Steamboat Springs resident Pete Kraska rides his bike to work after skiing at Howelsen Hill during his lunch break earlier this week. Improving public trail systems and connections to commercial areas are goals of the Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan, which could be updated in a process that will include public meetings and discussions in April and May.

Photo by John F. Russell

Steamboat Springs resident Pete Kraska rides his bike to work after skiing at Howelsen Hill during his lunch break earlier this week. Improving public trail systems and connections to commercial areas are goals of the Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan, which could be updated in a process that will include public meetings and discussions in April and May.

Planners take 1st look at Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan update process


— Steamboat Springs’ crystal ball must have been broken, or at least a bit cloudy, in 2004.

As the community prepares to embark on an extensive, countywide public process this spring that could lead to an update of the Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan, many of the projections that shaped the plan’s last update have changed significantly.

In other words, we’re not what we thought we would be.

The differences between 2004 forecasts and 2011 realities — in population, employment and housing trends, for example — provide a backdrop for a fresh look at the Community Plan, a wide-ranging document that guides priorities and policies for the city and its surrounding areas.

Residents will be asked for their opinions in April and May, when city and county planners intend to host about 30 public meetings across Routt County to find out what long-term goals and priorities matter most, and least, to people in the Yampa Valley.

Topics including area transportation systems, environmental stewardship efforts, affordable housing, economic diversity, infrastructure development, countywide growth, historic preservation, public services and more will be on the table.

By asking residents to prioritize those topics, planners then can present recommendations to Steamboat Springs City Council and the Routt County Board of Commissioners, possibly in summer. Those recommendations would detail the focus of a Community Plan update — which, in turn, would involve another round of public meetings.

“This is the first phase of a multiphase process,” city planner Jason Peasley said Thursday.

Routt County Planning Dep­­artment Director Chad Phillips put it simply.

“What don’t you like? What have we been doing good; what have we been doing not so good? What don’t you like about how the community has changed?” Phillips said Thursday night in Centennial Hall.

Members of the Steamboat Springs and Routt County planning commissions got a first look Thursday night at the format for the public meetings. City Council and county commissioners will get a similar look April 5.

Commission members and others used an electronic polling system to offer their opinions on Community Plan topics, rating them in order of importance.

One topic that consistently rec­­eived high priority ratings was “concentrate urban and infill development within or adjacent to Steamboat Springs,” reflecting a desire to focus growth within city limits.

That’s a departure from the 2004 Community Plan update, which forecast growth to the west of current city limits.

“The community was feeling an intense growth pressure at the time,” Peasley said.

City voters strongly rejected the proposed Steamboat 700 annexation in March 2010, though, reflecting changing sentiments.

Growth pressure in 2004 also fueled population projections that Peasley said forecast about 14,000 people in the Steamboat Springs area by 2011. A graphed population trajectory veered steeply upward.

How times change.

U.S. Census Bureau data showed a 2010 population of about 12,000 in Steamboat. While a difference of 2,000 between forecasts and reality might not seem like much, Peasley said, the difference drastically flattened the population curve.

“Is the (Community) Plan able to respond to this changing trajectory?” Peasley asked rhetorically.

Changing emp­­loyment trends also are significant. Peasley said at one point just a few years ago, the tourism and construction industries accounted for about 75 percent of total Routt County jobs. Both those industries saw sharp declines after 2008, though, radically altering local job markets.

Steamboat resident John Spezia said Thursday that bec­­ause of the area’s changing demographics, new economic models should be strongly considered in a Community Plan update.

City and county planners hope to receive more such input in the upcoming public meetings, which will be held with community groups and in open settings across the county.

“Our intention is to hit everyone,” Peasley said.

To reach Mike Lawrence, call 970-871-4233 or email


George Hresko 6 years ago

It would be very helpful to all of us--the community--to have explained the full planning process, from beginning to end, before these meetings begin. Sure, point forecasts made several years ago were off, but that is not at all unusual--and whatever forecasts are made this time will be off at some point in the future. Yes, it is important to find if community priorities have changed--I suspect that they haven't very much from those previously expressed in Vision 2020 and Vision 2030, since those were fairly consistent, one with the earlier one. More to the point for the planners is to answer the question: How are you going to help the community think about the potential impacts of the several major uncontrollables in our future? For example, energy costs; economic growth; environmental impacts-in particular water; just to name a few that come immediately to mind. Before setting out to execute the process, please explain it in detail so we understand what to expect.


Scott Wedel 6 years ago

The bigger point is why is it the public's business to be coming up with the "community plan" for privately owned property?

How about starting off with some boundaries and recognizing the limits of government plans?

The SB 700 was a rejection of that particular developer's proposal which was flawed in many ways. It was no an explicit rejection of the idea of that future growth will be on the west side. West side growth was never preferred to infill, it was just expected that growth was going to consume the infill opportunities and that annexation was going to be necessary.


cindy constantine 6 years ago

This whole idea just smacks of bad timing--a way to keep underutilized employees at the city busy as there is not a lot going on in planning. I agree with George that the community priorities have not changed since the last process. Tuesday's headline--"Value decline continues" With foreclosures still at record levels and unemployment high, what are we planning for and what will be the $$/man power cost of this process? We need to reach some sort of "bottom" or stability to have a realistic vision going forward. The "not very sexy" discussion that does not happen often enough is our aging infrastructure that will need to be replaced over the next few years. Also, where is the demographic breakdown of the existing population--lots of seniors and baby boomers who do not plan on spending many more full time years here if they are able to sell their homes and not take a financial bath.


sledneck 6 years ago

Cindy makes a great point, that this is un-necessary "make work" and that we had better start thinking about infrastructure thats already here. I sometimes get a vision in my mind of a guy who can't afford to paint his house or mow the giant yard or make the new pickup truck payment but yet he has a set of plans rolled out on the hood of the truck for the addition he wants to build onto his house. The guys name is Government.

Scott, Very good question; why is it the publics business to direct they type of development that occurs on PRIVATE land. Answer: it is NOT the publics business.


hereandthere 6 years ago

Scott, little confused by your comments. First you state that it should not be the publics business what a private landowner has in mind for their property, then you mention the publc rejection of the 700 project as a good thing.


Scott Wedel 6 years ago

hereandthere, SB700 was a massive agreement between the City and the developer. It committed the city to provide water and other services. A property owner does not have the right to expect that a city expand their service area.

Unlike some, I accept that their is a place for planning. I think it would be bad if someone could open a motel or auto repair shop in a residential neighborhood. I also accept that residential neighborhood is better served if there maximum size and height rules. Zoning, at it's best, allows property owners to invest without fear that another new building will be constructed of such a different use or size that their investment will be substantially hurt.

So zoning should be limited to situations where it can be shown there is clear economic harm or safety issues (chemical plant) to neighbors. When it becomes what people would like to see and what sort of architectural details people in some other part of town prefer to see then zoning has gone too far.

Zoning should be about consistency of use. Not social engineering or architectural fads.

Zoning becomes a disaster when it becomes so complex that every application becomes a special case and it is not possible to apply consistent standards to all applicants. That is what was so wrong with Walgreens - that the requested variances meant either SB rules are too complex and contradictory (and need to be fixed) or the rules do not apply to this one particular application. Thus, the worst possible outcome would be for it to be approved without changing the planning code - which is exactly what happened.


Steve Lewis 6 years ago

Scott, There will be exceptions. Walgreen's was simply that. We can't dilute our zoning code so it fits every approval. Over time that approach would leave us with no code at all.

This is not about zoning. Area Plans are goals. Yes some actions are directed within them that "hope" to form zoning codes, among other results. But Zoning and Area Plans are distinctly different tiers in a community's effort to reach its goals. Plans are "wants". Codes are law.


Steve Lewis 6 years ago

Still I'm hesitant about the value of updating a plan today.

With so much uncertainty, as Cindy notes, the update's timing seems problematic. Two slides in the Thursday presentation offered valuable information about the curves of population and economy that both went south recently. So elements of this update that would address growth will be largely dormant for years anyway, and in some cases simply get it wrong.

I agree some of the plan has been rendered obsolete. Annexation is the easiest example, even without the SB700 vote.

To Scott's point that annexation may rise again, staff slides showed pre SB700 buildout assumptions that supported our need for annexation. There just wasn't much capacity within the existing city. Staff then showed new buildout assumptions that are hugely changed. I was astounded at the differences. Maybe we are ready to be more aggressive, a LOT more, with infill? (Its worth noting that the votes tallied that night were 90% staffs and commissioners, and infill easily ranked as the top priority in every tally.) But the bottom line: these new assumptions make significant annexation look borderline foolish.

The assumptions were based on buildout of presently vacant land. Add to that two consecutive years of record pace foreclosures, projections of continued property devaluations, and shrinking population...

It does seem the annexation part of the plan, "West of Steamboat Springs Planning Area Goals and Policies" is headed for prudent revision. But do we need to do that today? I feel the same about infill. This work won't be applied for years.


Steve Lewis 6 years ago

There is some value with updating in other areas. We could benefit with a reconsidered focus on self sufficiency and sustainability.

And the transportation concepts should be expanded to consider our links with Denver, I-70, and even with Salt Lake City. The future of regional rail, though distant, should have a place in this document.


George Hresko 6 years ago

Each of the commenters have offered valuable insights, which I suggest simply confirm my belief that the 'community' needs to be told, first, the process that will be followed. What are the inputs, what are the expected outputs, what are the analytical engines through which the inputs will be processed. Clearly, one of the first inputs is the need for the update. If the need is simply that growth rates aren't what were expected, and the output will be based on new, lower growth rates, then I agree, that is not sufficient reason for an update. However, if the process is intended to look behind new, lower growth rates, the reason for those, then perhaps there is value. There is a very strong tendency in planning to say that the future is going to be very much like the past, except at a slower rate of growth. Maybe. But is the 'community' willing to base its future plans on that hypothesis, or rather understand potential alternate futures we may be facing due to significant factors outside our control. What does our community look like in a future of very much higher energy prices, high interest rates and low economic growth? I would find it much more profitable personally and frankly more fun, to have our professional planners help us contemplate such alternate futures instead of discussing if our growth rate will be 2 % per year, or 1.9 or 2.1!


Fred Duckels 6 years ago

In the past we have had too many participants in the process with their own agenda. Surveys were worded to assure the intended results. If we are to proceed we need to ensure the integrity of the process. Many valuable voices are busy making a living and they have little input. Recent elections indicate that past planning and the ensuing surrogates weren' t making good decisions. We don't need the last guy off the pass to guide us. All entities need to have a voice, not just the eager beavers with an agenda.


Steve Lewis 6 years ago

George, I like your points. To their credit, the planners spoke to the fact that previous extrapolations of data led our assumptions skyward, while more recent extrapolations of the same data lead assumptions in very different directions, and many are downward. The planners seem to understand how arbitrary today's assumptions can be.

Their key problem, in my opinion, is that the planners are still using the same graphs as before, amidst some important new constraints. I would argue that their toolbox is, at least in part, obsolete. Is there any attention to data trends on energy costs?

We are benefitting from more recent data on Routt County, but we should also accommodate reams of outside information that foretell a certain shift away from property ownership and toward property rental. That could spell a corresponding shift of our middle class into multi-family rentals and a lagging demand for single family homes.

Another shortcoming of the current scoping, is everything flows from an admittedly flawed 2004 veiwpoint. The original area plan had better grounding. Consider the overarching question in its surveys: How much do we want to grow? Three scenarios were offered and we chose the least growth option. Is that no longer a relevant question?


George Hresko 5 years, 12 months ago

With apologies for the hiatus--out of pocket for a while and just now catching up--

Fred--absolutely spot on--a well thought out process, used appropriately will assure that there is adequate opportunity for participation (and ask if it has been achieved) and will correct for personal agendas, regardless of who has them.

Steve--You are getting to the basic point--what is the question which the process/study attempts to answer? If it is say, should growth take place west of Old Town or by infill, that probably does not need an immediate answer. If however, the question is more in the nature of how best can the economic, political, social and environmental characteristics of YV be preserved given the possible ranges of uncontrollable issues; then, I would say, there is merit in starting the community wrestling with the potential effects of those major uncontrollables, and how we best deal with them. (Clearly this question is clumsy, but gives the fundamental idea of the differences between two possible studies.) Cheers!


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