Water issues prove divisive

Sole city manager finalist Roberts interviews today

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If you go

What: Steamboat Springs City Council's interview of city manager candidate Jon Roberts

When: Noon Wednesday

Where: Centennial Hall, 124 10th St.

Call: City offices at 879-2060 for more information; to listen to meetings of the Steamboat Springs City Council live, call 871-7070

— Having hashed out differences on affordable housing and other issues, water rights could shape up to be the next big debate between the city of Steamboat Springs and developers hoping for annexation into city limits.

During an update on the potential annexation of planned developments 360 Village and Steamboat 700, council members also were asked whether they want developers to bring water rights or resources to develop existing water rights to the table as a requirement of annexation. Council's special attorneys for annexation and water issues said most of the other municipalities they represent, unlike Steamboat, have some sort of water dedication policy.

"For clarity, some kind of statement about what you're expecting could be helpful," Fritz Holleman, the water attorney, said.

Bob Weiss, a land-use attorney representing Steamboat 700, strongly opposed the idea that water rights could be among the demands placed on the development. He said it was unfair to apply any new policy to a pending annexation and said such a requirement would inhibit Steamboat 700's ability to confront other issues such as affordable housing and U.S. Highway 40 congestion. Weiss said those issues are clear and present, while a need for additional water rights is a "theoretical" concern.

Jerry Dahl, the annexation attorney, disagreed. Dahl said that, although developments within city limits would be subject to the policies in place when they were first applied for, cities have broad latitude to require whatever they like in the negotiation of an annexation.

Both sides claimed a water supply master plan adopted by the city last year bolstered their arguments. Weiss noted the study's conclusion that the city has an ample supply of water and untapped rights for existing and future residents. Holleman pointed to a master plan recommendation that the city increase the redundancy of its water supply, which heavily is reliant on one geographic area: the Fish Creek drainage.

"You're one fire away from having a serious problem," Holleman said.

Ken Brenner, a former City Council president and state Senate candidate whose primary interest is water, said the city's ample supply now is because of responsible action by past officials and that the city shouldn't be irresponsible now.

"It is extremely responsible for you to do this," Brenner said. "It's a very important policy for you to set."

Council members Steve Ivancie and Cari Hermacinski agreed.

"I think everything is still up for negotiation until the night the annexation is approved or denied," Hermacinski said.

Councilman Jon Quinn said he supports the adoption of a policy but does not think it should apply to the pending annexations.

"Every cost we add on to the developer will somehow be passed on to the cost of a home," Quinn said. "I think it's important to keep in mind that our ultimate goal was affordable and attainable housing."

Council ultimately directed Holleman and Public Works Director Philo Shelton to return with policy options for consideration.

Also on Tuesday, council members gave their blessing to a city staff plan to aggressively go after more than $65,000 in unpaid parking tickets through such means as citing people into municipal court or turning to a collection agency. The city will first conduct a public outreach campaign. Council members did not support one suggestion to temporarily reduce unpaid fines to their original level because it would be unfair to those who paid parking tickets in full. City parking fines double after two weeks.

A development plan and final development plan for 225 condominiums in 10 buildings at Lincoln Avenue and Pine Grove Road was tabled indefinitely at the request of developer Brian Olson. Olson provided no explanation for his request, according to a city staff memo.

Roberts attends meeting

The city's sole finalist for the position of city manager was among the audience members at Tuesday's council meeting. Jon Roberts will be publicly interviewed by the City Council at noon today.

If offered the job, Roberts would leave the city of Victorville, Calif., where he has been the city manager since 1999. In a telephone interview Tuesday, longtime Victorville City Councilman Terry Caldwell spoke flatteringly about Roberts and downplayed perceived concerns about the man raised by at least one other Victorville council member and local news accounts.

In May, the Victorville Daily Press reported that a power plant developed by the city has encountered substantial cost overruns. Roberts confirmed the overruns Monday - and said responsibility ultimately lies with him as city manager and the project's chief executive officer. However, Roberts said Victorville used an outside consultant to design the project, and it was their flawed work that led to the multimillion-dollar overages. The city of Victorville and the design firm are in litigation, according to the Daily Press.

Caldwell said the project also was hamstrung by unanticipated state regulatory changes requiring 20 percent of all energy produced in California to be renewable by 2010. Caldwell said this move made the power plant, known as Foxborough, less cost-effective. Roberts said the plant would turn a profit for the first time this year.

- To reach Brandon Gee, call 871-4210 or e-mail bgee@steamboatpilot.com

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