For many, the idea of owning a home in Steamboat Springs is a dream come true, but most will admit that a home in the Yampa Valley is rarely affordable.

Photo by John F. Russell

For many, the idea of owning a home in Steamboat Springs is a dream come true, but most will admit that a home in the Yampa Valley is rarely affordable.

Return of housing market once again could put affordability at heart of discussion


Housing on the horizon

As the local real estate market begins to rebound from a crippling recession, community planning and affordable housing re-emerge as talking points.

— The collapse of Routt County’s real estate market was, quite simply, painful for many property owners here. Some were burned by the loose lending practices that became commonplace across the country in the mid-2000s. Others found themselves underwater on homes they had just purchased. Local foreclosure starts skyrocketed to record levels, filling the market with distressed properties that only recently are disappearing en masse from sale listings.

By upending the market for free-market homes, the financial crisis and resulting recession also upended the discussion about affordable workforce housing in Routt County. Suddenly, homes were selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars less than they had commanded just months before. The lines of cars commuting into Steamboat Springs from the west and the south during the boom shrunk as jobs dried up. Fewer jobs meant less competition for rental housing. As the market corrected, the local housing discussion that dominated the middle part of the decade seemed to fade away. Empty units and failing projects turned the focus to relieving the burdens placed on developers during the height of the market.

But by most accounts, the housing market has seen the bottom. Population growth has continued, and housing inventory is shrinking. Now, before the next potential housing shortage develops, the community is faced with the opportunity to consider what was learned during the last run-up and what, if anything, should be done to influence how Steamboat Springs and Routt County grow in the future.

Routt County real estate market at a glance, 2007-12

Reader poll

Do you think affordable housing once again will become a focus of Steamboat Springs city policy and concern?

  • Yes, within five years. 32%
  • Yes, more than five years from now. 11%
  • No, it won't become an issue. 15%
  • No, it'll work itself out. 42%

237 total votes.

Workforce issues dominate

In 2007, Routt County’s workforce was the center of discussion. The number of wage and salary jobs in the county peaked that year. Workforce issues were the subject of a summerlong lecture series by the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association. The national recession officially would begin in December, but the real estate run-up created real concern that hard-working professionals like teachers, police officers and firefighters would be permanently priced out of the market.

“There was a real expectation that real estate would never go down,” said Kathi Meyer, president of the Yampa Valley Housing Authority board of directors.

Meyer recalled the fear that affordable housing efforts never would be able to catch up. Local governments tried nonetheless, taking a number of steps to address what many considered the most significant issue facing Routt County.

In a move now widely panned, a previous Steamboat Springs City Council purchased the Iron Horse Inn in late 2007 with plans to house city employees there. A Community Housing Ordinance was passed in 2006, and with it came inclusionary zoning and linkage provisions. The former required affordable units to be included in residential development projects within city limits. The latter sought to offset the housing impacts of new development through fees.

“Much of our workforce was in construction,” said Steve Lewis, a member of the Steamboat Springs Planning Commission from 2005 to 2008 who actively was engaged in community discussions about affordable housing and growth. “So we were asking the construction industry to be part of the solution.”

When the economy was booming, Lewis said, he worried provisions like exit clauses — which allowed developers to reduce their affordable housing requirements if those deed-restricted units remained unsold after a given time period — provided developers a reason for their affordable units to fail.

But as the economy faltered, he found himself sympathizing with developers seeking relief from the affordable housing ordinances.

“I understood that everyone was struggling, even the big boys,” Lewis said.

Other Colorado resort counties, including Pitkin and Summit, had put in place affordable housing plans decades earlier. Conversely, the time period between the passage of Steamboat’s Community Housing Ordinance and the housing downturn was dramatically short.

“We came late to the party as far as getting local government involved,” Meyer said.

Steamboat Springs City Council member Cari Hermacinski said the original community housing ordinances were passed hastily.

“It actually was one of the reasons I ran for City Council,” she said. “I was not a fan of those” ordinances.

When real estate prices began to plummet, the gap between the cost of deed-restricted properties built under the ordinance and comparable free-market units virtually was eliminated. Developers fought for — and often won — the reduction of numerous provisions in the original community housing measures. The Iron Horse Inn now sits half shuttered, and the debt incurred by the city from its purchase continues to be a point of public ire.


Affordable house projects like First Tracks were designed to keep homes in Steamboat Springs within reach of those who hope to remain a part of our community.


First Tracks was the community housing component of Trailhead Lodge at Wildhorse Meadows at the base of Steamboat Ski Area.

Markets and programs

Timing certainly was an issue in the problems affecting deed-restricted properties during the market collapse. The deed-restricted Fox Creek Village condominiums project constructed by the Housing Authority sold out in less than a year. Deed-restricted properties intermingled in the West End Village subdivision had little difficulty finding owners in the mid-2000s. But the First Tracks condos, which were the community housing component of the Trailhead Lodge at Wildhorse Meadows development near the base of Steamboat Ski Area, struggled to attract buyers as the economy faltered. The developers eventually were granted relief from many of the city’s affordable housing requirements.

Melanie Rees, a housing consultant who’s prepared reports for Steamboat Springs and other Colorado resort communities, said targeting the right income level plays an important role in the success of deed-restricted developments.

In a January 2012 report titled Deed Restrictions in a Down Market, Rees wrote that high initial prices and short marketing periods were factors that led to lifted restrictions.

“I’ve seen some expensive affordable housing,” she said about units targeted toward income levels as high as 150 or 200 percent of area median income.

Developers in Steamboat were offered the choice of reaching the city’s affordable housing requirements by building more units targeted toward a higher income level or building fewer units targeted toward lower-income buyers. Developments like First Tracks chose to included more units targeted toward buyers with higher incomes. The units in First Tracks targeted toward those making 80 percent or less of area median income sold out early. The units targeted at those making 120 percent of area median income ended up being priced similarly to market-rate units after the collapse, and they languished unsold.

Lewis concedes that he no longer knows how ownership and deed-restricted housing fits into the bigger picture of affordable housing here.

“Probably in the short term, deed-restricted properties are going to be a hard thing to sell,” said Jason Lacy, chairman of the city’s Planning Commission. “But in the long term, they could still be a viable tool.”

Permanently deed-restricted housing, Hermacinski said, can be problematic to sell when jobs leave. Those who bought during the boom sometimes found themselves asking for restrictions to be lifted or face the house going through foreclosure, she said.

Rees’ report states communities where deed restrictions have succeeded during the downturn now are more accepting of them. Resistance has waned where programs have proved stable, Rees wrote, making them easier to market even in down times.

Linda Venturoni, another housing consultant who has prepared reports for Colorado mountain communities, said now is the time to develop employee housing for the future because land and building costs are less expensive.

“The overall forecast for the future is to go back to those types of trends we saw before the recession,” Venturoni said. “Even with the reduction in prices after the recession, there hasn’t been enough (housing) for workers.”

“Creating units while it is less expensive has been appealing to many,” Rees wrote.

Vacancy rates of apartments by size in Steamboat Springs, 2007-12

Upside of a downturn

The dynamic that undermined some deed restrictions also allowed people who might have qualified for affordable housing projects during the boom to buy at free-market prices during the recession.

In the first quarter of 2007, the median single-family home price in Routt County was $625,000. That number hit a low of $380,000 in the second quarter of 2011 and has been hovering in the low to mid $400,000 range during 2012.

“It’s been a good market for first-time homebuyers the last few years,” said Cindy MacGray, a broker with Prudential Steamboat Realty. Although financing has been more work, she said, most of her clients have been able to get into a home in their price ranges.

But inventory is starting to shrink outside of the luxury market. Multiple listing service information shows that the number of listings in Routt County is on the decline. The sell-through rate for homes — calculated by taking the amount of housing units sold in a month and dividing it by the total number of housing units listed — has been above 2 percent since August 2012, a positive sign for the market. If the rate stays above 2.5 percent for more than a year, it’s typically a sign that residential construction could start to return. Stan Urban, of Land Title Guarantee Co., still put the time frame for a rebound in new construction at five years out. A combination of lot prices and lending practices could delay the industry’s revival, Urban said.

MacGray said she’s heard conflicting accounts of how much shadow inventory — homes that have owners who are waiting for the market to improve before listing them — there is in the lower price ranges. There could be few willing to sell even at higher prices.

A shift to renting

Although ownership makes up a greater percentage of occupied housing in Routt County, its role in affordable housing is uncertain. There’s been a shift in mountain resort communities toward looking for more rental housing for members of the workforce, according to Rees.

The approach toward home ownership will be conservative for the immediate future, Rees said, as more people are choosing to remain renters.

Of all the occupied homes in Routt County, about one-third are filled by renters, according to Census data. Of the roughly 3,000 renters in the county, more than half spend more than 30 percent (the standard of affordability) of their income on housing.

“What this community really needs is affordable rentals,” said Mary Alice Page-Allen, who was a Routt County planner and then executive director of the Yampa Valley Housing Authority before becoming town administrator of Oak Creek in January 2012.

The Hillside Village Apartments complex owned and managed by the Yampa Valley Housing Authority targets low-income residents, and it consistently has a waitlist, said Jason Peasley, executive director of the Housing Authority.

According to Peasley, 36 of the 55 renters at Hillside Village Apartments receive some amount of federal rent assistance, which is allocated based on greatest need. One bedroom units start at $662 per month, and two-bedroom units are $752 per month.

Meyer said the Housing Authority would like to build and operate another apartment complex, likely taking advantage of tax credits for low-income housing.

“The key is getting the numbers to work,” Meyer said.

For now, the Housing Authority is focusing on improving the units it currently manages.

Conversely, a market-rate apartment complex is working its way through the city planning process.

Paul Brinkman, of Brinkman Partners, said his firm hopes to start building Skyview Apartments at Whistler Road and Skyview Terrace in the spring. The building would include 33 one-bedroom units and nine two-bedroom units. The community housing plan has not been approved, but it proposes that two one-bedroom units be rented to tenants making below 50 percent of area median income. For one person in fiscal year 2013, that would be $27,750 or less per year, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development website.

The one-bedroom market-rate units would rent for $950 to $1,050 per month.

Lacy said the Planning Commission was mindful of the demand for one-bedroom units in Steamboat. The vacancy rate for one-bedroom units in the third quarter of 2012 was 2 percent compared with 15 percent for two-bedroom, two-bath units, according to a Colorado Division of Housing survey.

Population change by age in Routt County, 2000-10

Growing larger, older

The steady population growth Routt County has seen for decades likely is to put pressure on ownership and rentals. Demographic data also show a shift is taking place in the county. The median age in Steamboat Springs is 36.5, up from 32.4 in 2000, according to 2010 Census data. The median age in Routt County is 38.9, up from 35 a decade ago. That trend also holds true for growth in the 1990s.

The percent of families with children younger than 18 is falling in Steamboat. So is the average size of households. Rees said normal workforce aging accounts for much of the shift. But the number of second homes in Steamboat Springs also has seen explosive growth. From 2000 to 2010, the amount of second homes grew by more than 211 percent, according to a report by Rees. She said the trend she’s seen in counties such as Summit is people purchasing second homes with the intent to eventually retire to them. The owners of second homes tend to be older and wealthier compared with the rest of the population.

As the median age has climbed here, the way residents make money has shifted, as well. The growth of income earned from wages, according to Bureau of Economic Analysis data, is outpaced by the growth of rent, dividends and retirement.

A population that is getting older and wealthier coupled with continued demand for second homes will at some point demand an expansion in existing services. That could mean, for example, an increase in the number of food service jobs, which almost are back to prerecession levels. Or it could be in the arts, entertainment and recreation sector, which has surpassed previous levels. But the main employment sector still lagging is the construction industry, which in 2011 was at its lowest level in a decade. The return of construction jobs could spur open positions across employment sectors as low-wage earners migrate to higher paying work, according to Rees.

Routt County per capita income by source, 1980-2011

Diagnosing a need

Difficulty filling low-wage service jobs will be the indicator that housing has reached a critical point, according to Rees. If, like in 2007, workforce issues take over public discussion, the community again will return to the issue of where housing growth will occur. The document that outlines the plan for growth is the Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan. The focus of the plan is infill within city limits and new construction west of Steamboat Springs.

Other areas of Routt County are left largely unaddressed in the plan. The directive of Routt County’s master plan is to preserve the rural character of the area. Apart from 35-acre homesites and land preservation subdivisions, which allow developers additional homesites in exchange for grouping homes, residential expansion is limited to Hayden, Oak Creek or the subdivisions around Stagecoach Reservoir. Although there are buildable lots and homes for sale in all of those areas, transportation costs and the preference of many for living in or closer to Steamboat work against them.

The rejection of Steamboat 700 by city voters was seen by some as a rebuke of the strategy of westward growth that was codified in the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan in 1999 and updated in 2006.

“That to me was one more game changer,” Lewis said. “We said ‘no’ to the annexation with the argument that we can do it with infill.”

Hermacinski said Steamboat 700 might have stood a better chance had the plan been phased but agreed that infill is the immediate option for Steamboat.

In the wake of Steamboat 700, then-City Manager Jon Roberts conceded that calls for an update to the Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan were appropriate.

The Steamboat Springs Planning Department started gathering public feedback in spring 2011 and continued with workshops in 2012.

“It’s going to require some choice from the community,” Lacy said about future growth. “If you look at our community area plan, we have some interesting inconsistencies. We say we want infill but also to grow west. What areas of town would we want infill to occur?”

City of Steamboat Springs Planning Director Tyler Gibbs said public input thus far has been condensed into three scenarios for growth, ranging in density and the location of potential growth. Planning staff is working to create concise graphic representations of the three options, Gibbs said. Further feedback will be solicited by allowing the public to vote on its preferred option.

The city then can look at its zoning and see whether it encourages what the community wants, he said.

“Some people are going to be reluctant to look at zoning in their neighborhood that could allow more density,” Lacy said. “That’s where we’re hoping to get more input from the public: Do you want more infill? Where do you want us to go?”

Number of construction jobs in Routt County, 2001-11


A child’s bike sits buried in snow in front of Hillside Village Apartments. The project was an early effort to bring affordable housing to Steamboat Springs.

Place of affordable housing

City ordinances still include affordable housing, with the stated purpose to “ensure that a reasonable amount of community housing is provided in the city of Steamboat Springs that meets the needs of all economic groups.”

But for now, affordable housing is in a state of dormancy.

While the demand for rentals still is strong, wage jobs have not fully returned, and service positions aren’t sitting unfilled for months.

The shift toward rentals and the availability of market-rate homes means the role of ownership in affordable housing is reduced.

“I don’t think communities are seeing it yet or waking up to it yet,” Rees said. “It’s not come to the forefront.”

“We are a destination economy. People come here for our lifestyle,” said Rich Levy, of the Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley. “I think that need (for affordable housing) will arise again.”

Levy said now, when the pressure from the market is less intense, is the perfect time to start planning for housing growth.

“If we try to do a plan in another three, four or five years when the crush is back on ... then things are happening even before we get our plan in place,” he said.

“Steamboat is never going to be anything but a desirable place to live,” Lacy said. “If we don’t really set forth some good, concrete plans and think about our community development code, then that development will happen in a way that is probably not what we want.”

Lewis said he was disappointed the City Council cut back much of the community housing ordinance. Measures like inclusionary zoning are dormant during times of low growth, he said, and a different tactic could have been taken to address the lag of its effects.

“I would have preferred that they would have reduced (inclusionary zoning) during a time frame and then let it rise to its previous stature,” he said.

Hermacinski said the effects of the measures are more complex than assumed at first glance. Fees assessed on developers through linkage, payments in lieu or the construction of extra units to satisfy requirements drive up the cost of living here because the costs eventually are passed to business owners, residents and consumers, she said.

“Doing nothing has its downsides,” Hermacinski said. “And doing something often has unintended consequences.”

She said she thinks the city should have started with more modest and predictable measures, such as changes to the planning process or building requirements.

Whether because of inclement weather, geographic remoteness or the high cost of living, it can be hard to live here, Hermacinski said. “I don’t know if we’ll ever solve that,” she said.

The mindset of the current City Council, Hermacinski said, is to have the Yampa Valley Housing Authority be the primary entity tasked with an affordable housing vision.

The Housing Authority has significant debt obligations from the purchase of an Elk River Village building lot near U.S. Highway 40 and Elk River Road and lists its top strategy as “asset management model.” Meyer said the organization is focusing on providing services like down payment assistance, which the city committed funds to, and education in the interim before it can take on another project.

Hermacinski said the deed-restricted homes in West End Village are an example of a private sector project that was able to successfully address affordable housing.

Gibbs agreed that the private sector could be effective.

“I’ve seen circumstances where the private sector was able to come up with an approach without a whole lot of” government assistance, he said.

Look for the most creative best practices, identify a product that’s needed and deliver it to market as efficiently as possible, Gibbs said.

“Now is a great time for us before we take that next step,” Lacy said “What do we want? Where do we want it?”

To reach Michael Schrantz, call 970-871-4254 or email


Scott Wedel 4 years, 2 months ago

Affordable housing is reasonably achieved by many people by living in Hayden, Stagecoach and Oak Creek. But according to the experts, that does not count as affordable housing because they don't live in SB city limits. So a lot of effort and money is spent trying to defy the free market and create some affordable housing in SB. So local affordable housing programs are an explicit "you don't count" to everyone that bought where they can afford outside of SB.

Instead a lot of resources are expended to create a few affordable units in SB that are either like winning the lottery for the lucky person chosen to get it, or creates units that no one wants due to too impossible deed restrictions on income vs sales price and so the developer asks to have the affordable deed clauses waived.

Affordable housing programs have caused failures that were widely predicted because free market economics doesn't have exceptions for affordable housing.

Just because people's hearts are in the "right place" trying to help others does not mean that economic disasters like Iron Horse, Elk River parcel and unsold deed restricted units are acceptable.

And then we have certain local politicians that have created a voter base by being part of YVHA which have sent mailings to residents of YVHA housing or mobile home park mentioning the "good work" of YVHA which includes these politicians.


Scott Wedel 4 years, 2 months ago

The one thing that SB could do to create lower income housing is to easily allow small lots such as 1/10 acre with deed restriction to 1,100 sq ft house with no more than 500 sq ft basement. Ie, make it easy to create an affordable product and increase the supply of those houses instead of having policies that encourage larger lots and large homes.

A deed restriction limiting the size of the residence is okay because it is simple that the house cannot be expanded.

Income deed restrictions are bad because then buyers need to game the system by having resources to have more money to buy the house than others.

Appreciation deed restrictions are awful because that encourages the owner to stop paying to maintain the property prior to selling.


Steve Lewis 4 years, 2 months ago

Nice article Michael. You incorporate many sides of the topic with commendable evenness. The discussion seems less pressing today. But the City is re-writing the CDC code as we speak and their free market solutions for future workforce housing belong in that work.

Steamboat Springs Community Area Plan, 2004 Update, Chapter 9 : Housing, "Housing Vision: The Steamboat Springs community will allow the majority of people who work in Steamboat Springs to afford to live here, if they so choose."

As noted in the article, part the challenge of infill density will be maintaining neighborhood character. Credit the planning department with it's poker chip games of pin the density on the parcel. It is a good exercise to understand growth. But those chips fail to convey the mass and height involved in true density. Once shown the impact in 5 story condo buildings, the players may want their chips back. The same may apply to the Transfer of Development Rights being considered.

I'm for the infill. Didn't like the chips so much. The simplicity of the game meant heaping piles of density onto commercial and mixed use parcels and little pressure on residential zones. More transition between the two should be considered. We will have buyer's remorse for 5 story condos. Maybe the same for transition up-zoning?

Scott W has a valid idea with 2 or 3 small homes triplexing onto our existing City lots. That works far better than bigger houses. Bigger houses and second homes are a density challenge. The infill argument against SB700 numbered how many new residents we could fit in the current City limits. Second homes could halve that number.

What do we want?


Scott Wedel 4 years, 2 months ago


I do not think that SB700 vote had anything to do with infill. I think SB700 was rejected because the promises didn't add up. The vote was after the real estate bubble had burst and the economic assumptions behind the annexation agreement no longer were credible. The public was asked to approve an annexation that the change in the real estate market suggested that would sit idle for many years until pricing recovered.

"The Steamboat Springs community will allow the majority of people who work in Steamboat Springs to afford to live here, if they so choose."

Well, that part of the community plan is economic fantasy. Or at least as that sentence is understood. It might be possible if we diminish the tourism economy and encouraged remote workers so that local workers became better matched to SB real estate pricing. But as long as we encourage tourism and thus the lower wage service jobs that comes with that then we should accept that affordable housing for local workers is not going to be in city limits, but in the region.

it is fantasy to expect to be able to provide a large amount of housing at half or less of SB's median prices. If that is the plan then junk the idea of a local greenbelt and subsidize annexations. Unless you are willing to endlessly flood the market with low cost lots or condos then pricing in a desirable resort town is going to be too high for many service workers.

SB community plans should instead be concerned that SB workers can be priced out of the region as was happening in 2007 and 2008.


mark hartless 4 years, 2 months ago

You guys have learned NOTHING.

Like the proverbial cooks, you are just itching to stick your fingers back in the stew.

Wrong-headed "open space" rules and "preservation" of ranches which pay no property taxes while hoarding otherwise developable land are primary culprits in driving land prices up.

Overly stringent yet completely optional building codes drive up construction costs.

Refusal to allow adequate development of gravel pits, concrete and asphalt plants, addre3ss the traffic situation with a by-pass, etc runs costs higher while adding to downtown congestion.

Even now the City takes money from families who struggle to make their mortgage payments and redistributes it to those who otherwise would have no means of and NO BUSINESS purchasing a home.

All the while many "locals" worked tirelessly just a few short ears ago to squash a development that would have done much to provide both housing and jobs when the market firmed back up.

Finally, many other aspects of "affordability" are ignored or irritated by taxes and fees and levies for unnecessary actions best left to the free market, as if anyone of the "affordable housing" crowd would even recognize a free market anyway. If a persons groceries and gas and automobiles and electricity were not so expensive perhaps they would be better able to "afford" housing.

On balance, I would put the "affordable housing" and "sustainability" crowd smack in the sppotlight as being prime contributors to the in-affordability of housing in this area.


Steve Lewis 4 years, 2 months ago

Scott, You make a good comment. I cannot point to an infill mandate coming out of the SB700 ballot. Infill does seem the logical alternative and was an argument made among others. But if it is the chosen alternative now, what is actually changed? We still have 2 Area Plans that say we will grow to the West.

What is the point of asking residents to intensify the allowed density in their neighborhoods if we are still planning to grow into the West Area?


Scott Wedel 4 years, 2 months ago


The plan to grow to the west was a very cynical plan. I talked to one of the primary planners at the time it was being formulated and he acknowledged that the plan of westward annexation with 33% affordable housing was a mess. It allowed the city to claim it was addressing affordable housing while allowing development in the rest of SB without any provisions for affordable housing.

And the westward growth was limited to a handful of property owners and had to be sequential as compared to a larger area such as along 13th/Twentymile in order to provide multiple growth paths. The growth plan instead gave a few property owners complete control of westward expansion. So there would be no reason for any annexation activity until property values went much higher to cover the costs of 33% affordable. And with monopoly control over westward expansion, those property owners were expected to wait as long as they dared before cashing out.

So smart people in the room when that plan was being formulated expected nothing to happen for westward expansion for years.. And now because the failed annexation agreement for the entire growth area was negotiated during the peak of the real estate bubble then we don't even know how where to start when the developer seeks to annex whenever market increases enough to spark interest again. Next time the developer is not going to be so willing to agree to city demands because the economic expectations of the project is going to be so different.

In 2008, it seemed like there were no available lots left in SB, but by the election in 2010 there were many available. So I don't think there was an infill mandate in rejecting SB 700, but there was recognition that SB wasn't facing an imminent crisis of no buildable lots.

If the city were to allow modest houses on smaller lots then that can easily be less density than a McMansion consuming the entire building envelope of a lot. Not that I would expect smaller houses on smaller lots in an established neighborhood of larger homes on larger lots. But that could be encouraged for new infill projects, any annexations and maybe even stalled existing developments like Barn Village. City could tell current developer that they'd be open to allowing lots to be split in half in the development. That would seem to increase the value of the vacant lots and the resulting modest houses would appear to be in the price range of workforce housing.

Look at the age profile chart in the article, doesn't look obvious that there will be much demand for what had become typical 3,500 sq ft new homes. But a lot more demand for more modest sized housing that would be of interest to the booming older folk and the workforce.


Scott Wedel 4 years, 2 months ago


Steamboat Springs Community Area Plan, 2004 Update, Chapter 9 : Housing, "Housing Vision: The Steamboat Springs community will allow the majority of people who work in Steamboat Springs to afford to live here, if they so choose."

Upon some reflection, I think City would be well served to hold a hearing and discuss what that statement means, whether to keep or modify it, and whether to have policies to promote that outcome.

If that statement means that a majority of service workers should have the ability to live in SB then take the employment data and housing data to figure out how many thousands of low income units need to be created.

If that statement means that a majority of overall workers which consists of most making above median income and some at the median should have the ability to live in SB then that is probably the current situation.

There is also the issue that creating housing at certain price points does not control whom moves in. That in a highly desirable resort town that lower priced housing attracts new residents whom may not intend to join the local workforce. And so SB could spend a lot of energy creating lower cost housing that does not bring workers back into city limits and, in fact, increase the regional demand for workers to provide services in SB.

Personally, I'd delete that workforce housing sentence from the community plan as being unworkable in practice. And replace it with a statement that a city is better served with a variety of housing options than a monoculture of larger single family homes.


Steve Lewis 4 years, 2 months ago

Scott, The West Area plan was aggressive on affordable housing. Your complaint was made - that the West Area was burdened with City shortcomings and the City itself needed to do more. And in 2006 the City did do more with the IZ and Linkage ordinances. That City effort was largely dismantled by the City 2 years later.

Your 2nd and 3rd paragraphs ignore the logic of the chosen growth boundary: leaving the South Valley pastureland intact, using the foothills West of town and north of the river, staying below a water service elevation to avoid excessive pumping of treated water, and connecting with infrastructure of Steamboat II. Development proposals followed fairly soon.

I don't follow your age/home size comment. Years ago local demographics really caught my eye. Until I found matching demographics for the nation. Rees' point seems made though - we will need the service workers.


Scott Wedel 4 years, 2 months ago


I was told the formulation of the west area plan included consideration of allowing SB expansion on the west side on the south side of the Yampa River. That was rejected. And that they also considered to consequences of requiring east to west phasing which put particular property owners in complete control of development in the area. And that not requiring any affordable housing in SB was not then considered a deficiency, but an essential part of making it politically acceptable.

I had that conversation in 2002 with one of the planners involved in formulating the plan. I was surprised that my assessment of the flaws of the plans was acknowledged as being accurate and known as they created the plan. That people formulating the plan were directed towards a political solution expected to not meet the publicly stated goals.

The City's affordable housing IZ and Linkage ordinances were disasters that couldn't be repealed fast enough. It was so stupid that it appeared to include a layer of vindictiveness to require luxury tourist oriented buildings include some affordable units. The association monthly dues quickly made those units unaffordable and sacrificed prime real estate for a handful of affordable units. Even if you accept the idea that building new expensive units created a demand for local workers and so the developer had to mitigate that by providing some affordable units, it makes no sense to require the affordable units in the same building.

Yeah, developments starting rolling in after city sliced the affordable requirement in half for the West Area and SB was in a historic real estate boom. That just proves how the original West Area plan was designed to put a freeze on annexations and give all the control to a handful of property owners.

The demographic chart shows huge growth in those aged 60 and above. That age group is less likely to be looking for large home, but for easier to live in houses.

And yes, this area needs service workers, but it defies basic economics to try to create enough affordable housing so that the majority of service workers have the option to live within SB City limits. If service workers live in Hayden and Stagecoach then that is hardly an economic crisis for SB.


mark hartless 4 years, 2 months ago

Egalitarianism run amok.

Since when should people with marginal incomes, savings and net worth have markets twisted and distorted for them just so they can live in a "world-class" ski town?

And since when should people who DO have good incomes, savings, and net worth be provided with "cheap" labor?

Let the price of housing climb. Let construction costs climb. Let those who wish to live here pay the inflated wages of those who wish to live AND WORK here.

Build the home at the ACTUAL price it costs to build it here, rather than tha distorted, false price brought about by market manipulation.

But that wouldn't give the "trolls-of-the-bridge" any power, would it?


Steve Lewis 4 years, 2 months ago

Scott, Where you see a past of power-serving politics, I see a past of logical choices, agreed to by City and County. You prefer we re-shape the UGB to reach more landowners?

You are also representing the effort inaccurately. The WSSAP AH requirement was 33% at 120%AMI. It went to 20% at 80% AMI. Those are roughly equal if you do the math. You'll need a different argument for "the West Area plan was designed to put a freeze on annexations". Particularly given the annexation proposal came within a few years.

AH units were not required in the same building. The IZ ordinance allowed development to request off site AH units, as Edgemont did at Sunburst and Wildhorse at First Tracks. OA dues could be partially avoided. Onsite AH units could be restricted from use of front desk, exercise facilities, etc, and have lower OA dues.

The old dictum may be changing, that the 55 and older boomers were our wealthiest newcomers and the reason for so many second homes. But I doubt it. I'd say the age chart still suggests we will see large homes significant in our infill. We both have suggestions of zoning incentives to accommodate smaller homes and greater density.

Much of this is a dated argument not worth much time. The ordinances we debate don't exist and we won't see another unit built by our current IZ ordinance. As I said in the article, I'm uncertain of best next steps. For sure we should have Steamboat and West Area plan Updates that coordinate a community shared vision behind intensive Infill. And we should have these before taking our Code there.

I am certain basic economics will be defied. As they are defied everywhere. 35 acre parcels. City limits. UGB's. I'm happy Hwy 40 South of town is not a commercial strip. How about you?


Scott Wedel 4 years, 2 months ago

I have no problem that South Valley is limited to 35 acre parcels. Community can decide upon where city will and will not grow. But we too often presume that the current plan will be the plan for the next 1,000 years. Sure, SB can say it will never grow to the South Valley, but it will grow in some other direction.

Thus, the current UGB is just a temporary boundary that sometime in the future will be expanded. So instead of limiting growth to a handful of properties and once those are developed then presumably the UGB will be expanded on the west side south of Hwy 40, I'd include that area in the current UGB and also state the maximum amount annexed as of 2020, 2030, 2040 and 2050 so everyone knows it will be annexed in phases and not all at once.

That would basically admit reality that growth will eventually occur in that region, but does not care where it happens first. The current process required the Brown property which became part of SB 700 to have be annexed before many other properties in the UGB was eligible for annexation. That allowed one property to largely control the process.

The WSSAP was adopted in 1999. Essentially nothing happened during a historic real estate boom until the affordable conditions were substantially reduced by the 2006 update.

Basic economics are not defied by 35 acre parcels, city limits, or UGBs, Those elements set rules which then which are taken into consideration when the free market determines the fair market price for the affected properties.

What defies basic economics is the sentence from the community plan that says a majority of local workers should be able to live in SB if that is interpreted to include service workers and the city doesn't plan on allowing vast mobile home parks to meet that goal.

Rules that control the current value, future value and income of buyers defy basic economics because they presume to be creating a fair market despite prohibiting free market pricing.


Steve Lewis 4 years, 1 month ago

Scott, you are right about the update to encourage annexation activity. The WSSAP was softened in 2006. That update is where I became involved on PC. The Brown property owners were very engaged and key changes were per their requests. Most prominent in my mind were the previous requirements of a West Area urban center and grocery store becoming flexible recommendations. I believe we also relaxed location-specific density requirements to allow developer choices there. The updated affordable housing requirement targeted a lower income average than the previous requirement. That was harder to do, but the burden was offset in by applying it to 20%, rather than 33%, of the total units.


Scott Wedel 4 years, 1 month ago


So then you understand how beautifully she played the City.

In 1999, she agrees to 33% affordable housing and City is so happy with the promise of that amount of affordable housing that City drops consideration of the UGB expanding on the other side of Hwy 40 on the west side. And City agrees to a east to west growth which makes her property that much more central to any annexation.

(And City publicly claims that affordable housing issue has been solved because new growth will be 33% affordable, meanwhile not burdening any developers in SB with any provisions requiring any affordable housing. If affordable housing was so great and important then why require 33% in one part and have no requirements in the other part? The 1999 WSSAP was a cynical political ploy publicly promised to have a different effect that at least some of it's authors expected).

In 2006, when the market is booming then she goes to the City arguing that the current conditions are too onerous and the standards get relaxed. She then sells out for a ton of money.

And then the SB700 annexation become an incredibly complex document because the developer wanted one annexation agreement that covered basically the whole growth area

Exactly why the voters rejected SB700 is probably because SB700 and City created too many targets. For some, it looked like too much growth too quickly. Ironically, for others it looked like having to agree to something today that mostly won't be developed for decades. What the agreement meant for the local water supply and traffic was complex and confusing. And since election was in 2010 after the real estate bubble had burst then the pressure to expand was off and people unsure felt safe voting no.


Steve Lewis 4 years, 1 month ago

If the property owners made smart moves advancing their interests, good for them. You and I would do the same. I wish I could be that smart.

I think the annexation was what you said earlier - too BIG. Scary big.


Scott Wedel 4 years, 1 month ago


Though, that is an example of why people distrust government because government helped a person get rich, by removing competition and without advancing government's stated goals. Sure it helps when the person is that smart, but why it is acceptable that government is that inept?


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