Routt County to discuss growth

Transfer of development rights proposal raises questions about sprawl, services


If you go

What: Public meeting of the Routt County Board of Commissioners to discuss and possibly adopt proposed transfer of development rights program

When: 2 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Commissioners Hearing Room, on the third floor of the Routt County Courthouse in downtown Steamboat Springs

Contact: Call county offices at 970-879-0108 for more information.

— Questions about preserving the county’s rural character and how to plan for future development will be on the table as county officials address a much-debated, growth-related proposal today and Tuesday.

The Routt County Board of Commissioners is scheduled to discuss a transfer of development rights program in public meetings at 1:30 p.m. today and 2 p.m. Tuesday. Both meetings are in the board’s hearing room on the third floor of the Routt County Courthouse in downtown Steamboat Springs. The proposed regulations would allow five-acre development in specified, unincorporated county areas through an exchange program in which some rural landowners could transfer their land’s development rights to designated sites closer to, or within, urban areas where greater density is allowed.

Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush said today’s meeting is largely procedural to set parameters and plans for Tuesday’s two-hour discussion that could, should commissioners so choose, result in final adoption of the regulations.

But adoption this week would require a lot of consensus-building.

In a joint meeting with the Steamboat Springs City Council last week, the three commissioners expressed widely differing views on the benefits and shortcomings of the current TDR proposal and related growth issues.

TDR regulations designate rural “sending areas” from which development rights would be transferred to “receiving areas” closer to urban growth.

Routt County Planning Di­­rector Chad Phillips said the proposal includes a 1,600-acre receiving area near Slate Creek, north and west of the land owned by Steamboat 700 LLC just west of Steamboat city limits.

Allowing for roads, infrastructure and other needs, Phillips said, the site could handle about 250 five-acre parcels just outside the city and county’s urban growth boundary. Mitsch Bush said a proposed sending area for Slate Creek development is Wolf Mountain Ranch, north of Hayden near the California Park area.

Mitsch Bush said last week that she had “severe qualms” about the TDR proposal and prefers options that emphasize infill within Steamboat city limits, with ready access to municipal services.

“I think TDR has the potential to be a great tool,” she said Sunday. “This version, in my opinion, needs a whole lot more work.”

Commissioner Doug Mong­er, however, expressed strong support for the program last week, saying it’s a needed alternative to the 35-acre parcels the county allows on unincorporated land.

Commissioner Nancy Sta­hoviak said the TDR proposal raises questions about several related issues, including whether the urban growth boundary should be adjusted and the city’s plans for future growth.

“A lot of things have been pointed out to us that we do need to go back to the drawing board and reconsider,” she said last week. “I think we’ve got a lot to think about as to whether or not we want to move forward.”

Phillips said developers of five-acre parcels would have to meet all the criteria of the county’s planning and approval process and could be subject to impact fees or other considerations.

“The foundation of the Routt County master plan is to preserve the rural, Western character of Routt County,” Phillips said. Slate Creek “wouldn’t be a checkerboard of five-acre lots.”

Last week’s joint meeting drew significant public comment about the TDR proposal.

Some residents spoke in favor of the idea, while others raised questions about potential impacts to agriculture and creation of urban sprawl.

Alternative growth policies have come into the spotlight after city voters’ denial last month of the proposed Steamboat 700 annexation.

“I look forward to a fruitful discussion,” Mitsch Bush said. “We’ll discuss the issues and see where we get.”

— To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4233 or e-mail


Scott Wedel 7 years ago

I think the County has to consider whether TDR encourages growth. Specifically, this is a very large county. So are they taking development rights from land that is actually likely to be developed? And if they are preserving one ranch then don't they also need to preserve the neighboring ranches to preserve the rural character of that area? And so aren't they going to end up creating thousands of lots near SB in order to transfer enough development rights to actually make a serious impact on preserving the rural parts of the county.

35 acre lots have been an use by right for quite a while now. So why isn't the entire county 35 acre lots? Could it be that there is a limited market for 35 acre lots? Might the best way to limit sprawl be to make the people develop on more expensive 35 acre lots?

Seems odd that the county says they are respecting the UGB and preserving the rural nature by opening the floodgates for thousands of 5 acre lots bordering SB.

This is not at all comparable to LPS because those keep the open space adjacent to the houses. So the overall density is only slightly higher than if it was 35 acre parcels, but TDR would allow huge swaths of 5 acre lots bordering SB which is the very sort of low density sprawl that dominates the Aspen Valley that is widely recognized as a terrible mistake.


Fred Duckels 6 years, 12 months ago

This whole deal seems to be a scheme hatched by realtors and developers. In the process the stockholders of the woodchuck ditch wil be given an ultimatum and the ditch will be basically confiscated. My family has been paying dues for 65 years on the ditch. If this concept is to work we need to include the entire area, not just a scheme to benefit a few. This could give us a community reminiscent of Appalacia. If this idea could work in tandem with a 700 approach, I think we would have a winner.


Scott Wedel 6 years, 12 months ago

Also, it is a fundamentally flawed concept to think that alternative growth policies are needed because of SB700 failing at the ballot. The SB 700 vote was not a clear rejection of the WSSAP. If anything, the no campaign referenced the WSSAP more than the yes campaign. The no side argued that the agreement failed to meet the WSSAP.

If it is believed that the WSSAP is now fatally flawed because the owners of the land designated for growth now have no plans to develop the land then maybe the WSSAP needs to be tweaked to deal with that. The first change I would make as a result of the SB 700 vote would be to state that annexations will be limited to 250 units per any 3 year period so that SB can absorb the growth and adjust the annexation rules as needed. The next change would be to move the UGB to allow one annexation application along 20 mile.


Jon Quinn 6 years, 12 months ago

Before City Council had its vote on annexation I was debating the merits of SB700 with one of my constituents. I cited the WSSAP as a reason for supporting the annexation and my friend told me that the WSSAP was BS because the voters had never approved the WSSAP. I had to concede the point since it seems clear to me that very few citizens, in the grand scheme of things, really participated in the WSSAP planning process, and it is true that the plan was never voted on by the public.

Perhaps the defeat of SB700 was a rejection of growth in general, perhaps it was a rejection of moving forward with the annexation right now given our economic downturn, and perhaps it was a rejection of the aspects of SB700 which people felt strayed from the WSSAP. In my opinion, the first 2 reasons certainly outweighed the last.

I do not doubt that we have an informed voter base. Steamboat has very intelligent and informed voters. But how many people who participated in the referendum do you really believe had read the WSSAP, or the annexation agreement for that matter? Maybe 5%? I personally doubt it was that many, but I certainly will not fault any voter for not reading them either. We all have busy lives. But to say that the WSSAP was ratified by the SB700 vote seems inaccurate to me.

The WSSAP is a plan, a vision, for how growth should occur when it does occur. The plan presumes that this development will be undertaken by private investors who will assume both the risk and the rewards of the development. The WSSAP descibes what the development will look like, the types of housing which will be built, and the financial obligations to the City which must be met. The WSSAP was, in effect, a prospectus. If the conditions outlined in the WSSAP cannot be met AND ALSO achieve a reasonable profit for the investors, then the WSSAP is not viable and needs to be revised.

Annexation is not development, although it seeks to enable and control development. Annexation, fundamentally, is land use planning. What kind of neighborhood do you want to see, how does it pay its own way, and how does it complement and enhance what we already are? Perhaps the SB700 plan failed to meet the goals of the WSSAP. I believe, however, that the biggest failure was that the City, and the City Council failed to properly explain that the issue at hand primarily concerned planning and not development.

For my own many failures and shortcomings throughout the annexation process, I am truly sorry.


Fred Duckels 6 years, 12 months ago

This 5 acre deal makes the 700 look like heaven.


Scott Wedel 6 years, 12 months ago

Jon Quinn, 1) Economic numbers guru Scott Ford wrote a column in the Local in which he analyzed the SB 700 agreement vs local plans (WSSAP) and common sense. He wrote that he was undecided. The SB 700 campaign with $140K including many thousands spent on consultants was unable to write a response showing flaws with Scott Ford's analysis. Thus, it is entirely reasonable to suggest that those locals that did agree with the WSSAP could vote against SB 700.

2) Contemplating investor profit is truly a dangerous pursuit when considering annexations or development proposals. It puts the City in the position of bailing out investors that overpaid for the property at the peak of the real estate market. If that property was sold as 35 acre parcels with no hope that they could be annexed then it is certainly worth less than half of the $25M that they paid.

3) "I believe, however, that the biggest failure was that the City, and the City Council failed to properly explain that the issue at hand primarily concerned planning and not development." That seems to be the party line by those that advocated approving SB 700. Karen Dixon said almost exactly the same thing. If you sincerely think that was the problem then I predict that if you follow your own advice then next time you might lose 3 to 1 instead of 3 to 2. The far bigger problem was that you all adopted a plan that SB 700 with $140K campaign could not explain how it would work to meet the promises. It included a real estate transfer tax that is clearly illegal in Colorado, but was relying upon an untested legal theory to get around the law. The affordable housing plan included a scheme to somehow use a small percentage of the land (14 acres) to meet a 16% affordable units goal.

4) The WSSAP may not have been ratified by the SB 700 vote, but neither was it being rejected. Neither side openly ran against the WSSAP and both sides used the WSSAP to argue for their positions.

5) The collapse of the boom certainly did affect the vote because it removed any sense of urgency to approving annexation. A much better plan still would have been approved, but voters that felt the plan was seriously flawed did not have to decide if it was worth trusting the developer to not exploit the flaws.

6) There is a pattern of us local voters turning down grandiose plans at the ballot after local leaders said that was the only viable plan only to be presented with a better plan on a subsequent ballot that gets approved. So we just didn't believe that this was a take it or leave it vote.

7) The far bigger mistake you all as a city council made was to proceed with such a major proposal with a split vote. That there were enough issues with it that Cari voted no as a city council member completely destroyed the argument that only irrational no growth folks could oppose it.


TWill 6 years, 12 months ago

Is the "Colorado that everybody's after" one that's zoned to such residential density that you can't pass gas without your neighbors knowing what you had for dinner? I kind of like how Durango is layed out, the few times I've been there.

Unless you're talking about high end luxury in the city limits or a middle of nowhere, ranch houses way out in the county, there are very few options to own a home with relative privacy.

A proximity from town similar to Steamboat 2 with slightly larger lots would be well received and is missing from our market. I think demand from the "workers" would be more than we realize. The profit return to the developers on such a project would be less than one of higher density due to the lack of units to sell, but the actual product offered could be quite nice if done properly with the topography of the site.

Keeping such a neighborhood from looking like Appalachia would be another challenge. One that would require individual homeowner responsibility and consideration of others.

In a perfect world...


Richard Levy 6 years, 12 months ago

Geez Fred, If I wanted to be mean, I'd say you sounded like one of those "Community Alliance no growth" types. LOL.

Welcome to the club


TWill 6 years, 12 months ago

You're probably right, YVB- the market likely won't accept anything new right now. But, if things ever loosen up in the credit market (not subprime, but responsible credit for the many qualified borrowers that currently getting denied) and properties will begin to change hands again. Then I believe a modestly priced, semi-rural 5 acre lot project would be very well accepted.

Leave the housing authority out of it, no deed restrictions or strings attached, they'll just muddy the water and scare more people away than they'll attract. The developer's overhead costs would need to be kept low to keep lot prices attainable (no excessive marketing campaigns or pie-in-the sky promises of retail centers, schools and all the other bells & whistles we've heard before) and there would be many local families, retirees and even the dreaded second-home owners looking to move up from their condos, duplexes and tightly spaced houses in the city limits to get some extra space and privacy.

Of course, those people would have to be able to sell whatever they're in now in order to make that move. That's the factor that needs to change before any new development is going to happen around here.

Stay tuned, time will tell...


Clearsky 6 years, 12 months ago

Fill in first and make plans for expansion until it becomes necessary to expand. That is the best idea.


Scott Wedel 6 years, 12 months ago

This 5 acre TDR stuff is a complicated issue because is it limited to the edge of SB? How about the borders of Hayden, Milner, Stagecoach, Clark and so on?


TWill 6 years, 12 months ago

"Stratego"... LOL- that's a good one, yvb. I agree with you about the current demand. If it was there, RE brokers would be leading the charge in getting something on the table, and that just isn't happening now.

I'm just throwing out long term options. The 5 acre set up could do well when/ if things turn around. A lot of other factors have to come together first. Like I said, stay tuned...


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