Transfer of development rights could steer growth, save space


Go ahead, jump in the lake

Routt County Planning Commissioners told supporters of the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club on Thursday night to go jump in the lake, and they responded with applause.

The hand clapping broke out in response to a unanimous vote by the Planning Commission to renew a conditional use permit that allows operation of the club's freestyle aerials ramp at Bald Eagle Lake.

"Go jump," Commission Chairman Don Alperti told the audience of parents, athletes and the club's board members.

The freestyle ramp, which allows athletes to practice aerial maneuvers on skis and land safely in the water, has been operating at the private lake on Steamboat's south side for more than five years. Members of the U.S. Ski Team have trained there this spring. However, the permit was allowed to lapse in August 2008.

County planning staff had few issues with renewing the activity.

"I went back to 2003 when they first opened and we have no code enforcement issues," planner Connie Staponski said.

The long, narrow lake was built at the conclusion of temporary gravel mining operations on the site, and it is used primarily for water skiing. The freestyle ramp is built on a hill of rock that still has commercial value and ultimately could be sold and hauled away.

"There were three (gravel) berms in 2001 or 2002," Staponski said. "Now we have one and a half."

The Colorado Division of Wildlife submitted a memo detailing wildlife mitigation impacts it wants to see in place at the operation. The commissioners agreed they had faith in the applicants' willingness to work with the DOW on those measures, including limiting hours of operation.

— The Routt County Planning Commission expressed guarded enthusiasm Thursday night for a new planning tool that could transform the way the county protects highly desirable tracts of open space.

However, the commissioners aren't likely to turn a new transfer of development rights program over to the discretion of planning staff - at least not until they have a chance to test drive new regulations and give them a good tweaking.

"It gets me excited to think we can do this," Planning Commission Chairman Don Alperti said. "But I would be uncomfortable doing it through the consent agenda the first time around."

Routt County experimented with a live drill on a transfer of development rights project earlier this year when it approved a deal worked out between the owners of Flying Diamond Ranch and Alpine Mountain Ranch just outside Steamboat's southern limits.

Now, Assistant Planning Director Ellen Hoj is beginning to introduce elected county officials to the tentative framework of what could become a permanent regulation guiding similar transactions in the future.

The transfer of development rights, as it is being proposed in Routt County, essentially is a three-party deal among the county and two private landowners.

One landowner, called the sender, agrees to give up development rights on their parcel and transfer them to the second landowner, referred to as the receiver, Hoj told the planning commissioners. The sender typically would receive a cash payment from the receiver.

The role of the county would be to formally confirm the receiver's expanded capacity for development.

In the case of the Flying Diamond/Alpine Mountain Ranch deal, the latter gained the right to develop an additional 20 residential estate lots on its luxury subdivision close to Steamboat. In exchange, Alpine Mountain Ranch's payment to Flying Diamond helped to preserve more than 900 acres of irrigated hay meadows and elk habitat surrounding Thorpe Mountain.

When it approved the deal, Routt County effectively shifted potential development at a previously approved subdivision of Flying Diamond closer to Steamboat's urban core.

The public benefit includes the preservation of scenic areas, skyline ridges and transportation corridors, critical wildlife habitat and irrigated agricultural lands, Hoj said. The beauty of the process is that the land conservation is accomplished without any expenditure of public funds, she said.

In the case of the few remaining large ranches in the county, transfer of development rights holds the promise of leveraging far more expensive deals than the county's existing purchase of development rights program (PDR) could ever hope to accomplish with its small property tax millage, Hoj said.

Just as important, the county would have the ability to identify desirable sending and receiving areas, effectively steering the direction of growth and density.

Planning Commissioner Terry Hunter suggested the process could be simplified if planning staff came up with a scoring system that could be used to assign a relative value to proposed sending areas.

Commissioner Wayne Adamo said he has learned from Routt County's existing Land Preservation Subdivision ordinance to be wary of approving more density in exchange for conservation. The LPS process awards developers with additional building lots in exchange for clustering the lots within their overall property, leaving large tracts of open space.

"I really have fears of the overall accumulative effect of the increasing density in Routt County," Adamo said. "We seem to have lost some of the control we had in the LPS process."


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