DOW officials: Steamboat 700 site not crucial for deer, elk | SteamboatToday.com

DOW officials: Steamboat 700 site not crucial for deer, elk

City supports parks, open space proposal for annexation

Mike Lawrence

An extension of the Core Trail is proposed for the Steamboat 700 development.

For more

■ Learn more about regional wildlife through the Colorado Division of Wildlife here.

■ Learn more about the Let's Vote issue committee, opposing the Steamboat 700 annexation, on the Web https://letsvoten…>

■ Learn more about the Good For Steamboat committee, supporting the Steamboat 700 annexation, on the Web here.

Vote on 700

■ Ballots for the mail-only election will be sent to registered Steamboat Springs voters between Feb. 15 and 19. The election ends March 9.

■ Steamboat 700 is a proposed master-planned community on 487 acres adjacent to the western city limits of Steamboat Springs. The project proposes about 2,000 homes — from apartments to single-family home lots — and 380,000 square feet of commercial development that would be built to the standards of new urbanism (dense, walkable and transit-friendly).

— The Steamboat 700 site does not provide critical wildlife habitat and would not significantly affect wetlands, state officials and a private consultant, respectively, said last week.

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Randy Hampton, regional spokesman for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, said the state DOW has not officially commented about potential impacts of development at Steam­­boat 700. But he and Mike Middle­ton, who has been the DOW's district wildlife manager for the Steamboat Springs area since 1981, said the site does not provide seasonal habitat for deer or elk and is not crucial land for any species. Steamboat 700 is near other areas west and north of Steamboat that are important for grouse and cranes, they said.

A wetlands study by local natural resource consultants Western Bionomics — paid for by Steamboat 700 but approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in November 2006 — found minimal impacts from potential development at the site.

City residents will decide the fate of Steamboat 700 beginning Feb. 15 when ballots are sent for the all-mail election that concludes March 9. Developers are proposing about 2,000 homes and 380,000 square feet of commercial space, with a 20- to 30-year timeframe for development.

Much of the local debate has focused on what could be built at the site — housing, roads and infrastructure, for example — but what won't be built also is a significant portion of the proposed project's scope. Steamboat 700's annexation agreement with the city includes 130 to 150 acres of open space and parks, depending on final development plans. That's about 30 percent of the 487-acre site just west of current city limits.

Steamboat 700 principal and project manager Danny Mul­cahy said last week that about 30 of those acres will be for public parks. Preliminary plans developed through lengthy negotiations with Chris Wilson, director of the city's Parks, Open Space and Recreational Services Department, include four multiuse athletic fields; basketball, tennis and volleyball courts; nine playgrounds; picnic shelters; two dog parks; and a soft-surface trail system running through the development and around its perimeter.

"We've got a great concept, a great master plan," Wilson said. He said the plans would be finalized when Steamboat 700 development plans move through the city planning process, which is public.

"We would get to look at it and talk about it as a community," Wilson said.

The annexation agreement requires dedication of open space and completion of parks, fields and recreation facilities, fully funded by Steamboat 700 and according to the parks master plan, at 500 dwelling units.

Wilson said a potential Great Outdoors Colorado grant could help fund an extension of the Yampa River Core Trail to the development, as well, via a potential pedestrian underpass beneath U.S. Highway 40 that would be part of large-scale traffic improvements funded by Steamboat 700, state and federal transportation agencies, and other potential developments in the area.

For the birds

Hampton said the DOW would comment in an advisory capacity about wildlife impacts at Steamboat 700 "when and if this moves to a development phase."

"It's not mapped as winter range or anything like that for deer or elk," Hampton said. "The two species we'd be most watchful for are greater sandhill cranes and sharp-tail grouse."

The state DOW lists greater sandhill cranes and Columbian sharp-tailed grouse as "species of special concern," a non-statutory listing that recommends increased consideration of habitat and has a lesser priority than "endangered" or "threatened" on a state or federal level.

Middleton said the mesa on either side of Routt County Road 42, south of Marabou Ranch, is "excellent sandhill crane habitat (and a) very important migratory area" for the birds, which members of the Barber family, who ranch in the area, have shepherded across the road for years. Sharp-tailed grouse have been spotted frequently this winter in neighborhoods west of Steamboat.

"Sandhill cranes are really kind of all over the map in Routt County — the site that is Steamboat 700, yeah, birds get over there from time to time, but I don't think it's part of the staging grounds," Middleton said.

The soil type is not conducive to the birds' habitat, he added.

"The soil out there is very, very poor soil — shale, clay, very little topsoil, so not a lot of vegetation grows there. It's not considered a very good soil type for many types of plants," Middleton said. "It's not the best habitat for sandhill cranes and, for that matter, for grouse. (But) there's a heck of a lot of grouse to the west of there and to the north of there."

Middleton added that the Steamboat II, Heritage Park and Silver Spur subdivisions have soils similar to those found at Steamboat 700.

Middleton consulted with Western Bionomics on a wildlife report the Steamboat-based consultants prepared for Steamboat 700 in October 2008. Co-owner Kelly Colfer worked with the U.S. Forest Service for six years in Steamboat before starting Western Bionomics with Bob Magnuson in 1994.

Western Bionomics' wetlands report states that Slate Creek is the only substantial waterway flowing through the site, running roughly north to south on Steamboat 700's eastern side.

The creek and its intermittent streams are tributaries of the Yampa River. Much of the proposed development's planned open space is located around seasonal water flows or ponds.

For more

■ Learn more about regional wildlife through the Colorado Division of Wildlife here.

■ Learn more about the Let’s Vote issue committee, opposing the Steamboat 700 annexation, on the Web https://letsvoten…>

■ Learn more about the Good For Steamboat committee, supporting the Steamboat 700 annexation, on the Web here.

Vote on 700

■ Ballots for the mail-only election will be sent to registered Steamboat Springs voters between Feb. 15 and 19. The election ends March 9.

■ Steamboat 700 is a proposed master-planned community on 487 acres adjacent to the western city limits of Steamboat Springs. The project proposes about 2,000 homes — from apartments to single-family home lots — and 380,000 square feet of commercial development that would be built to the standards of new urbanism (dense, walkable and transit-friendly).

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