted last year estimated that a large-format retail store would increase the city's annual sales tax receipts by $1.1 million.
"Large-format retail was not a part of the preferred direction of Steamboat 700," said Mulcahy, who added that he thinks his development would be more profitable without accommodating the large amounts of acreage that would be required to make big box stores viable.
Steamboat Springs Planning Services Manager John Eastman said answering the question requires balancing contradictory policies in the city's strategic plan, such as those that recommend Steamboat remain the regional economic hub and others that stress the preservation of community character.
The same dichotomy was evidenced in the commissioners' debate and public comments.
"I am a proponent for having these types of stores available to the residents of Routt and Moffat counties," Katy Thiel wrote in an e-mail. "As a mother of two and a working mom, I am unable to jump in the car to get to Silverthorne, Denver or Avon to buy the things we need throughout the year."
Commissioner Karen Dixon agreed. Alluding to the substantial public debate recently about affordable housing, Dixon said the price of goods was another component in the overall affordability of Steamboat.
Others, however, said allowing large-format retail would compromise the reasons people live in Steamboat in the first place.
"I understand the attractiveness of the revenue generated by a big box store," Leslie Ryan wrote in an e-mail. "But I have to ask, at what cost to our community?"
In a lengthy debate, commissioners touched on issues such as traffic congestion, shopping habits and parking structures. In another unanimous vote, Planning Commission decided to revisit at a future meeting a 2004 Community Development Code amendment that forbids single-tenant commercial spaces more than 20,000 square feet south of 13th Street. Commissioner Brian Hanlen, in particular, felt the city has been too quick to dismiss large-format retail in areas throughout the city as long as such stores pay attention to parking needs, urban design standards and other issues.
Also on Thursday, commissioners approved a community housing plan for the Thunderhead redevelopment at the base of the Steamboat Ski Area. In lieu of building affordable residential units, the developer will pay $2.6 million in fees under the plan. Consideration of a zoning change for the Steamboat Highlands development on Burgess Creek Road was tabled until March 12 because of concerns about whether adequate notice was given to surrounding property owners. A final development plan for a 10,200-square-foot Millennium Bank building in Wildhorse Marketplace was approved.
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