Thursday, October 1, 2009
Steamboat Springs Steamboat 700 came within one vote of defeat Tuesday, but Principal and Project Manager Danny Mulcahy said he was encouraged by the outcome and remains confident moving forward.
If Tuesday's Steamboat Springs City Council meeting is any indication, final consideration of the proposed annexation Oct. 13 should be an energetic affair. Steamboat 700 advances to that date after a 4-3 vote that followed a tense and highly attended meeting.
Steamboat 700 is a 487-acre project that proposes 2,000 homes and 380,000 square feet of commercial space to be built in 20 to 30 years, on a site just outside the western city limits. Steamboat 700 is within the boundaries of the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan, which contemplates growth and annexation to help accomplish a number of community goals, principally affordable housing.
Steamboat 700 attorney Bob Weiss said the development has spent three years and $5 million developing its proposal.
He said if it is not approved, no alternative plan will be presented to the city, and the WSSAP's vision for high-density development in the area will be lost.
"This is the absolute best effort," Weiss said. "This gives us an opportunity for a sustained, planned approach to growth."
Council members requested that a number of issues be addressed before Steamboat 700 returns in two weeks. They included an additional land dedication for affordable housing and stronger assurances that the development will employ green practices. The biggest concern, however, was that Steamboat 700 somehow prove that its homes will be affordable to working-class residents. Because of the expensive toll of public improvements being required of the development, some council members fear that is not possible.
"I have to see enough numbers to believe this will really provide attainable, free-market housing to the community," Councilwoman Cari Hermacinski said.
Mulcahy noted that he will be able to spread the cost of improvements across the entire development and said some cost estimates, particularly those related to U.S. Highway 40, are too high. Some council members and residents wanted more than Mulcahy's word, however.
"Nowhere in the contract is that verbal intent written," resident Catherine Carson said. "If it's not in writing, it may or may not have occurred."
Others felt council was teetering dangerously close to denying the development and thus losing $140 million in public benefits such as a fire station, school, highway improvements, parks and more. They also said allowing Steamboat 700 to solve some of the community's problems is better than denying it because it doesn't fix all of them.
"I really feel like if we don't plan for and make this happen now, we're walking away from an opportunity to have a partner," resident Greg Long said. "I know it seems like a big development, but I think it makes sense. If it goes elsewhere, there's nobody to help us pay for it."
Mulcahy said he doesn't think the attainable housing issue is insurmountable.
"We're going to work with staff to come to a solution," he said. "Our housing is geared to the work force of the community, so it shouldn't be too hard to provide the community with some assurances of that."
There was frustration on both sides of the council's tight vote. Councilman Jon Quinn said he was upset that years of planning and preparation came so close to failing.
"I was bummed. I shouldn't be so passionate about it, but I truly think it is better for us to have a plan for growth rather than not have one," he said. "This community will continue to grow for the basic reason that it is a place people want to be. It's better to make sure we have a plan for it."
Quinn said he was surprised by the three "no" votes cast by Hermacinski and council members Steve Ivancie and Meg Bentley. Quinn said he felt the votes were not adequately explained. Shortly after the meeting, he confronted Ivancie and asked whether he was ready to throw the entire development away.
Ivancie said he voted against the first reading of an ordinance annexing the property because of lingering concerns and his belief that the process is moving too quickly. A motion by Ivancie to table the ordinance failed.
"I'm not a slave to anybody's schedule. We only get one shot at this," Ivancie said. "We're all taking it very seriously, but I see no reason to rush this. I'm willing to vote on it, but I'm not willing to rush it."