Steamboat Springs Steamboat Springs City Councilman Jon Quinn debated during the weekend whether he really would need to leave the room Tuesday during council's review of the Thunderhead development proposal at the base of the Steamboat Ski Area.
By the end of a meeting that included a tie vote, procedural confusion and other concerns about the 390,000-square-foot development proposed by The Atira Group, Quinn was glad he did.
"I'm not sure it would have done anybody any good to have any controversy in the air" because of my vote, said Quinn, who has done work for Atira and wanted to avoid any perception of a conflict of interest.
Quinn, who said Wednesday that he isn't sure how he would have voted, would have been the deciding vote in a motion to approve the project. As it turned out, the remaining council members split their vote in a 3-3 tie that clearly was not an approval but that City Attorney Tony Lettunich also argued was not a denial.
A denial would have been a significant setback for the developers because they would have been forced to wait a year to submit an entirely new application, unless council allowed them to return sooner.
Lettunich said Wednesday that while some argue a tie vote is indeed a denial, he prefers and always has sought that council work its way to a majority vote.
Council ultimately unanimously approved a tabling of the application to April and provided feedback to the development team on how it could improve the proposal.
The City Council Rules of Procedure simply states, "In case of a tie vote, the motion fails."
"There's no real clear answer, but council worked their way through it Tuesday night," Lettunich said. "The best approach : is you try to get a majority vote."
As council was working its way through this issue, members of Atira's development team were working their way through the crowd hoping the city's planning staff would call attention to the fact that in November the City Council approved a new prioritized list of public benefits for base area projects requesting variances. The new list made green building practices a top-tier priority if developments achieved a silver certification from the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program.
As council members debated whether the proposed Thunderhead project provides one of the three highest-priority public benefits, the developers hoped to re-emphasize their commitment to LEED silver, even though their project is being reviewed under the previous priority list because it entered the planning process months before the change was made. Based on information it received from city officials Tuesday night, the Steamboat Pilot & Today erroneously reported Wednesday that council incorrectly used the previous public benefit criteria while reviewing the project. In an e-mail Wednesday, Planning and Community Development Director Tom Leeson wrote, "Development applications are vested to the rules in place at the time of the application."
Councilwoman Cari Hermacinski said she would have liked to have heard the information during Tuesday's meeting regardless.
"My perspective is we should be looking at all the information at hand," she said. "Why should we put on blinders? Why shouldn't we be looking at all the information at hand?"
Hermacinski compared it to Thunderhead's height issue. Planning commissioners and council members have discounted height variances at the base area because the city is working on new design standards to increase the current 73-foot maximum.
The building height issue also caused confusion at Tuesday' meeting, especially for neighboring property owners who oppose the project and couldn't fathom why council was even entertaining a proposal for two buildings more than 100 feet tall. City Council President Loui Antonucci told the crowd that the current height limitation was set artificially low with the expectation that developers would propose taller buildings.
While that has allowed the city to demand public benefits because of the requested variances, Antonucci said the lack of clear standards is problematic.
"They left it so (subjective) that it just makes it difficult for everybody - staff, neighboring property owners," he said Wednesday. "It's just a nightmare."
Atira Vice President Mark Mathews declined to comment on the project Tuesday and Wednesday.