Steamboat Springs Planning Commissioner Karen Dixon hailed the Steamboat 700 proposal Thursday night as a "framework for concentrated, dense, smart growth" as she made the successful motion clearing a path for the creation of more than 2,000 new homes just outside the city's western boundary.
The Steamboat Springs Planning Commission voted, 4-2, to recommend approval of the annexation ordinance for the long-debated development. Steamboat 700 now moves on to a first reading of an ordinance before Steamboat Springs City Council on Sept. 29, with a second and final reading scheduled for Oct. 13.
Commissioner Jason Lacy seconded Dixon's motion. The dissenters were Vice Chairman Richard Levy and Cedar Beauregard, with commission chairwoman Kathi Meyer absent.
Levy said he thinks the fiscal neutrality promised to residents within the existing city limits is far from certain and the original West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan never anticipated that 3,600 homes would be built in the overall area as is now anticipated.
"You can look at two baseball teams and read the bating averages, but that doesn't tell you who will win the game," Levy said. "I don't know if I truly understand (the proposal) and know what the outcomes are."
However, Dixon said, in her mind, the Steamboat 700 proposal met all the criteria for approval.
"Not only is it compatible with the existing residential neighborhoods in west Steamboat and the county, it will provide great benefit to them," she said, "including parks, open space, a grocery store and other neighborhood retail : (Yampa River) Core Trail connection and the necessary impetus for brand new schools."
Lacy said he continues to have concerns about fiscal neutrality and traffic issues but that he thinks the advantages of the project outweigh the disadvantages, particularly in the areas of affordable housing creation and transit.
"Do we have a perfect project? Probably not," Lacy said. "Do we have an agreement that will benefit the greater community? There's no doubt in my mind we do."
Beauregard and Levy felt strongly that any approval for Steamboat 700 should include triggers tied to the traffic bottleneck on the west side of downtown at 13th Street. Levy acknowledged that not all future traffic increases at the bottleneck could be attributable to Steamboat 700 residents. However, he argued that shouldn't preclude the city from putting restraints on the platting of new lots there, if traffic at the stoplight at the entrance to downtown reaches a crisis sate.
Beauregard said the sheer size of Steamboat 700 makes it more than the community is ready for.
"I'm afraid we're going to need a full-blown (highway) bypass, and I don't even want to guess what that would be - hundreds of millions of dollars," he said. "This feels like a great boulder we're pushing off a cliff - there's no way to stop it."
City Public Works Engineer Laura Anderson reminded the commissioners that one recent traffic study revealed that of 27,000 daily vehicle trips through the bottleneck, only about 7,000 to 8,000 are traveling all the way from the east side to the west side of Steamboat Springs. The destination for the rest is downtown, and thus a bypass would only address a minor portion of the traffic issues.
Commissioner Brian Hanlen suggested that Steamboat residents should examine their own driving habits before blaming Steamboat 700 for existing traffic problems.
"Throughout the years, the city has paid for study after study that comes to the same conclusion - locals create the majority of traffic on Lincoln (Avenue) and Highway 40," Hanlen said. "Until we change our own habits versus expecting someone else to fix our self-created problem, the problem will continue to be exacerbated."
Dixon said she thinks Steamboat 700, with traditional neighborhood design standards endorsed by the commission earlier in the evening, gives Steamboat its best chance to avoid the ills of old school suburban design.
"It would be far worse on the environment in the long run if we annexed this one small chunk at a time," Dixon said. "I consider it fortunate that we have an opportunity to get control of it all at once and to be able to master plan it and ensure smart growth."
"I won't sugarcoat this site. No matter how you look at this project, this is sprawl," he said. "But I believe dense development and intelligent land use policies overcome that fact so this won't be like its ubiquitous suburban cousin."
Hanlen went as far as saying that in time, Steamboat 700 will make the rest of the city look ill-considered by comparison.
"This project, if approved, will employ land strategies that should be the envy of the rest of the city," he said. "Should we not recognize the potential irony for Steamboat 700, by the time it's built out, to be a better product than the existing city?"