For 20 years, Steamboat resident Rob Douglas was a Washington, D.C. private detective specializing in homicide, political corruption and terrorism. Since 1998, Douglas has been a commentator on local, state and national politics in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Colorado. To reach Rob Douglas, email

For 20 years, Steamboat resident Rob Douglas was a Washington, D.C. private detective specializing in homicide, political corruption and terrorism. Since 1998, Douglas has been a commentator on local, state and national politics in Washington, D.C., Maryland and Colorado. To reach Rob Douglas, email

Rob Douglas: Goodbye, 'quaint little ski town'


Rob Douglas

Rob Douglas' column appears Fridays in the Steamboat Today. He can be reached at

Find more columns by Douglas here.

— On the timeline of our lives, we tend to mark events that signal significant turning points. For residents of the Yampa Valley, Tuesday presented one of those moments when Steamboat Springs officially ceased to exist as a quaint little ski town.

The occasion was the unanimous vote by the Steamboat Springs City Council to approve an ordinance amending the Community Development Code. The amended code now officially allows buildings as tall as 105 feet at the base of Steamboat Ski Area instead of the current 67-foot restriction. That change, coupled with the up-zoning of substantial portions of land surrounding the base area, all but guarantees that the base area eventually will sit within a horseshoe - some would say a canyon - of 10-story buildings.

During the public comment period preceding the council's Tuesday votes to raise the height limitation and up-zone 10 base area lots to the highest-intensity zoning allowed, one concern dominated the discussion - as it always does when the topic of base area development arises. The concern is that by allowing increased building density and height, the small-town character of the ski area is being harmed and will drive away those who prefer lower buildings at the base area as a means to preserve the current panorama, especially the view of the south valley.

Addressing that concern, and sounding fatalistic, Councilman Jon Quinn opined that Steamboat already is not the "quaint little ski town" he and others fell in love with years ago. Additionally, Quinn noted that although some long-time patrons of the ski area and residents of base area real estate may depart because of changes there - whether those changes were set in motion by previous councils allowed under the then-existing development code or by the current council and this week's code changes - other patrons and residents will take their place.

Perhaps Quinn is right.

Certainly, as Quinn and every other council member (in addition to the Planning Commission and city staff) have noted at one point or another during the past several years, the pre-existing development code contained such wide latitude for granting variances in building height and other development parameters that it fostered uncertainty and inequity for the city and developers alike. Indeed, it is because of that latitude that several buildings already in existence, under construction or slated for construction were approved with a height of 105 feet.

In fact, anyone in attendance in recent years watching a developer's presentation before either the Planning Commission or City Council could witness the modern day equivalent of the "Gong Show." Developers were invited to step up to the podium and attempt to perform to the subjective satisfaction of the commission or council without getting gonged and having to return for another show. Each subsequent performance consisted of continually upping the ante of proffered goodies within the development proposal in an elusive attempt to reach an ever-moving "public benefit" score high enough to get the project approved.

The process has been nothing short of crude horse-trading at best or legalized extortion at worst. So, the amended code should bring much-needed objective assessment and certainty to the development process that should, in theory, benefit everyone in the valley.

Time will tell whether that theory translates to reality.

But the other theory bandied about City Hall is that the now-legislated increase in density at the base area will bring needed vitality. That belief seems excessively hopeful given that most base-area housing is occupied less than 90 days a year and additional nightlife at the base area is nowhere on the horizon.

Careful readers took note that in the opening paragraph of this column, the word "officially" was used in reference to Steamboat ceasing to be a "quaint little ski town." The modifier was chosen intentionally because depending on who you talk to, how long they've lived here, where they came from and what they value most in the valley, Steamboat still may have a small-town feel or may have previously lost it, as Quinn suggests.

After all, it's a subjective assessment that each of us makes with our own criteria.

Still, with the council's unanimous vote Tuesday guaranteeing that more 10-story buildings will claw the sky at the ski base area, it's safe to mark Steamboat's timeline and admit the city officially has said goodbye to our quaint little ski town.

To reach Rob Douglas, e-mail


oldskoolstmbt 7 years, 10 months ago

i'm pretty sure we said 'goodbye' to our quaint little ski town years ago...


MrTaiChi 7 years, 10 months ago

@ greenwash

If Dick Cheney had written the things you just did, or Bill O'Reilly, or Pat Buchannan, my guess is that you'd be hopping mad with righteous indignation at how small and mean-spirited he was. There would be pious posturing about intolerance of thought diversity and stereotyping.

You probably are a good person, and judging from your other post, like dogs better than people, but guard your words as indicators of your inner self as this example makes you look shallow and ignorantly dismissive.


1999 7 years, 10 months ago

well Rob...thats what happens when we vote in council people who actually work for the developers.

and thats what happens when we hire palnners with absolutely NO experience in city planning.

and thats what happens when we allow the real estate market to run our city.

really not a big surprise when we have a city income that largely profits from increased building.


interestingly enough......EVERY SINGLE person I have talked to be it tourist or local appaled by the building.

only the developers and real estate people see happyness and dollar signs.


aichempty 7 years, 10 months ago

People who move here from cities will love it. Although why anyone who moves away from a city would want to live in urban squalor in the Rocky Mountains is beyond me.

How about someone building a better grocery market that's more accessible to the west side, so those of us who live far enough from the hill to avoid looking at the urban blight don't have to go all the way to town to shop.



Scott Ford 7 years, 10 months ago

Greenwash I appreciate the passion and opinions you have. I respect what you have to say and more importantly your right to say them. I encourage you and all of us to challenge Rob's ideas, assumptions and perspective. I believe he welcomes that level of dialogue, but when a posted comment becomes a personal attack wishing someone ill-will it crosses the line and is inappropriate for this forum. Keep it focused on the topic and in that context I look forward to reading your opinions and perspectives.


addlip2U 7 years, 10 months ago

1999 - good point! Except that Steamboat ski area is not really a city and that is where the misunderstanding with the "lack of experienced planning staff" come.
Does the community have a long term plan? If so, to hat what does is it conform to: growth as a city or to remain a beautiful small quaint resort type community.

...and by the way, your comment about city council representatives "right on the head"


SMRFF 7 years, 10 months ago

Would someone mind explaining to my why the city is not requiring more of this space to be designated for retail and night life? I realize that this is an issue that has been discussed for a long time, and I am definitely not an expert; however, it seems like common sense that these are essential facets of any resort. I can't imagine going on vacation to a world-class destination resort, only to find that the majority of the infrastructure of said resort is residential.

Also, these plans don't seem to provide any benefit to the local community who make this a "small, quaint ski town".

Sales tax revenue?

I don't get it, but then again, I'm not an industry expert, so maybe I'm just naive. Someone fill me in, please.


aichempty 7 years, 10 months ago

Regarding greenie's deleted comments, I'm only going to say that back in the early 90s, you never saw an obese person in town. They were rare, and really stuck out. Then, sometime around 2000, you'd be in Wal-Mart and couldn't get around because there were so many.

People in the military are required to maintain a certain level of fitness and grooming. Part of it is to demonstrate self-discipline. Although people may not think that a nice haircut, suit and tie, shined shoes and trim appearance mean something, they do. Why should I trust you with my money/life/car/dog/daughter, etc., if you don't appear capable of taking care of yourself?

Rush Limbaugh lost any credibility he once had with me when the drug problem came out. He's a hippocrite. Same for John Edwards, the governor of South Carolina, Randy "Duke" Cunningham and all the rest who have said one thing and done another. Courage requires discipline, and courage is what we need.

I'll admit that I have had my own problems with enjoying good things to eat, and I know where it has hurt me at times in business and personal relationships. Like it or not, in certain circles, appearances do make a big difference, and you have to deal with it.

So, what I'm getting at, is that the appearance of a person, and the appearance of a town, are important. As Ellen Degeneres says in her TV commercial, "Inner beauty is important, but outer beauty is more important."

If I was choosing a town on looks, this would not be it. It's starting to look like Park City 20 years ago, and that's sad.

As a matter of fact, on second thought, it sorta reminds me of the way Atlantic City started to go in the mid 80s. The only thing we're missing is Casino row.

Developers have the right to come in, invest, and make money. Our job is to scrutinize the people serving in government and make sure that they are not being influenced unlawfully, to our detriment. Capische?


JLM 7 years, 10 months ago

Wow, ten stories! Well, not really because a "story" is typically 13' to 13'6" (floor to floor measurement) for a modern concrete structure with a significantly larger first and top floor. So at 110' we are really talking about 7-8 stories. I fail to see the significant difference between 6 and 8 story buildings of up to 110' when framed by an 11,000' mountain.

In any event, it makes sense to concentrate the development density where the services (utilities, fire, police) can be similiarly concentrated and where folks want to live. The retail and dining will follow the density.

Got news for you, folks, when lift tickets went to $91/day --- SBS had already lost its quaint little ski town charm a long time before. Skiing is an elitist, expensive sport and hey, I'm OK w/ that.

Regardless of what happens to the Times Square density (and really this is not very much at all), SBS will always be a special and lovely place because of its natural beauty and the people.

God bless SBS!


Tubes 7 years, 10 months ago

i'm with JLM. well said. only those mtn's aren't 11,000 feet tall, that's relative to MSL...but still, they're big enough that it's not gonna be a "canyon-like" feel that they're crying about. quaintness was long gone before tuesday's council session.

prospective tourist aren't counting floors and researching building heights when deciding where to vacation. i understand that resort size might be a small factor, but i'm quite certain it's other characteristics this valley posseses that bring people here. and if a few change their mind, oh well, a few more will jump on board and replace them.


Martha D Young 7 years, 10 months ago

There seems to be no overall plan (or conceptual design) for the appearance of Ski Time Square or downtown. When Atira was negotiating the rebuilding of the former Thunderhead Lodge, the developers were not required to present an architect's view of their project's final appearance relative to its surroundings. Now we have the approval for unimaginably tall buildings in a small, circumscribed area. What will the ultimate build-out look like? Years ago the Sheraton and Torian Plum broke the height barrier, so now the floodgates are open. Beware, chicks. The fox is guarding the henhouse.


JLM 7 years, 10 months ago

I am usually perfectly in line w/ aichempty's comments --- he is my favorite commentator --- but this time he has wandered off the reservation. Well, just a bit.

I think the existing Lincoln Ave building inventory is pretty damn sorry and totally lacking in charm. A total hodgepodge. The newer buildings add a bit of character and sophistication to the design framework of downtown. I favor the quality of the newer building designs.

Perhaps, this simplicity and inelegant design is part of the simple charm of SBS --- something worth respecting but the only solution to the design challenge? Not in my book!

It is time to modernize the charm of SBS just a smidgen. Not go whole hog crazy with materials that are more appropriate to Los Angeles but surely more permanent and higher quality materials are appreciated.

Scale is always an element of design perception but I have no problem with a well designed streetscape with vibrant uses and a well proportioned structure above again using higher quality materials.

If you want to be world class then you are going to have to class in everything. If you want to charge $91/day to ski, then you are going to have to compete like a MFer to get business.

And, hey, SBS is world class!


Steve Lewis 7 years, 10 months ago

This isn't just about tourists and developers. We live here too.

Building height at the base went from 73' to 110'. That's a BIG, and aggressive change.

This council installed 5 of the 7 planning commissioners suggesting these big buildings, so I shouldn't be surprised at this vast increase in developer incentives. You now have 3 extra stories with which to turn a profit.

I agree with the end of the overly subjective PUD process for base area development. And I agree with more density. But this big height change, combined with the new base density "up-zoning" increases goes too far. "Quaint" is beside the point. The future base area just got massively uglier.


JLM 7 years, 10 months ago

It's the quality of the design, the nature of the materials used, the relief of the building itself, the overall scale of the building not just the single dimension of "height" which is important.

An increase from 73' to 110' at the streetscape for a pedestrian is not even able to be discerned. When was the last time that you looked up at the top of a building when walking along a street?

The scale of the mountains dwarfs the increase of 37'. That's right 37' is what separates us from...................."vulgarity"! LOL What silly nonsense!

I cannot imagine anything more alluring, attractive and appealing than a well designed center of retail, people scaled activity, human activities and well designed buildings at the base of the majestic Mt Werner. Bring it!

Viva SBS!


JusWondering 7 years, 10 months ago

I, for one, think the 'boat lost the "quaint little ski town" feel many years ago... like when they built the mini mall at 5th & Lincoln that looks like it belongs in Breck or when Go-fer foods ceased to be the locals meeting place or when City Market was still downtown. But, then again, who am I; The town was built on the blood, sweat and tears of my father (literally).

I am a strong proponent of progress and growth... planned growth. SBS has ceased to do this some time ago when it became a town of big box stores, chains and Mcmansions.

It seems as if my home town is becoming just like the other ski destinations in Colorado losing its personality in favor of developers wanting to make a quick in-n-out buck... only it is too far away from the front range to get the day visitors (which is not such a bad thing) so the focus is a little different.

Did anyone really expect anything different when you elected the current city/county leadership? If you did you are either incredibly stupid or gullible.

Yep, I love being in the mountains and seeing 110' foot high buildings. Welcome to __ (insert generic name) ski resort.


knee_dropper 7 years, 10 months ago

Has anyone ever noticed how far the shadow of the Sheraton reaches, especially in the winter? If you multiply the height of that building by 1 1/2 times, it will turn the base into a verifiable canyon. Who's going to want to spend time in what will become a perpetually shadowed, cold area with no views except for the walls of condos? No matter what kind of materials the architects apply, they are not going to be any better than the views up valley; what we will probably get is more of that hideous hodgepodge of materials and colors, ala the new Market on the Mountain building. Of course JLM is all for the new height restrictions, hang a couple dollars in front of his face and wait for his Pavlovian response to kick in; that's my take on his stance, but, hey maybe that's just me.


Kevin Nerney 7 years, 10 months ago

You can do anything you want with numbers and statistics. A previous poster said what's 110' compared to 11,000. then someone else says it's only 37 feet we're talking about. Well lets take a look at reality. First you start at 6700 feet. or probably higher at the true base, then you only go as high as the top of the gondy,9300? So you're looking at 3600 feet total. In this perspective 1 percent is pretty substantial. The full 110. is closer to 3 percent. Keep in mind that the total height of the building is measured from mean(average) grade. So the building if built into the hillside could be 75 feet on one side and 125 feet on the other and still only be 100 feet off the ground.


JLM 7 years, 10 months ago

The new height restrictions are good for SBS. They allow enough density for the projects to incorporate "excellent" design with an exciting, vibrant street scape for pedestrians and the opportunity to offer human scale retail activities to serve the balance of the project.

Tsk, tsk, that old sun casting its shadow about! That's sillier than the blessed "37' margin of vulgarity". LOL Heck, these projects are going to cast a shadow, a shadow don't you know! LOL Work your deal and get a better rant than the margin of vulgarity and the "shadow".

With almost 4000' of lovely mountaintop behind it, these projects are going to be too small at only 110' but at least it's a good start. The mountain will frame them beautifully!

Of course, there will be the odd naysayer or two who will fail to appreciate the wonderful opportunity this new height restriction really presents. Even indoor plumbing was suspect at first! Now, it's almost essential, don't ya know?

Only the "shadow" knows for sure!


addlip2U 7 years, 10 months ago

Let me translate this.
I came to Steamboat to stay at the base of the mountain so that I can relax and enjoy the mountains with my family. Perhaps I do not ski or want to take a day off or just got injured. All I want is to be able to walk around the base or sit outdoors to bask on a beautiful sunny day and enjoy mountain views while these new tall buildings are casting a shadow. Tall buildings are blocking the sun that is not melting the snow off the sidewalks and roads, rather making sidewalks slippery, air cold and blocking the sun and view. WOW - what an improvement to the base area!


Matthew Stoddard 7 years, 10 months ago

Unfortunately on this thread, I see some people who were against the 700. Well, if Steamboat can't grow outward, it will grow upward. One way or another, it will grow regardless.

As for aich's comments- you could find overweight (or underweight) people in Steamboat in every decade since I've lived here, and that's coming up on 31 years. Steamboat is a great, outdoorsy place full of hard working ranchers and more...but this was never Adonis-Town USA by any means.

Also, while those in the military are required to maintain a certain level of fitness...not so much. All it takes is getting a profile, as long as you can still do the job you signed up for as an MOS. As I've stated before, one of my CO's would never show up for PT. He always...ALWAYS...had something administrative going on. Had that been what our Company was about, I'd understand. Unfortunately, we were a Tank Company and he was not battle-ready. If it came to PT, he must have had an Eye Profile, because he just couldn't see it happening.

On the hypocrites you listed, I can agree with every one of them...and could probably add some.


JLM 7 years, 10 months ago

The funny thing about basic property rights is that they exist for the benefit of the property owner not every pedestrian who wanders by. Watch which direction the sun rises and time your visits to others' property to enjoy the views as appropriate.

The shadow will block the sun which will not melt the snowy sidewalks! Sheesh!

The 37' margin of vulgarity, the shadows and the unmelted snow! Hahahahaha! Get real folks. This is just standard shallow "no growth", NIMBY anti-development hysteria. This is the kind of logic which would have opposed indoor plumbing.

Having said that, the City of SBS should have a comprehensive plan for the base area if nothing more than coordinating everybody's plans to show a comprehensive view of what is going t happen.

It won't happen very quickly in this economy, so go get your tan while you can.

Only the Shadow knows for sure!


aichempty 7 years, 10 months ago


Things have changed. PT standards mean something now, and everybody conforms. Even the Navy. Most of my contact is with Marines, and you don't even want to think about doing the things Marines have to do. They now have a "combat" physical fitness test that directly relates to recent experience in Iran and Afghanistan. They have to pick up another Marine and carry him, heft ammo boxes over their heads tens of times within a time limit, etc. It's a killer, even compared to the old Marine PFT.

I didn't mean that everybody in town was good looking "way back when." I just meant that you didn't see the 3-foot wide @$$ around town very much in the mid 90s, and now we're covered up with them (tee hee). Being 20 or 30 pounds over is one thing, but 100 over is far more common than in the past.

Anyway, back to the reservation, I think I'll be making mine somewhere else very soon. Times and priorities have changed, and $91 is crazy in the current economy.

The realities of finances close in when you start to contemplate retirement. What's better? Living here in a home worth $600k or pocketing $400k and living in a nicer place with more land and cheaper costs of living somewhere else? The monthly income is the same either way.

Honestly, the thing that really tore it for me happened about two years ago. We were going to "Off the Beaten Path" and some middle-aged portly woman in shorts, with legs that looked like a road map, pulled into the only handicapped spot, displayed her placard, hopped out, got her beach mat, and walked off toward the river. I think that pretty much sums up the way a lot of people around here are now, and it's not like it was when I moved here.

My time and work have proved to be a nice investment, but when parking a Winnebago in a casino lot outside Las Vegas starts to look more attractive than schlepping in with my skis in from the parking lot, it's time to think about spending a couple of weeks at Lake Tahoe and in Utah every year, and leaving this place behind.

Did you see the South Park episode where everybody was so self-absorbed that they were smelling their own f@r+$? I think Steamboat is just about there. Nice place to visit maybe; don't want to live there.


knee_dropper 7 years, 10 months ago

The "opportunity" that this new height restriction is for the developers to line their pockets with more money, not make the base area a more enjoyable place to be. Why were the height restrictions set at 67' feet previously? A 67 foot high building creates a 135 foot long shadow on noon during the winter solstice, a 110 foot high building has a 220 foot shadow. Those are the minimum shadow lengths during the day and will never see the sun. Not to mention the views that will be taken away and replaced by the current mountain multi-color & material architectural style. I guess it all boils down to what we and the tourist who visit value in the character of the base area, a large built up condo land that's dark & cold, that empties at night; or a space that you can see out of, will allow some sun to actually reach the ground and actually has a sense of place instead of any-ski-town USA.


mavis 7 years, 10 months ago

My opinion- First I come from several generations of Routt County's Heritage so here it goes- The quaint little town is GONE- Yes renovations needed to be made to downtown and the ski area- but Downtown has turned into a replica of downtown Denver and is chlosterphobic because of how tall the buildings are- I was given a lift ticket on my birthday this year and hadn't been skiing in five years (nevermind I used to ski everyday- before it was so expensive) I was absolutely appalled riding up the gondola and looking over the valley floor. I am a proponent of growth and my family greatly depends on it- however it needs to be done with a purpose and reflective of the valley. Looking out was like looking at a metropolis I could not believe how much was already crammed into it. The base of the mountain looked like a clustered littered mess- But you know what- its to the point I hope they leave the clustered mess up there and stop messing with the rest of the valley- if they wnat to build that uglieness there fine- just STOP allowing buildings like the ones next to Stock Bridge Like I said growth and rennovations are necessary- but do it with a local perspective and stop depending on designs from regurgitated buildings in Denver


Fred Duckels 7 years, 10 months ago

I like the high density, I would prefer to see our development go this way as opposed to gobbling up rural areas. The 35 acre rule has been the ruination of our small town character, with ranchettes eating up land and chasing off game.


doubleottseven 7 years, 10 months ago

This latest "development" will definitely change the character of the base area but then so did the Grand when it was built. The whole town has changed, as the valley beyond it. But, it has merely changed for those that knew it when. To their children or grandchildren their memories are built on something different altogether and that is what the Steamboat Springs city council and everyone that has a say should be focused on. How to make it better for the future inhabitants.

One can only hope that when the buildings are built and ranches are subdivided that you who are doing the building and the subdividing do so with a nod to the future generations.

The reality though is Steamboat Springs of old is gone, long gone. Somebody sold it out. And the people who did it are those previous inhabitants of the big ranches with open spaces that when on forever and those property owners at the base and in town. How can you blame them, they had Steamboat Springs when it was a small town.


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