Our View: Reconsider Casey’s Pond restriction

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Editorial Board, May 11 through Sept. 21, 2011

  • Scott Stanford, general manager
  • Brent Boyer, editor
  • Tom Ross, reporter
  • Laura Schmidt, community representative
  • Jim Miller, community representative

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— We share the enthusiasm the Steamboat Springs Planning Commission showed last week for the proposed Casey’s Pond senior living community on the south side of the city, but we think one of the restrictions placed on the conditions for approval ought to be re-examined by City Council.

The Planning Commission unanimously approved the 121,000-square-foot development off Walton Creek Road that promises skilled nursing rooms, independent living, assisted living and the region’s first secure memory care housing. Among other things, the Casey’s Pond development would replace the existing Doak Walker Care Center at Yampa Valley Medical Center.

Pearl Senior Living, the project’s developer, marketer and manager, also sought indefinite vesting on a variance that would allow it to expand the project beyond what city code allows based on the project’s overall lot size. The term for the code requirement is “floor area ratio.” Specifically, Pearl Senior Living wants to be able to expand the $40 million project by 60,000 square feet when demand warrants it.

Before voting on the project, the Planning Commission added a requirement that all future Casey’s Pond additions go through a complete development permit process. We support such a requirement.

Commission Vice Chairwoman Kathi Meyer then added another condition that limits the vesting period of the project’s floor area ratio variance to 10 years, per what city codes allow. In other words, after a decade passes, Pearl Senior Living loses its ability to expand the senior living community beyond what the floor area ratio component of the code permits. Pearl Senior Living officials and others involved with the project, including Yampa Valley Medical Center CEO Karl Gills, stressed that Casey’s Pond can best serve the community if it has the flexibility to change and expand services over the long haul.

The final wrinkle? The Casey’s Pond development is subject to the floor area ratio requirement only because its land is zoned as an entrance corridor to the city. Planning commissioners told the developer on Thursday that they wished the project would have been brought forward as a planned unit development, or PUD, which would have allowed for more flexibility with the codes in exchange for demonstrating significant public benefit. No one, including the planning commissioners, doubts the public benefit Casey’s Pond offers.

Ironically, the developer lost the ability to bring Casey’s Pond forward as a PUD because city planning staff asked him to change the zoning early in the development process.

We don’t think the 10-year vesting on the floor area ratio variance is a deal-breaker for a project that offers the promise of jobs and quality senior living within city limits. And we respect the Planning Commission’s charge to evaluate projects based on the letter of city codes. But we also think the City Council ought to give a closer look at the developer’s request for an unlimited vesting period when it reviews the project next month.

Comments

snowbirds 3 years, 4 months ago

AMEN to that last statement. City Council needs to relax and realize that Steamboat badly needs this facility. Predicting needs in 10, 15, 20 years from now is almost impossible.

Let's approve this project and start building NOW.

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 4 months ago

After the 10 years they are not prevented from asking for 60,000 additional sq ft. It then becomes a request for a variance - the same variance they are requesting now. So there is not particular reason to believe it would not be granted if the community liked the project.

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housepoor 3 years, 4 months ago

One thing Planning should stipulate...80% of the work done on it, should be done by "local contractors"! Let's get our unemployment down. ?????????

Did a free market capitalist like yourself really just say that or were you just having an Obama moment?

Maybe the local construction industry should form a union and have the city council require all public jobs to be union members or better yet pass a resolution that all contractors operating within the city limits be a union member?

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steamboatsassie 3 years, 4 months ago

I would like to think that "our" city would be invested in taking care of "our" residents. Wouldn't it be fantastic to have this facility be good for our community from start to finish and beyond???

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bill schurman 3 years, 4 months ago

Speaking of local subs and workers, will it be just like Walgreens where there are none even though the developers promised to have local folks build the big box. Sure makes Ski Haus stand out, doesn't it ?? At least Rod has pride in his community.

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1999 3 years, 4 months ago

yes Bull...Walgreens PROMISED to only use local workers.

people here on this board rallied for Walgreens and the jobs it would create.

bahahahahahahahahaha

walgreens will be closing thier doors within a year.

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Steve Lewis 3 years, 4 months ago

Edgemont's (Bear Claw III) parcel had a permanent variance for mega square feet, and we got lucky with what Atira proposed and built. Of course they showed us what they COULD have built by vesting, as leverage. We shouldn't make that mistake again. The 10 year sunset on this variance is the right approach.

The abandoned PUD zoning "wrinkle" is an empty complaint. They got the variance, enough said. The PUD approvals would still require an acceptable form and mass at that key location, and Kathi Meyer, to her credit, would still be sitting there to tag their PUD with a 10 year sunset.

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Steve Lewis 3 years, 4 months ago

City Council should support the amendment proposed by Commissioner Rich Levy to make the approval contingent upon the facility continuing to operate as a seniors community. Adding other uses such as medical offices within such a community would go against the spirit of their variance.

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Scott Ford 3 years, 4 months ago

Financing of this type of a project is not an easy task. I am sure the business model for the project includes expansion and that has been factored into securing financing on terms Pearl Senor Living feels they can afford. Although 10 year vesting sounds like a long time, in the world of financing a project of this scope it is not. Having the proposed expansion contingent on yet another "approval" adds a level of uncertainty to the investors in this project because who knows - Steamboat Springs may say "NO."

With all the uncertainty that will surround senior health care because of possible changes in Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements the investors in this project face a host of unknowns. Kathi Meyer as a former banker herself I am sure has an appreciation for the financing challenge. Why yet add another planning requirement unknown?

Most likely, the Planning Commission felt the 10 year condition was necessary to avoid setting a precedent. I hope that City Council, that has said on many occasions that it wants to be "business friendly", will see the wisdom in rejecting the Planning Commission's recommendation and grant Casey's Pond the flexibility to expand when and if they feel they need to.

Limiting the approval of the expansion to only a 10-year vesting is likely the key sticking point. I think the amendment offered by Rich Levy to make the approval of the expansion contingent upon the applicant continuing to operate as a senior's community is appropriate. It offers a reasonable and a business friendly compromise in exchange for removing the 10 year-vesting limit.

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Steve Lewis 3 years, 4 months ago

Scott F, I understand where you are coming from. You want the economic addition. At least you appreciate the poor precedents involved, but you feel the extra economy is worth it. I think the permanent variance for extra square feet is a mistake.

This is becoming a trend of precedents. Ski Time Square asked 10 years to start building and now this one asks to be even more. Enter the trump card pro-forma - the parcel's profit margin dictates which local codes it will tolerate and when.

At best, this is saying one of two things: 1) our zoning is unreasonable, or 2) we should set aside reasonable zoning as subsidy for our economy

I disagree with both statements.

Ski Time Square’s ten year request and this variance will send the local market into further fog. Where is market reality when huge variances in mass and permanently open permits become part of the parcel’s value? How does the next guy price the parcel next door when the rules are set, parcel by parcel, months later, as City Council weighs his pro forma next to his variances. How does one pencil that pro forma?

Market reality may be, by definition, a matter of speculation. But when the speculation stretches this far - a permit today for a building 10 or 20 years hence – Steamboat is permitting speculation, not buildings. I don't agree with that.

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Scott Wedel 3 years, 4 months ago

Scott F. If they want more than a 10 year vesting period then they should be required to submit a fairly specific proposal for the additional 60,000 sq ft.

The big trouble with vesting is that the parcel could be sold and the new owner has sharp lawyers able to make a case that something never originally considered is now a vested right. A strip mall or a hotel could both be argued as being needed as part of a senior community.

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