Our View: Reconsider Casey’s Pond restriction
August 17, 2011
Steamboat Springs — We share the enthusiasm the Steamboat Springs Planning Commission showed last week for the proposed Casey's Pond senior living community on the south side of the city, but we think one of the restrictions placed on the conditions for approval ought to be re-examined by City Council.
The Planning Commission unanimously approved the 121,000-square-foot development off Walton Creek Road that promises skilled nursing rooms, independent living, assisted living and the region's first secure memory care housing. Among other things, the Casey's Pond development would replace the existing Doak Walker Care Center at Yampa Valley Medical Center.
Pearl Senior Living, the project's developer, marketer and manager, also sought indefinite vesting on a variance that would allow it to expand the project beyond what city code allows based on the project's overall lot size. The term for the code requirement is "floor area ratio." Specifically, Pearl Senior Living wants to be able to expand the $40 million project by 60,000 square feet when demand warrants it.
Before voting on the project, the Planning Commission added a requirement that all future Casey's Pond additions go through a complete development permit process. We support such a requirement.
Commission Vice Chairwoman Kathi Meyer then added another condition that limits the vesting period of the project's floor area ratio variance to 10 years, per what city codes allow. In other words, after a decade passes, Pearl Senior Living loses its ability to expand the senior living community beyond what the floor area ratio component of the code permits. Pearl Senior Living officials and others involved with the project, including Yampa Valley Medical Center CEO Karl Gills, stressed that Casey's Pond can best serve the community if it has the flexibility to change and expand services over the long haul.
The final wrinkle? The Casey's Pond development is subject to the floor area ratio requirement only because its land is zoned as an entrance corridor to the city. Planning commissioners told the developer on Thursday that they wished the project would have been brought forward as a planned unit development, or PUD, which would have allowed for more flexibility with the codes in exchange for demonstrating significant public benefit. No one, including the planning commissioners, doubts the public benefit Casey's Pond offers.
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Ironically, the developer lost the ability to bring Casey's Pond forward as a PUD because city planning staff asked him to change the zoning early in the development process.
We don't think the 10-year vesting on the floor area ratio variance is a deal-breaker for a project that offers the promise of jobs and quality senior living within city limits. And we respect the Planning Commission's charge to evaluate projects based on the letter of city codes. But we also think the City Council ought to give a closer look at the developer's request for an unlimited vesting period when it reviews the project next month.