Steamboat Planning Commission backs changes to development review process

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— Changes to the city of Steamboat Springs development review process will move forward after the Planning Commission informally supported them Thursday night.

Steamboat Springs Planning Director Tyler Gibbs presented why the changes are being proposed, the first of many steps in a yearlong process to revise the development review procedure. He said the intention was to improve how applications are evaluated and considered for approval.

“I think this is going to be a good project for all of us,” Planning Commission Chairman Jason Lacy said. “And I think, in the end, we’ll really help improve the code and help improve the process, and it’s going to be good for everyone.”

Gibbs said the city’s Community Development Code, the standards that applications are evaluated against, is a tool used to implement the vision of the Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan. But he said the process for evaluating applications based on that code isn’t working as well as it should.

“It’s not serving the citizens who expect to be able to represent their investment in the Area Community Plan as adopted by council and that they would be consulted in a meaningful way with regards to any proposal that varies from that application,” Gibbs said. “And it’s not serving those who want to invest in the community by providing clear and early decisions about the acceptability of their proposal.”

Gibbs presented the basics. As proposed, the revised process would allow applications that meet the city’s code to be approved administratively, and those seeking variances would be reviewed earlier in the process by the public and Planning Commission instead of near the end.

Planning Commission member Rich Levy said there are instances of the vision of the Community Area Plan that aren’t part of the Community Development Code, which was a problem if applications with no variances were reviewed administratively.

Gibbs said in those cases, it’s up to the city to make sure the development code complies with the area plan.

Resident and former Planning Commission member Steve Lewis, who spoke during public comment, expressed some concern about the inability of Planning Commission members to review all applications. He said at times in the past, the Planning Commission has objected to an application that planning staff previously OK’d.

“There is, I think, some hazard of staff not considering, perhaps, the range of ideas that Planning Commission would,” Lewis said. “Planning commissioners are more a peer of the community and, a planning staff person is in his office working with applicants all day long. It’s a different perspective.”

Ed Becker, of Mountain Architecture Design Group, said he was “mostly in support” of the proposed changes. Becker said he thought his clients would appreciate getting input about their applications sooner, and he added that there were advantages for developers of having applications approved administratively.

“I actually believe ... developers would be more encouraged to meet the criteria of the code,” he said. “Because, and I see this with some development projects, if they’re having to go through the project, they’d just assume take on a couple of variances because they’re going through the process anyway.”

Planning Commission member Kathi Meyer said she would like to see all information about the development review process changes online for the public to view.

Gibbs said his staff was working on that as well as ways to inform community members and the development community about public meetings regarding the changes during the next year. The next presentation is scheduled for early next month.

To reach Jack Weinstein, call 970-871-4203 or email jweinstein@SteamboatToday.com

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