Editorial Board, January through May 8, 2011
- Scott Stanford, general manager
- Brent Boyer, editor
- Tom Ross, reporter
- Traci Day, community representative
- Dean Vogelaar, community representative
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Steamboat Springs No matter what readers think of Ryan Wood’s plans to establish a small guest ranch and an events center on Sweetwood Ranch along the Elk River, we think you’ll agree that county officials should never have let him get nine weeks into the public hearing process before informing him last week that his plans don’t fit county regulations. At the end of a three-and-a-half-hour hearing April 26, the Routt County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to table Wood’s application indefinitely.
Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said she had no problem with Wood’s plans for a modest guest ranch, but she pointed out matter-of-factly that his proposal included special events that do not fit within the definition of a guest ranch in the county’s land-use plan.
We wonder how Wood got that deep into the county planning process before county officials made that plain. The Routt County Planning Commission voted unanimously to table Wood’s proposal Feb. 17 and took it up again April 7, when it voted, 9-0, to recommend approval to the Board of Commissioners. After almost 10 hours of public testimony spanning three months, the commissioners tabled Wood’s request once more last week.
Wood, a former executive with Under Armour, bought the historic May family ranch for $5 million in 2007. He established a premium beef operation, Sweetwood Cattle Co.
He entered the county planning process with a plan to augment the beef operation by hosting large events on the ranch. As well as creating a few guest accommodations, he wanted to host smaller events every month, including dinners emphasizing Sweetwood beef.
His residential neighbors in a couple of subdivisions of 35-acre building lots protested his plans at length before county officials.
We think it would have been a simple matter to let Wood know early on that his plans to add special events did not fit county regulations allowing guest ranches. The solution can be found in the way the Steamboat Springs Planning Department brings applications for development permits forward.
When developers approach the city for a permit, the staff planner assigned to the project works with the applicant to bring the project within the constraints of the development code. Ultimately, the staff planner, with the knowledge of the planning director, will introduce the project with a clear recommendation either for approval or denial. There is often friction, but the applicant always knows where he or she stands with planning staff.
The process isn’t as clear-cut at the county. Staff planners submit a report that includes a list of provisions in the county land-use code and master plan alongside check-off boxes meant for the planning commissioners to mark “yes” the project fits or “no” it does not. They also recommend a list of conditions they think should be imposed on the project.
Veteran county Planning Commission member John Ayer said Tuesday that the procedure has been reviewed at least three times in the past 10 years. The Planning Commission members have preferred to stick with the current approach rather than allowing staff to recommend approval or denial.
We appreciate the difficult role volunteer planning commissioners take on — it can be a thankless task. But we think it’s time to let the county’s professional planners make the initial technical analysis and come forward with a clear recommendation.
The proper role of the planning commission, we think, is to challenge those recommendations with thoughtful probing, questions that ultimately support the county commissioners’ decision-making process.
Ryan Wood and his neighbors deserve a more efficient public process — one they can understand.