County planners have drafted language for a transfer of development rights policy that would allow increased density of homes on some county land, creating a feel that is similar in some ways to the Elk River Estates subdivision in North Routt County, shown here. The policy is the first topic of conversation about future growth plans after the failure of the Steamboat 700 annexation.

Photo by John F. Russell

County planners have drafted language for a transfer of development rights policy that would allow increased density of homes on some county land, creating a feel that is similar in some ways to the Elk River Estates subdivision in North Routt County, shown here. The policy is the first topic of conversation about future growth plans after the failure of the Steamboat 700 annexation.

Steamboat growth plan in spotlight

700 vote turns eyes to county’s transfer of development rights proposal


— A Routt County proposal to allow increased density near population centers is suddenly in the spotlight after city voters’ denial of the Steamboat 700 annexation.

The county’s proposed transfer of development rights program would allow 5-acre home sites in some unincorporated areas, potentially including about 1,400 acres north and west of Steamboat Springs. The proposal represents a shift in policy from the 35-acre parcels county zoning regulations currently allow.

Routt County Planning Director Chad Phillips said TDR language has been in the works for three years, with little public attention. But the resounding defeat of Steamboat 700 has city and county officials looking for new answers to regional growth questions, and a public conversation about the TDR program is shaping up to be one of the first ideas on the table.

That is, if other questions don’t get in the way first.

“Right now, we’ve created an area around the current urban growth boundary for the transfer of development rights that would create a transition between urban development and the much more rural 35-­acre county development,” said Nancy Stahoviak, chairwoman of the Routt County Board of Commissioners. “With the failure of the 700 annexation, there’s going to be conversations now about whether that’s the appropriate urban growth boundary, whether it should change, whether the city should grow beyond its current limits.”

Steamboat Springs City Council members acknowledged the uncertainty of growth planning Tuesday night.

“We clearly don’t know in which direction we’re going at this point,” Councilman Jon Quinn said.

A direction could begin to unfold in coming weeks. The Routt County Planning Commission is scheduled to address the TDR proposal April 1. The City Council and county commissioners have a joint meeting April 20, when growth plans will be a primary topic of conversation. County commissioners could approve TDR regulations April 27.

“I bet the TDR is sort of the next evolution of where we’re going,” City Council President Cari Hermacinski said.

The council, though, agreed unanimously Tuesday to send a letter to county commissioners asking that the county Planning Commission postpone its discussion of the TDR program until after the meeting April 20, to allow for more city input in the process.

Stahoviak said city planners have been communicating with county planners about the TDR plan and that there will be plenty of additional opportunities for input from all angles. She said she hasn’t yet discussed postponing the April 1 meeting with the other two commissioners.

“My initial take on it would be we’ve scheduled that hearing, we’ve extensively advertised that hearing and it gives us a chance to get some public comment, which I think is very important,” Stahoviak said. “It starts the consideration and the process.”

A transfer of development rights requires a three-way negotiation among two private property owners and county officials. A landowner whose land has scenic, agricultural or wildlife values could sell development rights on his or her land to another landowner close to a population center, who could develop with increased density near county services and commercial areas. Such a deal would allow commissioners to preserve open space in the county’s rural areas and gain public benefit in return for the creation of new development lots located, for example, just outside Steamboat Springs.

Last summer, a Houston-based development firm collaborated with local Realtors Brent Romick and Joan Ryan on a tentative proposal for as many as 235 5-acre home sites and a golf course on land that’s northwest of Steamboat Springs Airport and shares a boundary with city limits.

Phillips said that proposal has not moved forward in the county planning process and could change given the economy, the outcome of TDR discussions and other factors.

Stahoviak said the 700 vote has changed the growth conversation.

“My opinion is that the city itself now has some work to do with its citizens to determine whether or not it wants to grow beyond its own boundaries,” Stahoviak said. “I think it raised a lot of questions that need to be answered.”

Phillips said county planning meetings could see more attendance.

“For the last three years, all of our work sessions, nobody shows,” he said. “Now the spotlight is kind of on us because of 700.”

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


Scott Wedel 7 years ago

This was brought up prior to the SB 700 vote. Back then it had little to do with SB 700, but was an attempt to stop 35 acre sprawl which increase need for county services in all part of the county, but to allow the growth closer to SB while preserving the more remote parts of the county as large ranches.

The real growth question is whether a nearby 5 acre TDR subdivision that is not asked to pay for the impacts of it's growth or affordable housing could offer free market lots for less than a "new" lot in SB 700? Could the costs of annexation make 5 acre county lots less expensive than those in a new annexation? If it is close then we will never see an annexation request again and we will have the real nightmare of Aspen - endless estates consuming all develop-able land.


John Fielding 7 years ago

Scott poses an excellent question, exactly what is the difference in required development cost between the City and County? Not the cost of land or amenities like a golf course, but those things actually mandated by the regulations.

Cost aside, how about a list, a side by side outline? I'm sure there are many out there who know this off the top of their heads. Will someone please share that information as a contribution to this discussion?


JusWondering 7 years ago

So my question is this, what would prevent SB700 from obtaining petitions from those in SB II & Silver Spur (an perhaps others) to incorporate as a new town? Admitedly I am not that educated on municipality rules in Colorado... but it has been done before, and recently (Centennial). The town of Foxfield is a small municipality near Parker tat incorporated just that for that very reason. They have just enough retail tax base to keep the community viable.

It may not be economically viable, but it sure would get around the 5 ac. plot rule. In fact, there is no way it would be economically viable without some sort of commercial/retail tax base (residents are demanding, they want utilities, police, fire, parks, etc). Foxfield, unlike Centennial, kept their model simple. It would be an interesting possibility.

It would seemingly solve the growth issue for those within SB city limits.


Clearsky 7 years ago

Bad management! There is a reason for 35 acre spreads. Water and sewer for the soil conditions. It's just another way to allow urban sprawl. There are plenty of lots for sale in the city limits. A growing economy in a finite world cannot last. Sorry, it is a recipe for a catastrophic outcome.


greenwash 7 years ago

35 acres is nothing but Rural Sprawl.The 35 acre ranchette is what ruined Routt County.

And God help us if we ever became like the town of Foxfield.Its located at one of the busiest and worst intersections in Colorado.(Parker and Arapahoe).


JusWondering 7 years ago

greenwash, why is Parker & Arapahoe one of the worst intersections in the State...? Because CDOT and the City of Aurora did not PLAN for growth. It has nothing to do with Foxfield. Hmmm.... is there a lesson there?

But I agree I hope we never experience growth like that. I would prefer keeping 10,000 sq ft lots in compact areas and eliminating all of the ranchettes that litter the county.


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