Steamboat Springs Danny Mulcahy continues to host breakfast meetings and methodically attempts to build support for Steamboat 700 throughout the community.
But don't expect to see any major campaign efforts promoting the project while a group of citizens tries to collect enough signatures to challenge the Steamboat Springs City Council's annexation of the development.
"We've always known a petition was an option of the electorate, and we respect that," said Mulcahy, Steamboat 700 principal and project manager. "It wasn't a surprise. : We've accommodated it, actually."
A referendum issue on this fall's ballot seeks to lower the city's referendum threshold to match the state's requirement that petitioners collect signatures from 10 percent of registered voters. As part of Steamboat 700's annexation agreement, the current City Council and Steamboat 700 developers agreed that the 10 percent threshold, as opposed to the city's charter requirement of 20 percent, would be sufficient in the event of a petition drive. The city's annexation agreement with Steamboat 700 also requires that the developer pay all the costs of a referendum election, if it occurs.
Steamboat 700 is a 487-acre annexation approved by the Steamboat Springs City Council on Oct. 13 in a 4-3 vote. It proposes about 2,000 homes and 380,000 square feet of commercial space just west of the current city limits.
Some say Steamboat 700 would give the city a smart place to grow, provide affordable housing and help pay for needed city improvements; others say the annexation is too large, is happening too fast and does not adequately address impacts to the city's water supplies, traffic and more.
Steamboat Springs residents Omar Campbell, Greg Rawlings, Terry Armstrong, Tim Rowse and Cindy Constantine have formed a committee called Let's Vote to lead a petition drive to send the Steamboat 700 annexation to a public vote. Petitioners must collect at least 829 signatures by Nov. 12 to trigger the referendum process.
If the petitioners succeed, the City Council will first have the opportunity to repeal the annexation. If it doesn't repeal it, the question will go to voters in a special election likely to be held in January or February. It would be an all-mail election, like the Nov. 3 vote.
It is at that point, Mulcahy said, that a public education campaign would be launched with the intention of swaying public opinion in favor of the annexation.
"We're hoping at the end of the day the electorate supports the decision that fulfills what the city has been planning for the last 15 years," Mulcahy said.
In the meantime, Mulcahy said that the annexation is approved and he is focused on moving forward with it by getting to work on issues such as infrastructure design and marketing efforts.
Rowse outlined a similar strategy by the Let's Vote committee to focus first on collecting signatures rather than campaigning against Steamboat 700.
"If a citizen-led group believes that a majority of the voters disagree with a vote by the City Council, then it's that group's constitutional right and duty to put the issue up for a referendum," Rowse wrote in an e-mail. "When the appropriate number of signatures are collected, then the duty of that group becomes to educate the voters on the issue so they can make an informed choice."
Rowse said the committee hasn't tallied signatures yet but plans to do so Monday. Anecdotally, Rowse said, the volunteers circulating petitions say city residents are agreeing to sign by a ratio of 15-to-1. Rowse said he has heard no reports of the committee or its volunteers being approached by Steamboat 700 representatives or treated nastily by its supporters.
In an e-mail forwarded to the Steamboat Pilot & Today, former Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley organizer Steve Aigner wrote that he expects a more malicious battle. Citing an unnamed "well-connected" source, Aigner wrote that Steamboat 700 supporters "will do everything they can to stop a petition for referendum."
He wrote that the supporters would discredit and embarrass others if necessary.
Mulcahy expressed offense at the claim.
"I've done nothing of the nature in the past," Mulcahy said, "and I anticipate doing nothing of the nature in the future."
Aigner resigned from the Community Alliance in August citing "unprecedented newspaper focus" given to a presentation he gave in April at Iowa State University and his work as the group's organizer "that makes it difficult to ensure that the efforts of the Community Alliance will be judged on their merits."
In his former role, Aigner told the City Council in July that the alliance would immediately begin a petition drive if the city didn't voluntarily put the annexation to a public vote. That never happened, but Aigner wrote in his e-mail that he would "hand over what has been organized to date" to Constantine.
Aigner declined to comment for this story. Constantine said she contacted Aigner in August for background information on the petition drive and that Aigner provided background information on Steamboat 700 and the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan and materials from City Council meetings.
She said Aigner was circulating one of the committee's petitions. The Community Alliance, however, is not involved.
"Steve is acting on his own," said Alliance President Jack White, who said he thinks the organization did its part by participating extensively in the annexation review process. "We don't like to take on issues that are divisive among our membership. : It's up to the citizens at this point."