The Routt County Board of Commissioners met Tuesday to  review the criteria involved in expanding the Steamboat city limits under the urban growth boundary.

Photo by John F. Russell

The Routt County Board of Commissioners met Tuesday to review the criteria involved in expanding the Steamboat city limits under the urban growth boundary.

Routt County Board of Commissioners looks to create minor process for urban growth boundary

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— On Tuesday, the Routt County Board of Commissioners considered the process by which Steamboat Springs’ urban growth boundary is amended.

The commissioners and the Steamboat Springs City Council at their September joint meeting directed staff members to evaluate the process and criteria for how parcels apply to be included within the urban growth boundary.

The Steamboat Springs and Routt County planning commissions already have taken up the issue in their own meetings, and the commissioners had reviewed the minutes from those meetings for their own discussion Tuesday.

The city’s planning commission had recommended eliminating some criteria from the process, and the county’s planning commission was unable to reach consensus on eliminating criteria or a process for minor amendments to the urban growth boundary.

After hearing from staff and members of the public, the commissioners directed staff to look into creating a process for minor amendments to the boundary and a way to define what is considered minor. The commissioners supported leaving major changes to the boundary to planned reviews of the Area Community Plan.

The urban growth boundary separates Steamboat Springs from Routt County and has served as a hard check against sprawl. There currently is no differentiation between considering a 200-acre parcel for inclusion or a half-acre parcel, and all 11 individual applications that have been submitted to expand the boundary have been denied. There have been changes made to the boundary through reviews of the Area Community Plan where it is contained, and three reviews have taken place since the boundary was established in 1995.

Commissioner Doug Monger opened the discussion by saying he was enthused that the city and county had taken up this issue. He’d voted against all 11 applications because he thought it was impossible to meet the five criteria required for inclusion in the boundary.

Commissioner Steve Ivancie said that he’s heard the word "tweaking" used quite a bit in the context of parcels that are not included in the boundary that have city services or parcels that are split by the boundary. He said that it would behoove the county not to jump to radical changes.

Some of the members of the audience had been at the previous meetings and were there to reiterate their opinions as to whether the urban growth boundary criteria are too stringent or if the boundary has done exactly what it was intended to do.

“The root of the problem is the criteria,” Peter Patton said during public comment. Patton said he’s been involved with several of the 11 applications and that it is a frustrating process for applicants and decision makers.

Patton advocated for the removal of some criteria that are also included in the annexation process and said there also should be separate processes for minor and major changes.

“When you have parcels that are adjacent to city limits that had city services for decades and are small in acreage, that's a very different type of criteria than a major community growth path criteria,” he said.

Former Routt County Commissioner Ben Beall said he thought the urban growth boundary has been successful.

He voiced support for leaving the criteria unchanged for applications to change the boundary. The major plan updates are the time to make changes to the boundary, he said.

Watering down the criteria for expanding the boundary, Beall said, would weaken the county’s position because it has no say in annexation, the next step in the process of adding land to the city of Steamboat Springs.

Allowing individual applications to change the urban growth boundary would place economic interests ahead of community interests, he said.

Steamboat Springs resident Al Rosenthal said it might be appropriate to keep the bar high for including large parcels in the urban growth boundary but that small adjustments should not have to sit and wait for a major plan review.

Commissioners Steve Ivancie and Tim Corrigan said they were wary of lessening the county’s voice by eliminating criteria for the process, but they saw that some minor adjustments in the boundary should be allowed for certain parcels.

“I don't think that hard edge should prevent common-sense adjustments,” Corrigan said.

“If we’re going to make them impossible, we just ought to not have the process,” Monger said about the high standard of the criteria that has kept any application from succeeding.

Monger said that in his own votes he has struggled with the criteria that adjustments to the boundary must provide public benefit.

Concentrating growth is a benefit to the county, he said.

If Steamboat can’t accommodate growth, more people will be moving onto 35-acre sites across Routt County, Monger said, and the county will be responsible for serving them.

To reach Michael Schrantz, call 970-871-4206, email mschrantz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @MLSchrantz

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