A sidewalk on Oak Street in downtown Steamboat Springs suddenly ends near the street's intersection with 10th Street. Missing sidewalk segments and poor pedestrian lighting downtown are some of the things that helped the downtown corridor earn a blight designation from a consulting firm based in Centennial.

Photo by Scott Franz

A sidewalk on Oak Street in downtown Steamboat Springs suddenly ends near the street's intersection with 10th Street. Missing sidewalk segments and poor pedestrian lighting downtown are some of the things that helped the downtown corridor earn a blight designation from a consulting firm based in Centennial.

Blight designation in downtown Steamboat Springs may pave way for urban renewal projects

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— Poor pedestrian lighting, missing sidewalks and the presence of a flood zone are some of the things that have helped downtown Steamboat Springs join Colorado's long and growing list of blighted areas.

Blight is a dirty word that most cities and towns would seem to want to run away from.

But Steamboat and several other places across the state have sought out the designation because of the significant benefits a blight designation brings along with it.

A finding of blight allows a municipality to use a powerful tax tool called tax increment financing, or TIF, to redevelop an area and make it more inviting to pedestrians and private developers.

In downtown Steamboat, the city wants to use TIF specifically to redirect some portion of future sales and property tax revenue from new development toward improvements like better lighting and sidewalks.

So how does a downtown district that graces the front of so many picturesque postcards get associated with a word as unflattering as blight?

Getting blighted

City officials who ordered the blight study and the consultants who carried it out will be the first to say they think that blight is an unfortunate and, at times, misleading term to be associated with urban renewal projects in the state.

Steamboat Springs Planning Director Tyler Gibbs said Monday that he would rather refer to the downtown blight survey as a downtown conditions survey.

And Mainstreet Steamboat Springs Manager Tracy Barnett also has said she thinks the word blight is a "misnomer" in the urban renewal authority process.

The word blight conjures up images of abandoned buildings and slums like you see in places such as Detroit. But in the context of urban renewal authorities here in Colorado, the word's meaning is more complex and open to interpretation.

Under the law, blight is anything that "substantially impairs or arrests the sound growth of the municipality."

A blight designation starts with a lengthy survey.

Consultants visit areas that are proposed for redevelopment and gather a long list of data ranging from the ownership and value of properties to the area's rate of crime.

Under Colorado urban renewal law, each area is graded on the same scale of 11 factors.

The factors range from the presence of deteriorating structures to unsanitary or unsafe conditions.

Centennial-based consulting firm Ricker-Cunningham found that downtown Steamboat met nine of the 11 factors that together can qualify an area as blighted.

Crime data a factor

Crime and traffic accident data helped Steamboat meet one of the 11 criteria needed to be designated as blighted. Here's what data from the Steamboat Springs Police Department showed about crime and traffic:

• There were an average of about 218 criminal incidents each year in the downtown corridor from 2008 to 2012. These incidents include assaults, thefts and all other criminal reports.

• There were an average of about 151 traffic accidents each year from 2008 to 2012. A large majority of the accidents occurred in the Lincoln Avenue zone.

Poor pedestrian lighting, poor drainage, unscreened trash and a higher incidence of crime and traffic incidents compared to the rest of the city together led the consultants to conclude downtown hosted "unsanitary or unsafe conditions."

The consultants checked off the box next to "existence of conditions that endanger life or property by fire or other causes" because of the 100-year flood zone that is created with Soda, Spring and Butcherknife creeks running through downtown into the Yampa River.

Peeling paint, crumbling windows and some crumbling foundations in downtown meant there was a "slum, deteriorated or deteriorating structures" in the downtown area.

And a lack of curbs and gutters and sidewalks contributed to the finding of "defective or inadequate street layout."

According to Ricker-Cunningham, the checklist they have used when assessing blight conditions has been the basis of 75 surveys they have conducted for more than 25 communities in Colorado and the Southern and Western United Sates.

Open to interpretation

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and so is blight.

At least one member of the Steamboat Springs City Council already has indicated that he may not consider the downtown area to be as blighted as the consultants do.

When he did a first glance of the study earlier this month, council member Kenny Reisman said he only could see that downtown Steamboat met three of the 11 factors for blight, with safety being one of them.

"I'd like to have a conversation about how we came up with nine and what those are," Reisman said, adding that he wanted the study vetted publicly.

The blight study was one of the hangups earlier this month that caused the council to slow down talks of using TIF downtown.

Council members reported they had not received the more-than-40-page study until a few hours before their council meeting, so they did not have time to read it thoroughly and discuss it.

City staff said the document was intended to be included in the council's agenda packets well before the meeting Aug. 5.

The council is expected to discuss the study in more detail with city staff Sept. 2.

City staff also is preparing its own analysis of the study at the request of the council.

While some council members started to question some aspects of the blight study, other members saw the study as a routine part of the process.

"My familiarity with blight studies on the Front Range is they are done routinely," council member Tony Connell said. "They're not challenged that much."

Growing trend

From the Lionshead area in Vail to an area of graffiti-covered industrial buildings near Interstate 25 in Colorado Springs that reportedly was a sleeping spot for homeless people, more and more places in the state are being designated as blighted for redevelopment purposes.

In some communities though, the designations raise eyebrows.

When Old Town Erie was deemed blighted in part because of its lack of sidewalks and pedestrian lighting, some longtime residents took offense to the label.

"It's older, but it's not blighted," Erie resident Liz Fisher told The Denver Post last year. "I feel they are stretching the intent of the definition of blight."

A blight study in Littleton also recently irked some property owners.

The Denver Post reported some of the property owners were concerned the blight designation on their property would lead to them being condemned and replaced.

City officials here in Steamboat have said their intentions with a downtown urban renewal authority are not similar or comparable to some other cases around the state that have generated controversy.

City Manager Deb Hinsvark repeatedly has praised the impact of what an urban renewal authority and TIF have been able to accomplish at the base of the ski area, where they helped build a multimillion-dollar promenade.

Gibbs has said the intentions for a blight study and the use of a TIF downtown would be similarly aimed to improve public infrastructure and encourage, not incentivize, private development.

"The key things downtown are things the council has been concerned about and are beginning to address this summer, which are the lack of sidewalks, curb and gutter and lighting," Gibbs said. "It's not that they were once there and deteriorated. We've just never invested in some of this stuff."

Gibbs said with the city's capital improvement budget currently "pretty overextended," the tax tool could allow improvements to be made sooner rather than later.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10

Downtown Steamboat Springs blight study

Downtown Steamboat Springs Blight Study

Comments

Scott Wedel 3 weeks ago

"Blight" to allow TIF has become another example of how wealthy people use tax loopholes. The Colorado State Legislature passed a major reform attempting to remove this loophole only for it to be vetoed by the Governor.

Blight and urban renewal used to mean economically distressed areas in which property owners were not making investments. The property owners weren't investing because the prospects of making a reasonable return on their investment was poor. Thus, urban renewal districts were seen as a way to match private investment with the increases in tax revenue resulting from that investment The current law incorrectly attributes some of the symptoms of blight as indicating blight without considering whether the root cause is related to blight.

Now, governments like SB see urban renewal as a way to game the state's tax system so that the government can keep tax money that otherwise would go to schools, libraries, highways, fire, police and so on.

In no normal definition of the word "blighted" are any of the Yampa St properties "blighted". Sure, some are not pretty, but that is the result of the property owner's plan on how to manage their investment. With the luxury developments constructed on Yampa St prior to the recession, there is clearly the potential for additional similar projects in the future. There may also be estate planning considerations for a family to sell a property after the current property owner dies. So some property owners are not currently in their properties because they are expecting that the property will soon have a new luxury building.

I find it very ironic that SB City government is willing to consider such a tax loophole. This same city government promotes a buy local campaign and suggests that locals making online purchases should pay city sales tax. If SB City approves this then they should also start teaching tax avoidance classes to teach the public how to avoid city sales tax.

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Scott Wedel 3 weeks ago

There are two plausible ways to fund Yampa St improvements.

1) City pays for it out of tax revenues like it pays for other city improvements. If improvements will increase business activity then soon enough the city will see their revenues increase.

2) If the improvements desired by Yampa St property owners are too extensive and expensive for the city to ever fund then they should form a General Improvement District in which they pay the district's taxes in order to pay for the desired improvements. A GID is like a fire protection or library district in which taxes are increased within the district to pay for improvements of whatever type within the district.

An URA/TIF on Yampa St would be particularly unfair and immoral because any increase in revenues would primarily be due to inflation and the overall growth within SB. Thus, the TIF revenues is money that would otherwise go to local schools and other essential government services. The TIF revenues are not a government contribution to justify a far larger private investment, but are literally instead of private investors forming a GID to pay for improving their properties..

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John St Pierre 3 weeks ago

BLIGHT>>>??? tell me again what the price per sq ft is for a lot on Yampa... How much did the city just pay for that pc of land.... how much are the condo's going for???? What a total abuse. Enough to make this staunch Dem to vote libertarian!!!!! rich getting richer off the backs of city gov

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Pat West 3 weeks ago

Funny how downtown is blighted, due to unfinished sidewalks and other public funded projects like street lights, yet we had $250k to landscape the medians of US-40 nicer than most of our lawns.

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John Weibel 3 weeks ago

Libertarian is the way to vote... Most issues can being dealt with in an egalitarian way by voting the constitution.

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mark hartless 3 weeks ago

Why does the average person believe the game is rigged?? ... because it is.

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Stuart Orzach 3 weeks ago

The bar is set so low that it is hard to imagine any area not meeting 4 of the 11 criteria. The law doesn't specify what is required to meet each criterion. It's wide open to interpretation.The supposedly adverse conditions do not have to be predominant. They only have to exist somewhere in the area. If no property owners in the area object, then only one condition has to be met. Meeting 5 conditions allows the City to exercise eminent domain. However, meeting the requisite number of criteria is necessary but not sufficient to earn a blight designation. According to the Colorado Urban Renewal Law, the blighted area must substantially impair or arrest the sound growth of the municipality, retard the provision of housing accommodations or constitute an economic or social liability, and be a liability to public safety, health, morals or welfare. I strongly recommend that people read the actual study. There are too many important details to do it justice in a newspaper article. There is a link to the study above. This will have an impact on the County and the School District. Also, the City Council, will be able to indebt the taxpayers. in order to pay for projects, in advance of actually garnering the anticipated incremental tax revenue. And whether we eventually garner the revenue or not, taxpayers will pay, and the anticipated projects will have priority over other uses for our money. Future Councils will find their hands tied.

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John Weibel 2 weeks, 6 days ago

The current councils hands are tied by another councils determination that using certificates of payments was a good way to avoid having to go to voters to see if they thought buying iron horse was a good idea. Why would they determine that potentially binding future councils hands would b a good idea. For that matter, given all the city employees being put on furlough recently why would they be pushing for it.

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Scott Wedel 2 weeks, 6 days ago

What is the lesson from the Iron Horse city council?

Is the lesson that tying the hands of future city councils is bad?

Or is it that free money for this city council to spend is very convenient?

Obviously, the prospect of free money is more attractive than responsibility or the city would not be considering a URA/TIF. And so many on city staff would not be working on this if city manager didn't think there was support on the city council.

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Scott Wedel 2 weeks, 6 days ago

"Those [lots] that are too small are often unviable (or lacking any reasonable value) without being part of a larger property assemblage."

Oh, so which lots are essentially worthless as is? The ones that are too expense for the city to buy to make into a park?

The problem with this report and of so many recent city staff reports is that they are extremely biased. This report reads like it is expected to be used in a court case showing that the city had reasons to believe there was blight. The report never considers any of the reasons that there might not be blight. It has pictures of a street without gutters or sidewalks that are carefully framed to not show the nearby luxury construction.

Funniest part was including the police calls for Yampa St as if indicating it was a crime infested area. When, in reality, the police calls are mostly from the very popular and happening bars.

Report includes a picture of apparently John Fielding's house as an example of nearby blight. But most of what is pictured is what John has done because it is what he wants. He wants his growing areas and so on.

In fairness, city staff should also create a report of why it is not blighted. It should include the recent construction, selling prices and so on. It should include asking prices for the so-called valueless lots. It would compare the number of good buildings vs poor buildings and mention whether the trend is improving or deteriorating.

That this is the report that was submitted to the city council demonstrates what has gone so wrong with government in recent years. Where government has become deeply politicized and there is no longer any respect for being fair and honest. It was not long ago that city staff reports gave a fair analysis of an issue. And then city council could consider the facts and policy options when making a decision.

Or the easiest way to know Yampa St is not blighted is to use city council's own words of a few weeks ago describing how Yampa St is so popular.

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jerry carlton 2 weeks, 6 days ago

Two articles on the front page about collecting more taxes. On page 3 an article telling about the city and school district squabbling over who gets the lions share of the taxes to be collected. The only sure thing is taxpayers had better bend over and grab their ankles. Governments greed is insatiable.

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Michael Bird 2 weeks, 5 days ago

Scott W - There is at least one more way to fund improvements but it requires personal responsibility and that is the property owners pay, yes pay, for their own improvements. No tax involved. As a downtown building owner, we paid the upkeep such as painting, landscaping and horrors of horrors - are you ready for this - installing a sidewalk.

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Dan Kuechenmeister 2 weeks, 5 days ago

If you want to see what happens when you run out of other peoples money google Argentina.

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mark hartless 2 weeks, 4 days ago

The only blight on Yampa is those damned speed bumps, which dont extend into the bike lane, whic is completely fair because bikers want to be and should be treated just like... well.....

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rhys jones 2 weeks, 4 days ago

We'll see how the Christmas lights play, when the real weather gets here. They were out briefly tonight -- thought maybe it was a "series" problem with 'em -- one goes out, fairly easy to isolate -- two, well... Then they came on later, and I noticed one bulb still out -- missed that one.

I can't say I'd mind real curbs and sidewalks there, and some semblance of real lighting -- like, on poles -- soft warm colors, not cold flourescents...

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Pat West 2 weeks, 4 days ago

I have to agree with Hartless, riding Yampa in the bike lane, cars want to move over to avoid the "speed HUMPS" pinching bikes into the parked cars. funny how a guy in a lifted big wheeled f250 will move over to the bike lane to aviod the "humps". next summer some sort of lane splitter should be installed to keep cars in their lane, or police should ticket cars that drive into the bike lane, as well as those that still can't limit their speed to the posted 15mph. Drivers on this forum regularly post againt bikes in their lane, now we have a lane, respect it and take the "hump".

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Scott Wedel 2 weeks, 4 days ago

Or just remove the speed bumps. Installing a road hazard should be expected to result in people trying to avoid the hazard.

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Dan Kuechenmeister 2 weeks, 4 days ago

I guess the reaction to the speed bumps falls into the laws of unintended consequences category.

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jerry carlton 2 weeks, 4 days ago

Should the bikers who exceed 15 mph be ticketed? I have yet to see a biker get a ticket for anything in 17 years. I keep my biking to the core trail and just worry about pedestrians and not F-150's.

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Eric Meyer 2 weeks, 3 days ago

Bicyclists should obey the posted speed limit. However, we would need an even bigger new police station to house all the police needed to write tickets for every car that exceeds a speed limit by up to 5 mph. Any bicycles on Yampa St probably fall into that category if they are actually exceeding the speed limit at all.

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Eric Meyer 2 weeks, 3 days ago

They are writing tickets to cyclists for not coming to a complete stop at stop signs. RCR was shown one of those tickets about a month ago and it was for $111.

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Scott Wedel 2 weeks, 3 days ago

"not coming to a complete stop"

Well, that is one way to describe what probably really happened. Probably was more like flying through a stop sign

I've never seen bicyclists that slow down and proceed through an intersection when safe get a ticket. Flying through an intersection is usually what it takes to get a ticket.

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Eric Meyer 2 weeks, 3 days ago

I was not there personally but my comment was accurate either way although I am pretty confident your assumption of "flying through a stop sign" is inaccurate at least in this case.

I know the individual personally and it is a shame the ticket went to him. He is relatively new to cycling and is just getting into commuting to work. The stop sign in question was 100% covered by a tree and not even visible. He took a photo to prove it.

I know the "flying through a stop sign" problem is out there too. I was passed at about 20 mph by a cyclist about a month ago while I was stopping on my motorcycle at the 5th street bridge intersection. There were cars with no stop sign coming off the bridge. This elitist road cyclist in a full kit is a big part of the local problem.

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Scott Wedel 2 weeks, 3 days ago

Eric,

Well, if he didn't see the stop sign behind the tree then he went through the intersection as if there wasn't a stop sign. Which is pretty similar to flying through the intersection even if his speed wasn't that great.

Well, if you witnessed someone you recognize as dangerously ignoring a stop sign then why didn't you call it in and file a complaint? If you know the person then the police don't have to catch the person right then to give him a ticket.

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Eric Meyer 2 weeks, 3 days ago

A slow day turns into a wasted day.... Not sure why I ever try to correct the inaccurate statements and rants that plague these comments.

Sometimes you make a lot of sense Scott, but sometimes you don't read before responding. I never said I was there to witness it. I actually specifically said "I was not there personally"

Have a good weekend. Enjoy the screen time. Weather is finally nice and I am going to enjoy it.

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Scott Wedel 2 weeks, 3 days ago

I was talking about reporting this guy from your earlier post:

I know the "flying through a stop sign" problem is out there too. I was passed at about 20 mph by a cyclist about a month ago while I was stopping on my motorcycle at the 5th street bridge intersection. There were cars with no stop sign coming off the bridge. This elitist road cyclist in a full kit is a big part of the local problem.

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Eric Meyer 2 weeks ago

Sorry for the assumption on my part.

I could not ID that guy as he went by so fast and I only saw that he was wearing a mostly black with some red and some white cycling kit. I have a guess, but that is not good enough for me to call in to the police. I would have had to break the law to follow him and get a better ID, so I chose not to.

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scott bideau 2 weeks, 3 days ago

I find it ironic that the August 5th city council meeting packet has a document/topic attempting to categorize downtown as "blighted" for the URA right before the next topic/document that addresses the parking problems encountered by such a popular area.

(Although I am a member of the Steamboat Springs School Board, these comments are my own personal opinions and do not represent those of the School Board's)

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jerry carlton 2 weeks, 3 days ago

Eric Pat Wet opened the door to my comment. Drivers should get tickets too. Stop signs are bicyclist's biggest transgression. My wife and I were almost hit in a crosswalk by a bicyclist who blew thru a stop sign and my vehicle was almost hit by a female bicyclist who did the same. My observation in 17 years in this town is a higher percentage of cyclists ignore stop signs than drivers do. It is fairly rare to see a vehicle blow through a stop sign. Anyone with their eyes open will constantly see cyclists blowing through them. As I said before, I have never seen a cyclist getting a ticket in this town. I have seen many vehicles getting tickets although not nearly as many as there should be.

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Eric Meyer 2 weeks, 3 days ago

More enforcement is probably the answer. I was on my motorcycle slowing to a stop at the rodeo grounds less that a month ago and had a road cyclist blow by me at what I would guess was almost 20 mph. Not only did he blow through the stop sign, but he definately didn't give me my 3 feet to pass. Sounds like the city has an untapped source of money that no one can really complain about to start on funding the new police station just on stop sign violations.

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Pat West 2 weeks, 3 days ago

Let's be clear that the stop signs in Brooklyn Where the cyclist was ticketed were installed to curb speeders in that residential neighborhood. If drivers could control their speeed we wouldnt need them at all.

Not justification for disobeying the laws, but drivers were, and are the problem in Brooklyn.

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Eric Meyer 2 weeks ago

The cyclist I was refering to getting a ticket was not in Brooklyn. It was crossing Pine Grove Rd.

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Pat West 2 weeks ago

There have been Facebook posts of cyclists being ticketed in Brooklyn.

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Pat West 2 weeks, 3 days ago

PS, Eric, a cyclist is not required to give you 3ft when passing. YOU the motorist are required to give a cyclist 3ft when YOU pass. It is disappointing to see that even members of the RCR board do not know the laws concerning cyclists, and use their ignorance to Position against cyclists on this forum. Shows again that cyclists are their own worst enemy.

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Eric Meyer 2 weeks ago

Pat you are right that I should not have said "3 feet". I should have said a "safe distance". I interpreted the safe distance to be 3 feet when a cyclist is involved in a passing situation with a motor vehicle. It sounds like you don't think the minimum 3 feet is needed to be a safe distance when it is the cyclist passing a vehicle. But, it does sound like you appreciate the required 3 feet when it is a vehicle passing a cyclist. Seems a little hypocritical to me. I absolutely agree that cyclist are there own worst enemy, but I think it comes down those who break the law and those who interpret the law to the extreme.

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jerry carlton 2 weeks, 3 days ago

And bicyclists were and are the problem anywhere in Routt County that there are stop signs. I was almost hit as a pedestrian at the rodeo grounds and as a driver on Elk River Road by bicyclists running stop signs. Traffic enforcement is very lax in Routt County for drivers and even more lax for bicyclists. Better not drive drunk. That is enforced as well it should be.

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rhys jones 2 weeks, 3 days ago

The old Trek has two flats, just too busy to fix -- my feet and the bus still work, and I live within walking distance of everything. (except Steamboat Lake, durn it...) So I have no recent personal events to relate. That said...

I've probably blown off more stop signs than I've stopped for, on my bike -- yet no motorists have ever had a problem with me -- I slow and stop as necessary -- having utmost respect for a ton or two of metal and plastic which couldn't care less about my tender flesh. My rule riding, as well as driving, is to make nobody do anything on my account. So I'm guilty on this count, yet innocent. Thus this opinion is nothing but dribble, mere troll trash talk.

What I was trolling to say is that Ski Town USA is a joke, a self-assigned moniker we use to bolster our egos and pat ourselves on the back (and plug our hill) -- the locals in Aspen (Snowmass) had a problem when I tried to advance that theory there... and they had a point, four ski mountains nearby, terrain of all types to leave us in the plume, all the money in the world there... Vail might have something to say (highway area that that is)... Whistler (and not even USA) Mammoth... and while many medalists may claim WSC experience (and not all for the USA) many of them learned their skills on narrow icy East Coast trails.

Just sayin'... it's a fun hill, but not God's Gift to Skiing.

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Scott Wedel 2 weeks, 2 days ago

So Yampa St is blighted due to the bicyclists that run stop signs.

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brian crosby 2 weeks, 2 days ago

Also, because of the new lights they installed turn off by 11 p.m.... when buzzed people are just starting to have trouble seeing the new curbs they're about to trip over

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