Steamboat Springs At a long meeting that drew raised voices and plenty of passion, Steamboat Springs' Parks and Recreation Commission tried to steer the hot debate about whether to develop Rita Valentine Park toward a compromise.
“I do think there is a happy medium,” commissioner Jenette Settle said after talking with the public Wednesday about the park for nearly three hours. “I think we can work this out.”
To do that, the commission thought the city needs to start from scratch at the park.
At the end of the night, the commission voted to recommend that the Steamboat Springs City Council scrap the conceptual plan for the park that was tabled indefinitely in 2009 and come up with a new one with the help of the public.
Commission members said some items that were mentioned in the previous park plan, including a recreation center, were divisive and causing angst.
But a majority of commission members indicated they're open to some forms of development, including building trails.
Other members also were open to the addition of a disc golf course.
Commissioner JoEllen Heydon said the conceptual plan that called for the disc golf course, parking areas and dog parks was doable.
She added a beginner bike park also would benefit the area.
Commissioner Kara Stoller said a dog park or additional parking isn't needed, but without more trails, most of the 40-acre park currently can't be explored.
“I think we could expand the trail network that's in there for hiking and maybe some biking, so we can all experience more of the park,” she said.
At the very least, several commission members wanted to see the existing social trails improved.
More than 40 people went to Centennial Hall to discuss and debate the future of the park.
Neil O'keeffe said Rita Valentine Park is a centrally located place that could be ideal for things like a dog park and a disc golf course.
Robert Gould, who takes his dog there every day, wants the undeveloped park to stay exactly as it is right now.
A few opponents of developing the park also said it was one of Steamboat's last areas of open space that needs to be protected.
But those open to development countered that the city currently has more than 2,000 acres of open space and more than 500 acres of parkland.
As it is not designated as open space, Rita Valentine falls into the category of parkland.
A majority of people who spoke Wednesday night live near the park and wanted it left alone.
A significant part of the meeting also dove into the park's past and the battles that have been fought about its future.
Before public comment started, commission chairman Jack Trautman gave a long speech about the several groups in Steamboat, from disc golf players to dog owners, that have asked for new recreational amenities here throughout the years.
As one of Steamboat's only undeveloped parks, attention turned to Rita Valentine.
Trautman said that at one time, a group of neighbors called Friends of Rita Valentine was willing to invest in adding buffers around the park and be an active voice in how it got developed.
Trautman said he was frustrated that a previous City Council voted to table the conceptual plan he said was developed with a lot of community input.
“Here we stand five years later hoping we can get that same amount of community involvement, energy and dollars to make this a better resource,” Trautman said.“It hurt after all that work to get the City Council to ignore all of our hard work.”
Community member Anita Pedersen was one of the few new Steamboat residents in the audience.
She said she followed a similar controversy many years ago in Boulder around a piece of undeveloped land that today is Wonderland Lake Park.
“There were people there who were very worried the same way homeowners here are worried,” she said.
She said the addition of new recreational amenities like a playground, paved walking paths and parking benefited the area and did not ruin the space.
She said the park also retained much of its open space.
“I think there's some space in the middle,” she said about Steamboat's current debate over Rita Valentine Park.
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10