Steamboat Springs Planning Department works toward predictability in the process

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— The city of Steamboat Springs Planning Department and the Planning Commission have been involved in the process of tweaking parts of the community development code for a while now.

Department staff keep a running list of all the topics and areas singled out for attention, and they’re slowly and steadily working through those issues using an amendment process that eventually is codified by the City Council.

The goal of some of these changes, as espoused by members of the Planning Commission, is to make Steamboat’s planning process more predictable for developers.

In September, the Planning Commission considered changes to the language governing how variances are evaluated and approved, and on Thursday, they continued in the same vein with a discussion about where is the appropriate place in the code to reference the Area Community Plan.

Planning Commission member Brian Hanlen said in September and on Thursday that he’d had personal experience with projects being held to sections of the Area Community Plan by past planning department staff despite the plan not being intended to function as a regulatory document like the community development code.

The Area Community Plan is a vision document, Planning Department Director Tyler Gibbs said Tuesday, and reflects the different and sometimes contradictory views within the community.

Gibbs said that planning staff philosophically is in agreement with Planning Commission members, such as Hanlen, who are looking to make the process more predictable.

The process, Gibbs said, also should be flexible. The code should be straightforward for developers who want the simplest way to reach their bottom line but also flexible to allow for those who want to be more creative.

Gibbs, who joined the department in 2010, said he encountered these developer types during his time in Denver, where he worked through zoning and code updates.

For developers who want flexibility, Steamboat’s code allows for variances from the concrete, numerical standards that govern projects. To judge whether a variance should be allowed, intent statements are used to determine what goal the standard looks to achieve.

Those intent statements are largely yet to be defined in Steamboat’s code. The code amendments being developed by planning staff and the Planning Commission would point to the statements where they exist and allow staff to craft statements based on the vision of the area plan where they’re lacking.

The work that remains to be done by staff and Planning Commission members is looking at where the wider discretion and policy considerations early in the development process should give way to the clear, firm standards of code.

Annexation has a clear policy and vision element. Development plans are far enough along in the process to be judged strictly by defined standards.

On Thursday, members of planning staff and members of the Planning Commission differed about where preliminary plats fell in the process. Gibbs and staff members Bob Keenan and Rebecca Bessey said they’d like to see references to the area plan retained for preliminary plats.

Planning Commission members Hanlen and Charlie MacArthur said they didn’t see the reference as necessary.

The language in question will come back before the Planning Commission for consensus before eventually moving to the City Council for approval.

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

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