Our View: City Council disappoints with CMC response
September 22, 2010
Steamboat SpringsSteamboat Springs — Colorado Mountain College wants to expand and upgrade its Alpine Campus in Steamboat Springs, but it has encountered a Steamboat Springs City Council that college officials diplomatically call “lukewarm” regarding the proposal. — Colorado Mountain College wants to expand and upgrade its Alpine Campus in Steamboat Springs, but it has encountered a Steamboat Springs City Council that college officials diplomatically call "lukewarm" regarding the proposal.
Steamboat Springs — Colorado Mountain College wants to expand and upgrade its Alpine Campus in Steamboat Springs, but it has encountered a Steamboat Springs City Council that college officials diplomatically call "lukewarm" regarding the proposal.
Actually, the council's response has been baffling.
CMC has 11 campuses in western Colorado, and it has chosen the Steamboat site for a new geoexchange facility — a project that could cost $23 million with an access road figured in. The sticking point is that second road to the campus, required by an intergovernmental agreement between CMC and the city.
CMC and city planning staff members have identified the ideal site for the access road as 13th Street. That preference results from a 16-month, $500,000 planning process with the city.
But at their Sept. 7 meeting, council members expressed hesitation about building the road there. Some members suggested alternate routes, such as via 12th Street. City Planner Seth Lorson reminded council that staff has "looked at all these alternative accesses" and deemed the 13th Street intersection the most viable.
Councilwoman Meg Bentley expressed reservations that connecting to 13th Street would require cutting into the little-used Iron Springs Park and the more-popular West Lincoln Park.
"This is going to so negatively impact the historic hot springs and the park," she said. "I love the college, I love what it does for our community … but this road is not right. I want to look at alternatives."
Bentley's point about park impacts is reasonable; however, city planning staff exists to work through development issues and help a potential developer form the best plan.
Although the council certainly should ask tough questions and carefully examine such projects, at some point members must trust that staff already has examined issues including road alternatives.
What are the city's other concerns?
Councilman Jon Quinn questioned whether the hilltop site could handle the college's future growth.
"There are huge challenges to this particular site and this particular project," Quinn said. "If you're going to outgrow this site in 20 years, then maybe this isn't the right project."
If this isn't the right project, it's unclear what CMC, city planners and the Steamboat Springs Planning Commission have been working toward the past 16 months. And it's difficult to think that CMC plans to pour $23 million into an expansion project without having considered the future.
Another issue that has come up about the proposed road is traffic. We're skeptical that the impact to the so-called 13th Street "bottleneck" is a legitimate reason to scuttle the plan. At the Sept. 7 meeting, council members repeatedly praised the college for its contributions to the community. What they should do is demonstrate their appreciation by striving toward a project that meets the needs of CMC and of Steamboat.
CMC President Stan Jensen has said negotiations have been amicable. But the council has given a clear sign to the college that it could be a waste to pour more money into the project as proposed. "It's not like we haven't considered everything the city has asked us to consider," Jensen has said. "We're not going to spend another half-million dollars looking at it again."
So the college is examining other options, such as exploring other locations in Steamboat and Routt County as satellite campuses or moving the whole campus within the area. CMC also could review the Crawford Spur off 12th Street, a temporary fire and emergency services access, for the secondary access road, Jensen said this week.
The council has sent a negative signal by stymieing CMC with onerous requests that it go back to already-considered sites for this road. The college is a valuable partner for this community, and it's growing, earning permission recently to start building four-year degree programs. The City Council should view the college as the economic and social growth force that it is.
When a local educational entity comes forward with a request to build an innovative $23 million project during a recession, the city should work in good faith to make the proposal a reality.