Our View: Balance key in Walgreens planning
January 16, 2011
Steamboat Springs — A proposal to develop a Walgreens along the U.S. Highway 40 corridor in Steamboat Springs provides a clear example of when city officials should apply common sense to the community development code and urban design standards.
The Walgreens development application was tabled by the Steamboat Springs Planning Commission on Thursday night after commissioners determined there were too many code variances and not enough evidence of public benefit to approve the application as presented. The commissioners were right to ask the developer, Steamboat's Brian Olson, to provide an estimate of the overall economic impact of the Walgreens to Steamboat. We also support the commissioners' request that Olson provide better landscaping between the store's façade and U.S. 40.
What we take issue with are some aspects of the building code, particularly as it relates to the city's urban design standards adopted in February 2008.
For example, the standards require that new commercial buildings be situated on their lots so as to abut main streets and intersections. One reason for this requirement is to minimize the visual impact of parking lots. Walgreens, however, requires a design that accommodates 40-foot delivery trucks and a drive-through pharmacy window for customers. A building that must front U.S. 40 and Pine Grove Road doesn't allow for either.
Olson and architect Eric Smith are proposing a Walgreens that may be as attractive as any of the national chain's 7,000 or so retail locations. The irony is that it may not be approved despite its presence in east Steamboat among a number of less-than-attractive commercial buildings — there are notable exceptions such as Ski Haus — that don't come close to meeting today's stricter design standards.
We don't advocate for relaxing all design standards simply because of what new development might inject into a struggling economy. Rather, we want city officials to exercise flexibility in how individual applications are evaluated. In the case of Walgreens, more is needed from the developer to justify its request for 11 variances from the Community Development Code. Better landscaping and a thorough economic impact analysis are at the top of the list.
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What the city shouldn't do is force conformity to all design standards when and where they don't make sense. The proposed Walgreens location appears to be a prime example.