Meg Bentley: My Walgreens vote
February 13, 2011
Steamboat Springs — My vote against the Walgreens development at the Feb. 1 City Council meeting was twofold: first against the lessee and second against the building itself.
First, the lessee. At a recent economic development meeting, Kevin Kaminski said he thought City Council should limit the number of liquor licenses. He said licensed establishments are trying to split up the existing pie of customers and so all of them are operating close to the edge. Some will fail this year. I see his logic. That logic also applies to the number of pharmacies. The National Community Pharmacies Association's suggested ratio for success is 19 pharmacies for every 100,000 residents. That means one pharmacy for every 5,263 residents, and 2.2 pharmacies for a city of 12,000 residents. We do not need five pharmacies.
Steamboat's branding by the Chamber Resort Association and Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. is as Western and as a fit and active community. So unless there will be a dedicated lane at the Walgreen's drive-up window for bicycles and/or horses, it is totally counter to our town's culture to have a drive-up at all.
On to my objections to the building. First, although Eric Smith told me at the council meeting that local contractors would be used to construct the building, it is my understanding that the architect is out of Denver. Smith was the hired gun to push this through City Council; he was not the architect. If the very first subcontract on the project is not local, what can we expect going forward?
The most egregious aspect of this building is its design with the loading dock and the trash wing on the side adjacent to U.S. Highway 40. After Walmart's construction in the mid-'80s, many of us helped rewrite that part of the Community Development Code so we would not have the backside of a building as the most prominent public view. It appears that development codes and design standards are part of a larger poker game that can be finessed and bargained with for private and personal gain.
There are a few of you out there who say that this approval says "Steamboat is open for business." Some of my constituents have quite aptly translated that to the following: "Steamboat has been bought again!" "City Council is arrogant enough to think that they and their decisions are above the law" and "The Good Old Boys Club still is in control of Steamboat at the expense of the majority of the citizens." I am just repeating some of the complaints people told me at the Winter Carnival street events.
Finally, there is the issue of arbitrarily overturning recommendations from staff and the Planning Commission. No wonder we have difficulty finding people to apply for Planning Commission. Wasting people's time is a serious offense. Where are the efforts to "empower" Planning Commission? No longer on the agenda, I guess. So, now that the precedent has been set that anything will be approved over the recommendations of staff and the Planning Commission just to get "activity" going, where do we go from here?
I think this approval is a myopic decision that favors quantity of development over quality of development. This decision is a first step in establishing our South Lincoln Avenue as a cookie-cutter imitation of Newcastle, Avon, and South Colorado Boulevard or West Colfax in Denver. That is not why tourists come here. It is not why residents stay here. It is not why location-neutral businesses will start up or move their companies to Steamboat.
Chaotic and arbitrary approval of any and all development — especially ones that pay less than subsistence-level wages — only will bring us the same boom-and-bust economy, the same need for subsidized housing, and the same need for commuter transportation to Craig. It also will bring an increased demand for summer marketing monies to overcome the effects of council's planning decisions.
Yes, there is a problem that Steamboat appears to throw roadblocks in the way of business. But rather than ignore community plans, surveys, codes and design standards in a blind effort to promote business, let us put our money where our mouth is. Let us take a true position of leadership. Let us find the money to put toward internally revising our planning documents and procedures. Then, if future citizen legislators consult the economic development plan, the revised codes, design standards and procedures, they will be able to make consistent and unbiased decisions that promote business and protect our culture, history and the interests of the citizens those legislators have sworn to represent.