Not ready for prime time
Jason Peasley, of the city’s Planning and Community Development Department, said his draft study examining potential development capacity in city limits is not ready for public release, given the raw nature of the information and number of variables involved. A more refined version of the study will be publicly presented to city and county bodies in coming weeks, however, and made publicly available at that time.
Steamboat Springs A draft study from the city’s planning department indicates that vacant land in Steamboat Springs could accommodate about 4,600 new residential units and about 2 million square feet of commercial or industrial space.
That available capacity far exceeds the 2,000 homes and 380,000 square feet of commercial space proposed by the Steamboat 700 annexation that city voters rejected in March. The annexation proposal created a hotly contested public debate a year ago, as residents discussed how, where and to what scale the city should or shouldn’t grow. The topic of infill, or how much capacity for growth already existed in city limits, was a central part of the discussion.
City planner Jason Peasley said his draft study is an effort to quantify the city’s infill capacity in preparation for growth conversations slated to resume in spring. City and county officials are working toward a revival of efforts to update the Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan, last updated in 2004.
Peasley said Steamboat’s Planning and Community Development Department could begin public presentations on growth issues in April. Before that, a more developed version of his capacity study will be presented to city and Routt County planning commissions and governing bodies.
Peasley said the study addresses a simple question: “If we close the doors and we only build within the existing footprint, given existing zoning, what do we have available?”
So he identified every vacant parcel in the city and, according to its zoning, created a development assumption for each parcel.
He said the result indicates that Steamboat’s population could grow by about 50 percent without expanding the city’s boundaries.
Peasley said Steamboat contained about 9,300 built housing units — occupied or empty — as of July. The number of occupied units “has been shifting lately,” he said, but hovers at about 5,000.
Peasley emphasized that his study is based on several assumptions, such as the use of maximum capacity on each vacant lot. For the most part, if those assumptions weren’t met, it would lower the amount of new housing space available within city limits.
One such assumption is a heavy mixed-use component to commercial and industrial development, meaning the installation of residential units within those spaces.
A lack of mixed-use development would bring the housing capacity sharply down.
“That number of (residential) units could significantly drop … probably in half,” Peasley said.
Tool for talks
Peasley said Steamboat’s vacant lots are not confined to one area.
“They’re pretty well dispersed throughout the community. Obviously, downtown has less than most areas. Other than that, it’s pretty well distributed throughout the community,” he said.
His boss, Steamboat Springs Planning and Community Development Director Tyler Gibbs, said, “this is very raw, raw information at this point” but also said the capacity study provides a clear message.
“I think it indicates there actually is quite a bit of development opportunity within the existing community,” Gibbs said. “I think we’ve got a lot to work with.”
Steamboat Springs City Council member Kenny Reisman praised the study.
“I thought it was very productive — it targets where spots are for increased capacity due to vacancy,” Reisman said last week. “What it does not yet really dive into is redevelopable opportunities to increase capacity.”
Peasley said he’s working to address gaps such as redevelopment potential.
Reisman said updating the community plan could set infrastructure goals for the city.
“I really think the capacity report can really shed light on what transportation needs could end up being … and therefore targeting the way you map out a long-term transportation plan,” he said.
Gibbs agreed that the study provides another factor to consider during growth discussions and infrastructure planning.
“That’s really all this is intended to be — a tool,” Gibbs said. “It’s not a prediction; it’s not an end-state.”
Reflecting on previous growth conversations, Gibbs declined to comment on whether Steamboat 700 ultimately would have been a good or bad addition to the city. Gibbs was hired in spring 2010, well after the Steamboat 700 vote, and began working in Steamboat in September.
Although he said Steamboat 700, in his opinion, “was a very thorough, well-thought-out plan,” Gibbs said it’s not productive to dither about what might have been. He said he’s focusing on the public conversations to begin this spring.
“We’re trying to look forward and say, ‘Here’s where we are — where do we want to go?’”
— To reach Mike Lawrence, call 970-871-4233 or e-mail mlawrence@SteamboatToday.com