Steamboat Springs Planning Commission considers changes to variance criteria, notification requirements

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— The city of Steamboat Springs Planning Commission meeting Thursday had the intent of making the process for potential projects more predictable and assuring that the public is aware of those projects.

The first item covered by the commission was how the Steamboat Springs Planning Department defines and approves variances.

Requested variances for projects can involve setbacks from the edge of a lot, height restrictions, building materials and other deviations from what’s allowed explicitly in the Community Development Code. Currently, the criteria for a variance include subjective descriptions like “advantages outweigh disadvantages” and “superior development.”

The proposed changes would take into account the intent of the standard and why the variance still would meet that intent.

Planning Commission members largely agreed about weighing the intent of a standard when considering a variance and voted to recommend language that would require the intent to be made clear where it wasn’t already in the code.

Where there was disagreement was in the correct use of the community area plan as a guide to determine what is or is not a variance.

Planning Commission member Brian Hanlen suggested language that requires conformance with the community area plan be removed from the development plan and preliminary plat sections of the Community Development Code.

The effect of the current language, Hanlen said, was that goals in the community area plan, which are not enforceable regulations, sometimes were used to define what constituted a variance and sidelined projects that the developers thought conformed with the Community Development Code.

Planning Commission member Troy Brookshire took objection to the removal of that language.

“In practice, I don’t have a problem with your changes,” Brookshire said to Hanlen. “But philosophically, I don’t want to throw out the community area plan.”

Hanlen said the parts of the community area plan that were deemed important enough to be enforceable have gone or should be required to go through the process to become part of the Community Development Code.

After a variance has been identified by application of code, Hanlen said, then the community area plan could be consulted if the intent of the standard is unclear.

Hanlen’s motion to recommend the changes to the variance code passed with Brookshire dissenting.

The second item on the Planning Commission’s agenda was the work session addressing the way public notice for projects is handled by the Planning Department. Complaints earlier in the year from neighbors of projects such as Skyview Apartments led staff to recommend a new GIS tool to make the process easier when compiling the database of addresses to receive notice. Staff also recommended requiring every owner in a multifamily building to receive notice of a project in the area.

With the intent of providing more information to the public, planning staff suggested the creation of Web pages dedicated to providing a map and a list of current projects in the city.

Thursday was the first time the Planning Commission was considering the proposed changes, so some details were left unresolved about whether to switch from requiring letters or postcards to be mailed, how to effectively advertise projects in the newspaper and whether to allow a lessened notification area for some project types.

Multiple Planning Commission members did not like the idea of reducing the area to be notified from the surrounding 300 feet to 100 feet for applications such as vacation home rental permits and telecommunication facilities.

Planning Commission Chairwoman Kathi Meyer said she did not think the 300-foot standard was an onerous task for notification.

The members in general accepted that the creation of Web pages to provide a list of projects and the associated documents was a good idea. Where they differed was the appropriate way to advertise the Web pages and the relevance or value of printed legal notices in the present era.

Steamboat Today Publisher Suzanne Schlicht attended the meeting and said the legal notices required by current city code to be printed in the newspaper also are online, and she applauded city staff for seeking to make the planning process more transparent and staying up to date with current technology.

But Schlicht also said that the printed notices serve an important purpose to the public and urged the Planning Commission to keep the notices for all project types.

“The newspaper is that consistent form that notifies that citizen that may not be close to the property but may be interested,” she said.

The discussion during Thursday’s work session will be taken into account when the Planning Commission eventually visits the topic again in a public hearing setting.

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

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