Council vote: Water rights, big box not required

Members turn down annexation rules

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— The Steamboat Springs City Council voted unanimously Tuesday not to require the developers of Steamboat 700 to bring water rights or large-format retail to the table as a condition of annexation.

Instead of water rights, Steamboat 700 will be asked to pay for improvements that will allow the city to put existing water rights to use - such as those in the Elk River and Stagecoach Reservoir. The developers' payment will be based on a water demand study for the project, according to the direction council provided to its negotiating team Tuesday night. Steamboat 700 proposes about 2,000 homes and other uses on 508 acres west of city limits.

Later in the night, council followed a recommendation from the city Planning Commission not to require developers seeking annexation to dedicate space for big box stores. That decision also applies to 360 Village, a smaller project west of Steamboat II.

The water decision was made in conjunction with council's discussion of a water dedication policy being developed for the city. Beginning in January, the issue of whether such a policy would apply to projects already seeking annexation became divisive. Steamboat 700 Project Manager Danny Mulcahy said Tuesday it was "disingenuous" for the city to consider holding him to such a policy at this point. The city and Steamboat 700 signed a pre-annexation agreement in August that included a water and wastewater capacity analysis in a list of required studies, but did not specify any required water dedications.

"It's a good start. I can definitely say it's a good start," Mulcahy said about the council's decision Tuesday. "We're here to work with everybody. We're not here to make a big deal out of it. But it is a big issue."

During public comment, resident Bob Enever said Steamboat 700 should not be exempt from the yet-to-be-adopted water dedication policy "just because they are nice people and we've been talking to them for a long time." As currently drafted, the policy strongly prefers the dedication of water rights to cash in lieu.

Council, its attorneys and city staff, however, said they were comfortable accepting a payment earmarked for water projects. The city's recently completed Water Supply Master Plan found that the city has a reliable long-term source of raw water but that it should "increase redundancy in the community's water supply."

Steamboat 700 and 360 Village have submitted dual land-use plans with and without big box pads included while they wait for the city to decide what it wants. City planners recommended big box retail be accommodated in west Steamboat with conditions, and they noted an economic study that predicted a store such as Target or Lowe's would increase the city's sales tax revenue by $1.1 million.

The majority of council, however, thought that negative impacts on community character and existing businesses would be too great.

"I may be one of the casualties," Precision Repair owner Jim Pavlik said. "This little shop, I guarantee, will close if big box comes in."

City Council President Loui Antonucci cast the dissenting vote.

"I think there's a huge need in this community for affordable shopping," said Antonucci, who thinks a big box store will locate in an outlying community such as Hayden if it cannot be built in Steamboat. "If we do not have it here, it will most certainly go somewhere else, and we will have all the impacts and no way to deal with it."

In other action Tuesday, council voted, 5-2, in favor of the second and final reading of an ordinance to suspend linkage. Linkage is a provision of the city's affordable housing ordinance that requires developers to mitigate - with units or fee - a percentage of the work force housing requirements their projects are thought to create. Council members Antonucci, Cari Hermacinski, Jon Quinn, Scott Myller and Walter Magill voted in favor of the ordinance. Council members Steve Ivancie and Meg Bentley opposed it.

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