Let's Vote issue committee: Why did 61 percent say ‘no’?

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The Steamboat Pilot & Today noted Sunday (Our View: “Time to end silence after 700 vote”) that a month has passed without any utterance from City Council about the Steamboat 700 vote. Coincidentally, Let’s Vote issue committee members recently agreed to share what they learned during the course of the petition drive and the campaign to repeal the ordinance. Here are some of the reasons voters rejected the annexation agreement:

It was a split decision. The developer pushed City Council to vote before the November 2009 elections. Neither Steamboat 700 nor City Council seemed to recognize that if they did not achieve unanimous council endorsement of the annexation agreement, it would raise red flags. An issue of this magnitude failing to gain the unanimous support of City Council indeed raised questions as to what flaws there were in the agreement.

It’s the annexation agreement. The annexation agreement would bind and hold accountable all future elected officials and developers of parcels within Steamboat 700. City Council’s negotiations fell short on affordable housing, attainable housing, water, traffic, community character and public benefit. No amount of assurances from the developer or present and former City Council members could overcome what was not in writing.

It’s the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan. Steamboat 700 claimed the community would be wasting 15 years of planning if its annexation plan was rejected. Actually, the “no” vote upheld the WSSAP by demonstrating that citizens will not tolerate the evisceration of their volunteer efforts. The WSSAP set a standard, describing how and under what conditions the city would approve annexations and growth.

This community-driven document was well known to Steamboat 700 before it purchased the Brown parcel. Yet remarkably, both the developer and City Council and staff agreed to changes to the affordable housing component (which already had been compromised from the first WSSAP) in the first few months of negotiation, disrespecting the citizenry who created the plan. These changes to the WSSAP happened without public input or citizen involvement.

Failure to understand what we want for our future. The developer and City Council members would have been wise to read the Vision 2030 report. “Decision-makers must recognize that citizens expect master plans to be upheld and enforced and that plans need to be regularly updated with specificity and clarity to minimize interpretation” (page 45, Desired Outcome). The purpose of the WSSAP was to establish a standard below which nothing was negotiable and above which everything was negotiable. Steamboat 700 negotiated down, not up, and City Council acquiesced, disappointing expectations of their constituents.

It’s our existing home values. The financial meltdown of September 2008 affected everyone’s world — except, apparently, Steamboat 700’s. There were no adjustments to projections on absorption rates or community impacts. Voters were worried about the declining value of their properties — their retirement accounts. They believed Steamboat 700 would flood the market with housing, no matter the duration of build out because it would have to aggressively market whatever housing it builds each year, becoming the largest seller in town at the expense of individuals trying to sell their homes.

How can a development this big “control growth”? Steamboat 700 ads asserted the annexation would “control growth.” This assertion was simply not believable. In any reasonable citizen’s experience, has development ever controlled growth, let alone one that will nearly double the size of Steamboat Springs? With this assertion, voters realized they could not trust Steamboat 700 or City Council. An incremental annexation would have been more palatable and believable.

This is some of what we learned. Everyone now knows there is a large disconnect between City Council and its constituency. How does one explain this? Perhaps they listened too much to the developer and not enough to us. Perhaps in their rush to pass the agreement before the November elections, they forgot whose interests they were sworn to represent. Maybe the citizenry felt they were dismissed in the final months of negotiations, and the public vote was the only way they could get their voices to be heard.

Whatever the reasons, it is incumbent upon City Council to devise a process to get back in touch with the community and rebuild trust. The voters are in no mood for just a few tweaks to the agreement, but rather a new proposal that clearly lays out the “greater benefits” to the community, honors the original West Steamboat Springs Area Plan by delivering what it requires, and improves, not detracts, from our community character.

Comments

Scott Wedel 4 years ago

Oops, you forgot to include a bullet point to refute Steamboat Springs Planning Commissioner Karen "Land is entitled to be developed because this is America and that's how we operate" Dixon's argument that "this was a straightforward case of confusion"

Or were you all too busy rolling on the floor with laughter to address her argument?

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pitpoodle 4 years ago

Next election for City Council, clean house. Get people in office who have some understanding and history of this great community and who will speak up for the people who live and work here. End the oh-so-clever evasive political tactics as performed by councilman Hermancinski and get honesty and integrity on council. People who do not think their entire constituency in within the development community and realty establishments would be refreshing. Thank you Let's Vote committee for all of your efforts.

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Fred Duckels 4 years ago

Karen Dixon's no spin response is a breath of fresh air after listening to this double talk for months.

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Scott Wedel 4 years ago

Fred, "Karen's no spin response"??? The one where she blamed voter confusion? The one that is the very definition of "spin" where she spins the unfavorable fact of having lost the election into voter confusion?

You may agree with her post and disagree with this, but complaining about spin is the least credible argument available.

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Steve Lewis 4 years ago

What I want to know is who is giving Karen poster's identities.

Karen, how do you do it? Almost a year ago I send Brent two written complaints seeking the identities of web posters who called me a liar. The website rules would not allow me to post their names, but I wanted them barred from further posting for violating user terms (libelous, defamatory posting). I never even got a reply.

You on the other hand are outing folks left and right. Today is the third time I've seen you reveal someone's identity.

I also see the Pilot's web user agreement no longer requires we not divulge another user's identity. But other parts of the user agreement still speak to not posting material "invasive of another's privacy" nor infringing "on the rights of any third party".

The Pilot is proving to be a farce in upholding its user agreement policy.

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Karen_Dixon 4 years ago

Scott - you are the one putting spin on my words. You act as if I have personally attacked you in some way. I'm curious. Are you a property owner? What do you have the right to do with your property?

Let's Vote - Thanks for your letter. Most of the reasons given further the point I was trying to make in the other blog - not the point Scott Wedel claims I was trying to make. This was presented as a development and voted on as if it were a development, both in City Council & in the referendum process. The distinction between an annexation application & development application was muddied. I was part of the process that perpetuated that confusion - and for that I am sorry. I got caught up in the trees & lost sight of the forest.

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Steve Lewis 4 years ago

I like our leadership personally, but the majority works in the industry they were negotiating against. The result of their sympathies with the developer’s interests was an annexation agreement slanted toward the developer’s interest rather than the citizen’s interest. As a former city planning commissioner making my living in the same industry, I remember the same motivation to say “yes”.

I appreciate Let's Vote more than most, because I witness the strain some of them endured to bring this ballot. Thank you LV, for the weight you carried uphill for us.

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Fred Duckels 4 years ago

I sense the usual attack mode here that typifies CA surrogates when the agenda is under fire. Everyone is fair game including the Pilot. Reminds me of movies of the south when the good old boys reigned supreme.

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Scott Wedel 4 years ago

Karen, I did feel personally attacked when it appeared you were saying the process involving the voter was straightforward confusion. Now that you appear to be saying that you were not referring to the voter, but to the City and the developer (whom went along with the City) so I don't feel threatened.

I feel dismayed that apparently the City which told us they had expert consultants so messed up the process. I feel dismayed that people such as yourself that were involved in the process, did not say that the process had gone wrong until after the election. But oh well, at least the voters were smart enough to reject the results of the messed up confused process before being stuck with the results of it forever.

Do I think I have the right to use my property as specified by zoning? Yes. Do I think I have the right to have property annexed into a City? NO.

BTW, I think you and Steve Lewis's above post both stray from the central issues of why it was rejected by the voters. It was not the process itself that was the big problem. It was that the final product of the process had strayed so far from the WSSAP and the Vision 2020/30 plans. It was at such odds with those community plans that even a $140,000 campaign couldn't sell it to the voters. The City need not be adversarial and could be great cooperative friends with a developer by just saying "Here are the community plans, expect problems if you don't follow them".

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Karen_Dixon 4 years ago

Scott, Thanks. I meant no personal attack on you or the voters. If it came off that way, I apologize. I think the crux of the problem is that the goals of the plan are impossible to reach with the fiscal neutrality requirement of the plan. When trying to negotiate through that impossible hurdle, there surfaced many reasons why either the goal wasn't being met or the requirements weren't being met. So, there were many reasons to grab hold of and say wait a minute. Additionally, we city folk got so caught up in the details of the "development" that we lost sight of the fact that it was an annexation. That led to confusion.

This process has been obviously very divisive. If I've added to that, it was unintentional. I enjoy being part of community solutions, which is why I volunteer my time. Anyway, let's work on goals and solutions and try to stay positive.

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Karen_Dixon 4 years ago

Lewi - I just saw your above post re: outing people. I don't mind people staying anonymous for whatever reasons they choose, but I don't like smear campaigns from people not willing to put their name behind their comments. I think slander and personal attacks are foul play and degrade the integrity and validity of this forum. I have never asked the Pilot for anyone's name, nor do I have any information that hasn't been revealed right here on the blog. Robert gave his name in a blog last summer when I crossed the line one sleep deprived annexation review week. He attacked me which I deserved, and willingly gave his name. Loretta included me in an email during the fall political campaign in a smear on the relationship between the Pilot & Cari. You may have been a recipient in that email as well, I don't remember. Anyway, she then immediately posted the same exact letter as a blog under the name pitpoodle, thereby outing her own self to those of us (many in number) who had received that email. At least one other has called greenwash by his name in a previous blog. He had posted something I found offensive, so I remembered his name. Many of his posts are offensive regardless of whether or not he is an asset to the community in his daily life. If it is not Dave, then I suspect Dave will correct that callout, and I will owe him an apology.

Many people post anonymously yet practice civil dialogue even in disagreements. In my opinion, that's acceptable & worthy of respectful privacy.

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Matthew Stoddard 4 years ago

It's so nice to see people using their own name more on this site compared to a couple of years ago!

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Scott Wedel 4 years ago

Karen, I think SB 700 made a huge mistake during the process to accept some of the costs requested by the city. I think Danny would have been far better off arguing that neither Hayden or Craig pays for traffic impacts along hwy 40 and if he has to pay for that then it takes the average unit price to a point that means they will be selling to second home owners, not locals. I think Danny failed to make that argument for the simple reason it was always their plan to primarily sell to second home owners, not locals.

That was the deep underlying issue in the whole process. City was talking as if the project was for locals, ideally to allow SB workers to move from Stagecoach or Hayden to SB. Meanwhile SB 700 was thinking about promoting a resort development to people across the world. So instead of fighting the city over every added cost and arguing that the city is killing the ability to make it work by selling locally, SB 700 accepted those costs because selling locally was just another requirement, not their intended market.

That may not be a commonly held view of real intentions, but I think a large number of the no voters realized the development's promises and their financial obligations simply did add up and so there was something wrong there.

BTW, here is another reason why rejecting SB 700 was a fortunate decision by the people of SB. Harley Davidson is already experiencing challenges selling new bikes because the leading edge of baby boomers is aging and is thus selling their Harleys to slightly younger baby boomers. SB real estate was being sold and designed to the same demographic as Harleys. SB 700 would have been designed for a market that did not want that product. By the time that the local market recovers then the target demographic is going to be different. It is not going to be baby boomers because they will just be selling from older boomers to younger boomers.

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Karen_Dixon 4 years ago

Lewi - The words you chose.... "negotiating against"... bother me. Negotiating WITH is, imo, the proper phrase. Both sides need to win in a successful negotiation. Both sides have something to gain & respecting that gain is important. I can't speak for anyone else, but as for me, I never considered whether the developers interests were being met or not, except to understand that they would have to be met in order for us to get our goals met. I will grant you this.... I was perfectly willing to allow creativity in meeting requirements in order to achieve goals. I had my sights set on goals and on more than one occasion, I stated in public meetings that I thought the plan set out impossible requirements and let obstacles control vs. stating a goal, and laying out a realistic roadmap to achieving that goal. For example, many small units on many small lots creates more affordability than a few larger houses on a few larger lots. So I voiced a desire for higher density - higher than what the WSSAP limit was. I saw the stated requirement as letting an obstacle - traffic - limit us from achieving the goal. I personally saw that obstacle as something that can be overcome and in terms of priority, I felt it was more important to achieve an attainability goal than to let a problem keep us from reaching the goal.....

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Karen_Dixon 4 years ago

... Developers aren't all enemies. (don't get me wrong, some of them are horrible people, just like some t-shirt shop owners are horrible people) Developers are tools within a city's arsenal of ways to get things done. But we have to respect what a developers motivation is. It is no different than anyone's true motivation - to earn a living. Perhaps some of them make better livings than some of us. So what. We all chose our paths.

Do we want, say... anywhere USA strip center developments? I don't think so. So we lay out laws and guidelines that say what we want. Zoning codes, UGB lines, Future Land Use maps, Corridor Standards etc. And then a developer comes along and says here's how I can help you meet your goals. And sometimes they are feeding us a line of crap & it doesn't help us meet our goals. And we try to be diligent about catching that. But sometimes, I would even say most times in this town, they aren't feeding us a line of crap. But some people, no matter what, because a developer is, God forbid, making a profit, think that the city is somehow being taken for a ride, and that even though whatever it is being developed is indeed good for the city, the relationship is immediately adversarial and strained on a false pretense & the city ends up getting something less than what it wanted. These are the people who use phrases like "negotiating against". I'm not pegging you Steve. I do believe you care about this community and I believe you have been a good watchdog. I'm just asking you to examine an attitude possibly exhibited with that choice of words. I'm also asking you and others to recognize that just because some representatives understand that developers need to make money in order to develop what the city wants, this does not mean they are on the take or have some sort of personal gain to be made by a decision to approve or deny any given development.

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Scott Wedel 4 years ago

It is a dangerous idea to worry about whether or not a developer is making money on the project. It is a dangerous idea because it suggests that the City should lessen the requirements if that is what is needed to make money. The flip side is also an dangerous idea because it suggest the City should increase requirements if it is believed the developer is going to make too much money.

How much money can be made via developing a property is what largely determines the fair market price of that property prior to development. So any hint of reducing requirements to preserve profitably just increases the value of the parcel while diminishing the public benefits.

The City should just have the requirements specified in zoning and various plans which are then used during the review process to be confident that the submitted plan is meeting the requirements. If the requirements are too onerous then developers will bitterly complain and maybe at some point stop submitting development plans.

The City planners should understand that any requirement that a developer is allowed to avoid gives that developer a competitive advantage. But time is also money for a developer so the quicker and more clearly the requirements appropriate for a particular development are communicated then the sooner the developer can submit good plans.

So, I think that neither adversarial or recognizing that "developers need to make money" is the correct approach. The correct approach is to communicate the rules the project is expected to follow and to judge whether an application meets those rules.

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Steve Lewis 4 years ago

That's a development conversation. I agree with Scott's 1st 2 sentences. Once you begin weighing the ability of the developer to profit, you have decided you want that development to succeed. Development for the sake of development - i.e. pro-development.

That go-along attitude used in the annexation negotiations ended up failing everyone. One go-along councilor even voted against it because of attainability concerns, but in all my council attendance the councilor had never lifted a finger to personally do anything about attainability! Too much government for one's tastes I suppose? That's the wrong attitude and far too much sympathy when you are annexing.

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Steve Lewis 4 years ago

Damn I type too slow. I was replying to Scott and Karen.

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Steve Lewis 4 years ago

George, The day after the vote I wasn't particularly thrilled about it. There were some positives amongst the negatives of the deal we turned down. But every day since I like the result more.

There is just too much continued upheaval in economic and social trends to trust SB700 was the right 20-40 year plan. Meanwhile V2030 barely changed from V2020, so I don’t expect the community knows what to tell you.

The smart community move is to recognize we have a lot of inventory and low absorption, and there is no rush to lay out a vision for annexing. We should focus on the non-construction aspects of our economy for a couple years, and get the foundation we already had balanced again.

It also seems unlikely the community would abide with an annexation application until we find that balance and also believe the national economic hangover is fully settled.

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pitpoodle 4 years ago

Karen, Aren't you the little detective. Perhaps your time would be better spent investigating the items that come before you on planning commission. From your comments, one wonders whether you actually read the SB700 agreement before recommending approval. I intend to keep my name, Pit Poodle. I like it and no amount of your bullying will change that. My criticism (criticism is not slander) of city council members is valid and I have told them directly (uh yes I used my real name) not just in this forum. They know who I am and I've got no problem with that. Same with the Pilot's editor and publisher. Council et al needs to hear the public's views not just some namby pamby words from smiling faces. I learned a long time ago that in Routt County, if no one complains, public officials thinks everything is fine. With no one questioning, isn't this how SB 700 got so far?

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Scott Wedel 4 years ago

Steve, I agree that I have seen nothing since the election to make me regret my vote. What I have seen has made me more confident that voting no was the right decision.

The SB 700 campaign suggests they are the gang that couldn't shoot straight. How a campaign could outspend their opponents by 8 to 1 and then complain that they are being outspent on Pilot ads is amazing. That they spent so much so ineffectively certainly raises questions on their ability to properly develop the parcel.

These online posts from SB planning commissioner Karen Dixon suggest both "straightforward confusion" and poor understanding of important issues during the process.

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Steve Lewis 4 years ago

Karen, "Against" is sometimes necessary. As in this ballot. I thought my larger reply was posted, but its not here today.

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