In last Wednesday’s editorial, this newspaper urged voters to “understand that approving an annexation agreement is not the same as approving development.”
We wholeheartedly agree, which is why we object to this annexation agreement. All the supposed benefits of this proposed annexation are nothing more than the minimum standards that are required of any developer, and in a few key places, less.
Steamboat 700’s dedication of open space, parks and recreation trails is required for development permits. Its contributions to schools, fire and police stations, improvements to roads and upgrades to water and wastewater facilities address only its impact on public infrastructure and services, the standard requirements for development permits.
This is not any development. This is an annexation, and a huge one.
It’s a grant, not a gift
An annexation is a grant from the citizens of Steamboat Springs. In exchange for this grant, current residents rightfully expect communitywide benefits commensurate with the size of the grant.
In fact, the Steamboat Springs Municipal Code requires that “the advantages of the proposed annexation substantially outweigh the disadvantages.”
Annexation is the mother of all up-zoning. The very act of annexation will add millions of dollars to the value of this 487-acre parcel of land that has no water.
Therefore, the threshold for annexation is high, as it should be.
The drafters of the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan recognized that annexation would create considerably more value for the petitioner/developer. They also anticipated the negative impacts of new residential development on the city budget because of our heavy dependency on sales tax.
The drafters responded by specifically stating, “this disadvantage is potentially balanced by the public benefit provided by the affordable housing that will be required as a condition of annexation.”
What’s in writing matters
Affordable housing supersedes all other public benefits and community goals in the WSSAP.
But what is in writing in the annexation agreement? Steamboat 700 will convey 15 acres of land to the city to satisfy its requirement for affordable housing. That’s it. That’s the threshold for Steamboat 700.
“They were going to give us enough land for about half the units … and we were going to use those revenues (from home sales) to go out and buy more land,” said John Eastman, the former city planner who developed this scenario.
Eastman’s scenario is not written into the annexation agreement, probably with good reason. “Half the units” falls far short of the directives in the WSSAP. Neither Eastman’s scenario nor the 15-acre conveyance meet the legal requirements set forth in the Municipal Code.
The affordable housing was intended to be in the development, not outside of it, and built concurrently with each phase of development, not years after when enough revenues accumulate to obtain financing. It’s supposed to be financed by the developer, not by a Ponzi scheme that could collapse like a house of cards. This annexation agreement does not even meet the minimum requirements for affordable housing.
Steamboat 700 is not constructing and delivering affordable homes. Steamboat 700 is not obligated to have them built. Steamboat 700’s legal obligation, per what is written in the annexation agreement, has been satisfied by the mere conveyance of 15 acres. If we are not getting the benefit of affordable housing prescribed in the WSSAP, why are we annexing?
The benefits to the city of Steamboat Springs should be spelled out in the agreement. However, the only items spelled out are those public improvements required of any development to offset adverse impacts to the city.
Recently, City Council members have expressed their concern about the developer’s ability to deliver attainable housing under this annexation agreement. Wow!
City Council members have a fiduciary obligation to represent the best interests of the city. Wouldn’t you think their concern would have been easily addressed by writing into the agreement a binding commitment to provide attainable housing for local homebuyers? Why didn’t they? Wasn’t that the purpose of the negotiations?
Once it’s done, it’s gone
Annexation can and should be enormously beneficial to a community. But in the case of this agreement, there are no net benefits. There is only the minimum that is required of any large development. This is an excellent agreement for Steamboat 700. It is a tragically flawed one for our city, which should be holding the applicant to a higher standard of benefits in return for granting the annexation.
Vote no on this agreement.