Our View: The path from here
March 14, 2010
Steamboat voters spoke loud and clear Tuesday, when 61 percent of them said they didn't want the proposed Steamboat 700 annexation. But what's unclear is exactly why the majority didn't want it, and the answer to that question will be key to the city and its residents moving forward and preparing for future growth and development.
We've said this was the most important city vote in a generation, as it involved a development that would have affected Routt County for generations to come and forever changed the face of our valley. It was good to see city residents embrace the importance of the issue and turn out in force for the mail-only election. There were 4,253 votes cast on Referendum A, a turnout of 64 percent of the city's 6,640 registered, active voters. By comparison, 3,337 Steamboat Springs voters cast a ballot in November's City Council election, which included a majority — four out of seven — of the council seats.
It's now incumbent upon city leaders, including the council, to get to the heart of last week's "no" vote. And the sooner they tap into the energy and passion of residents about Steamboat 700, the clearer the answer might be.
Of course, there were myriad reasons given by the most vocal opponents of Steamboat 700, ranging from the sheer size of the development to concerns about existing residents' potential liability if the development faltered. And there were many other reasons in between.
Did the Steamboat 700 annexation agreement fail because most residents didn't think the plan itself was good enough, or was it doomed by the state of the economy and our own fears about what the impacts might be to the value of our homes? We realize the answer is likely a combination of these and other factors, but understanding the mindset of voters will help the city restart its efforts to manage future growth in a way the community will support.
If you think Steamboat and Routt County will grow in the future — and we do — then it's in all of our best interests to have the tools and mechanisms in place to manage and prepare for that growth. Many of us thought the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan was that tool, but perhaps Tuesday's vote reveals otherwise.
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Tom Leeson, the city's outgoing director of planning and community development, previously said that a "no" vote on Steamboat 700 likely would necessitate a complete re-examination of the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan. We're not sure that's necessary, but knowing specifically why residents said "no" to Steamboat 700 could provide an answer. Many in our community know what a lengthy and complex process the development and subsequent revisions to the West of Steamboat Springs Area plan was. It's still premature to assume that process must begin anew.
First, let's tap into the passion our community had about Steamboat 700. The determined residents who led the effort to defeat the annexation, as well as those who fervently supported it, were motivated about their cause. We hope they show the same energy for participating in the next step of the process. But perhaps more important will be engaging the majority of residents who cast a ballot on Referendum A but weren't part of the vocal opposition and support. It was their votes that determined the outcome, and knowing what they think will be key to encouraging future development proposals that the community will ultimately support.
There's precedent in the city for such post-election reflection. The failed high school bond issue of the early 1990s and the 10+2 Committee that emerged from it comes immediately to mind. That process ultimately led to a successful public vote on a bond issue to expand Steamboat Springs High School. Who knows, a similar process led by city officials today could have the same effect.