Our View: 10-year vesting is too long

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At issue

Atira Group's vesting request for base area project

Our view

10-year period is too long, but city should remain open to compromise from three-year standard.

Editorial Board, June 2009 to September 2009

  • Suzanne Schlicht, general manager
  • Brent Boyer, editor
  • Mike Lawrence, city editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter
  • Grant Fenton, community representative
  • Paul Strong, community representative

Contact the editorial board at (970) 871-4221 or editor@steamboatpilot.com. Would you like to be a member of the board? Fill out a letter of interest now.

— The Atira Group's request for 10-year vesting on its proposed Ski Time Square redevelopment project is too long, but the city should remain open to a compromise from the three-year standard.

Early last month, The Atira Group submitted development plans for a massive 660,000-square-foot Ski Time Square project that would replace the Ski Time Square buildings demolished last summer. The proposal calls for about 200 residential units totaling almost 400,000 square feet and commercial space of only about 27,000 square feet. Like Atira's Thunderhead redevelopment project approved by the City Council in May, the Ski Time Square project would reach 105 feet at its highest points.

Although city planning staff, the Planning Commission and City Council have yet to fully analyze the proposal or schedule any Ski Time Square-specific hearings, we're concerned about Atira's request for a 10-year vesting period for the project. The city standard is three years, though the Planning Commission and City Council do sometimes approve extended vesting periods for certain projects.

It's easy to understand Atira's interests. Having an approved development in place with 10 years before building permits must be pulled makes the project more attractive to potential investors and offers a level of security for the developers, including against future changes to city development codes and standards. It also gives the developer more time to secure presales, a necessary component to securing financing for such a substantial project.

Like City Council President Loui Antonucci acknowledged last week, there's some measure of encouragement that Atira has moved forward with a development plan despite the recession.

But extended vesting periods can be dangerous.

Are we sure that a major base area development project we approve in 2010 will make sense for construction in 2020 or later? And can the city afford extended stagnancy at the base area?

Because of carrying costs on the land, there exists strong incentive for the developer to move forward as soon as economically feasible. With the loss of sales tax revenue and the loss of a quality experience for guests, because of the demolition, the community's interests and the developer's interests are one and the same.

We need to approve a vesting schedule that allows the owner of the property to go vertical as soon as possible. But a vesting schedule that is too short could cause a developer to have to jump through many time-consuming, expensive and risky hoops that could further delay the development.

There are examples of compromise.

In May, the council denied Atira's request for a five-year vesting period for its Thunderhead redevelopment project. Council members did, however, give the city's planning director authority to issue a maximum of two, two-year extensions of the vesting period. A similar exception was made for the recently approved Rollingstone condominium project. Those developers had requested a seven-year vesting period. Council approved a five-year vesting period with the possibility of a two-year extension if the project conforms to existing codes at the time.

The city should consider similar flexibility with the Ski Time Square proposal.

In exchange for a longer vesting period, City Council could require more nightlife at the base area. Those spaces are less profitable for a developer but are important to the overall attractiveness of a base area.

Or perhaps city planners could create a formula - based on factors such as square footage, number of buildings and dollar amount of infrastructure - to guide vesting period discussions.

The completion of a vibrant, modern ski area base is good for all of us and will make Steamboat more competitive in the mountain resort marketplace, particularly once the economy rebounds.

We hope the city and Atira can compromise on a vesting period that allows for responsible and timely development.

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