Steamboat Springs Steamboat’s City Council president said this week that despite voting “no” on the Steamboat 700 annexation agreement this fall, she’ll vote “yes” on her mail-in ballot.
Cari Hermacinski was one of three council members who voted against Steamboat 700 on Oct. 13, 2009, when the council approved the annexation in a 4-3 decision. That decision ultimately resulted in a successful, citizen-led petition effort and the all-mail public vote on Steamboat 700 that is under way.
Hermacinski said Wednesday that as a City Council member, her vote remains “no” on the annexation, largely because of her concern about Steamboat 700’s proposed attainable housing program.
“I’m concerned about attainability when there is such a tremendous infrastructure burden for the developer because, obviously, that gets passed on to the people buying a home,” she said. “I do think we’ll get the affordable (housing) out of it, we’ll get the stuff that’s mandated, but will they achieve the attainable part is a question in my mind, so that’s why I voted ‘no.’”
Steamboat 700’s draft attainability program would require 30 percent of about 1,600 homes in the annexation to be marketed for one year to buyers or households earning between 120 percent and 200 percent of the area median income.
But homeowners at the 487-acre site just west of current city limits would face property tax rates more than double those now in Steamboat, according to 2009 figures, in addition to tap fees and a real estate transfer fee. Steamboat 700’s community housing program is separate from its proposed attainability program, which has not been finalized. Hermacinski said that when voting as a citizen, she is not bound by the same concerns as a City Council member. She called the annexation agreement between Steamboat 700 and the city “very thorough and sound” overall.
“As a resident of this community, I’m going to vote for the annexation,” she said. “We are going to continue to grow. It may not happen in the next 10 years, but my kids are going to need a place to live if they want to come back to this community, and I think a master-planned annexation is our best opportunity to minimize the impacts of growth.”
She said an acceptance of risk is a personal trait separating her two votes.
“I know that’s hard to reconcile, that I would vote one way as an elected official and the other as a resident,” she said. “As an elected official, I think you have to be extremely cautious and wary.”
Tim Rowse, spokesman of the Let’s Vote committee opposing the annexation, said Thursday that “it seems inconsistent she’d vote ‘no’ on council and ‘yes’ as a citizen.”
Let’s Vote has cited Hermacinski’s October vote in campaign ads using the “smart choice” slogan Hermacinski used in her re-election bid in the fall.
Hermacinski’s October vote came in the middle of a re-election campaign in which her opponent, Kevin Bennett, was a strong critic of Steamboat 700. She denied Thursday that her council vote was politically motivated or that her dichotomy now is an effort to play to both sides of the issue.
“I would never make any decision based on my political re-election, especially one that is so critically important to Steamboat,” Hermacinski said. “My ego is not tied to this seat — I’m doing this because I want to serve the community.”
Two residents with significant City Council experience said it’s understandable to vote one way in Centennial Hall and another at the ballot box.
“I think it’s reasonable for her to look at any given issue from a (City Council) perspective that’s different than a personal perspective,” said newly elected City Councilman Jim Engelken, who also served from 1995 to 2001. “Part of the responsibility of being an elected official is … setting aside personal preference and speaking for the community as a whole.”
Engelken disagreed with Hermacinski, however, that Steamboat 700 presents the best opportunity for master planning.
“In the case of Steamboat 700, it’s simply a bad deal — the argument that this is the only opportunity to have a planned development simply isn’t true,” he said. “This isn’t a one-shot deal. The developer would like you to think so. ... I don’t buy it for a second.”
Paul Strong was City Council president from 2003 to 2005 and on council from 1999 to 2007.
“You’ve got to take the wider concerns in hand when you make (City Council) decisions, and as an individual you might not necessarily feel that way,” he said.
Strong said he voted for the annexation.
“I’ve told people that personally, it’s probably better for me if it doesn’t pass because my home value will go up quicker, but I think (denial) would be bad for the community,” he said.
Steamboat Springs City Clerk Julie Franklin said 1,828 citizens had voted on the annexation as of Thursday afternoon. That’s about 29 percent of the 6,386 registered, active city voters listed in county registration figures released last month.