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.