An open letter to City Council:
If it is not in the annexation agreement, it won't happen. City councilors, please take this statement to heart. Steamboat Springs has a history of poorly executed "agreements," from the mountain and Fairview annexations to Pamela Lane. Intentions and promises were never recorded in legal documents, causing confusion and conflict, ill feelings and mistrust, pitting neighbor against neighbor.
There has been a lot of rhetoric about attainable housing for residents and our local work force. If City Council doesn't define and quantify attainable housing, and require that it be written into the annexation agreement, it won't happen. Pick an average AMI that is fair to the petitioner and the city - it probably is between 120 and 150 percent. This allows construction of housing at 200 percent of AMI or greater while counterbalancing this price point with housing at 100 percent or less (which could be rental housing). Too difficult to administer? If it fulfills a need of the city and the benefit substantially outweighs the cost, it will be worth administering. The program could be as simple as achieving this average in the initial sales and attaching a sliding capital gains fee on any sale within the first five years of ownership (three years is not adequate). After five years, there would be no capital gains fee or residency restriction on resale.
On Sept. 13, the Pilot & Today published an article entitled "Steamboat 700 sustainability measures debated." If City Council does not define and quantify a sustainability standard and require that it be written into the annexation agreement, it won't happen. Intentions and vague guidelines are not good enough. Work out the exact sustainability standards and criteria and write them into the annexation agreement - before approval. If the petitioner is not ready to agree with a defined standard, wait. Mr. Eastman's recent site visit to One Steamboat Place clearly validates why promises must be committed to writing.
The suggestion by some councilors that sustainability standards should be applied citywide is faulty in its logic. This is an annexation petition, not a development application. Annexations look to the future, not the past or present. It is absolutely the prerogative - the obligation - of the city to demand a higher standard for an annexation if it fulfills a need and provides a benefit.
An economic impact analysis to assess the affect of 380,000 square feet of commercial development on existing commercial centers was never required (cannibalization was included in the fiscal impact model; an economic impact analysis is different). We have been told that this is required in the Community Development Code. Here is a good place to use belts and suspenders. Reference the relevant sections of the code and a trigger point upon which an EIA will be required. Demands change, and we may well see one or more applications for a big box store, and it may well be appropriate to require mitigation for projected adverse impacts on our existing commercial centers. But if the specified circumstances and reference to the CDC are not written into the annexation agreement, it won't happen, and it will become the source of argument, conflict and disputations.
An annexation is a negotiation, and in Steamboat Springs, the benefits must substantially outweigh the costs. Meeting minimal requirements of community plans are not benefits to the city under the criteria for annexations. They are those components of a negotiated agreement that fulfill needs of the city. Certainly attainable housing and sustainable development are benefits that can outweigh costs. However, if these benefits - and others - are not written into the agreement in legally defensible language, they will not happen.
Remember, this annexation agreement is not being written for the individuals at the table. It is being written for our successors who may not have anyone in this room to rely upon for institutional memory - and we know from experience that institutional memory, or anyone's memory for that matter, is not legally binding.