TDR at a glance
The transfer of development rights regulations tabled by the county Tuesday afternoon would provide a mechanism for conserving outlying rural parcels, particularly those with working agricultural operations, valuable wildlife and scenic beauty. That would be accomplished by shifting development potential to designated areas close to the city limits through a private transaction between landowners but approved of by the county.
The draft regulations the Routt County Board of Commissioners was considering could have created about 250 5-acre home sites in a crescent shape around the north side of Steamboat Springs, wrapping to the western edge of the urban growth boundary.
The Routt County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to table indefinitely the transfer of development rights that have become controversial as some county residents have branded them as enabling urban sprawl.
However, the commissioners weren’t in lock step on the matter. Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush initially said she wanted to deny approval of the draft regulations because they would up-zone 1,600 acres of rural land to increased density.
“It’s a significant up-zoning … on a scale we haven’t seen since Stagecoach or Steamboat Lake,” Mitsch Bush said. “This massive up-zoning, which doesn’t comply (with the county master plan), would be unwise.”
Mitsch Bush and Commission Chairwoman Nancy Stahoviak differed about whether the TDR regulations as proposed were consistent with several existing community planning initiatives, including the county Master Plan, Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan and the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan.
“Regardless of our analysis of what the 700 annexation vote means, these regulations are inconsistent with Chapters 3 and 4 on rural development in the Routt County Master Plan,” Mitsch Bush said.
But Stahoviak countered by citing several passages in the WSSAP inferring that a transfer of development rights program could create less dense housing areas that form a transition to rural farm lands.
“We have been hearing that what we are proposing is not in compliance with our community plans,” Stahoviak said. “I simply do not believe that is the case.”
Former City Council President Ken Brenner, Steamboat resident Paul Stettner and North Routt rancher Jay Fetcher agreed that the county was premature in identifying specific parcels of land that could become TDR developments.
“It’s critical to get procedures down before you identify any (development) areas,” Stettner said.
“It seems like the regulations should be put in place before we talk about specific projects,” Fetcher said. “All of a sudden, you’re putting value on peoples’ land. Anything close to Steamboat can (develop 5-acre lots); North Routt can only do (35-acre parcels).”
Brenner suggested that the Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan update of 2004 was overdue for revisions.
“The past joint planning efforts of Routt County and the city of Steamboat Springs are a model in Colorado,” he said. “I think it’s time — the update of the Community Plan is an opportunity to reaffirm the strong working partnership between our city and county.”
Steamboat II resident Doug Baker told the commissioners the regulations could lead to undesirable growth.
“I think this is a pretty good form of urban sprawl,” Baker said. “I have concern about 250 septic systems and fragrant water running down the road. My fear is we’re going to see 250 5-acre houses with a barn and a horse and a pile of junk.”
Ultimately, Mitsch Bush softened her stance, calling TDR a tool that offers “great promise” and deserves further study. She seconded Commissioner Doug Monger’s motion to table the draft regulations with Stahoviak’s conditions, which call for further study on specific issues. They include, but aren’t limited to: qualifying how much development threat is faced by lands conserved in the TDR process, potential transportation issues created by new TDR subdivisions, learning more about the city’s desire to be involved, basing TDR receiving areas on criteria rather than a map, and the exploration of creating a citizens committee to advise on TDR regulations.
Stahoviak added that the county’s decision in fall 2009 to eliminate, for fiscal reasons, the position of assistant county planning director likely would mean that work on TDR would proceed more gradually.
Monger said he’s committed to continuing to pursue TDR, but he cautioned the audience that the county would not relinquish its ultimate authority on TDR regulations.
“This is just the start of the process to me,” Monger said. “I don’t believe this is the end of the process in no way. I take with great pride my decision-making ability, and we’re not going to turn over our decision-making ability for something in this county. There’s nothing to be damaged in the short run to tabling this. I’m all in favor of having further outreach.”
— To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org