Our View: Time for 700 education | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: Time for 700 education

— The dust is settling after petitioners' signature-gathering campaign to get Steamboat 700 to a public vote. The Let's Vote committee has gotten the required number of verified signatures, and all that remains — if the petition is not challenged — is the Steamboat Springs City Council's decision about whether to kill the Steamboat 700 annexation ordinance or send it to city voters.

Council members suggest that they'll turn the question over to their constituents.

We encourage all city voters to aggressively seek information about the various sides of the issue and participate in the mail-in election, which is likely to happen early next year.

This Editorial Board already has weighed in on various elements of Steamboat 700. We opined in April that the City Council, as a well-informed panel that voters elected to represent them, should decide the issue and not send it to a ballot. But the voters have a right to petition their government's decisions, and we recognize that a large number of them have raised their voices in favor of a vote.

The five-person Let's Vote committee was required to get signatures from 10 percent of voters registered in the last regular municipal election in Steamboat: 829. City attorney Tony Lettunich said this month that about 930 signatures were approved in the verification process. "Several hundred" signatures were not reviewed, he said. That means it's possible that more than 1,000 city voters signed the petition. That's close to one-third of the city voter turnout in the Nov. 3 election, which was 3,337.

As the saying goes, the people have spoken.

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So now what? The council approved the annexation, 4-3, in a vote Oct. 13. A new council has since been seated, and members are scheduled to decide Dec. 15 whether to repeal the annexation ordinance or send it to voters. The Steamboat 700 development would consist of about 2,000 homes and 380,000 square feet of commercial space just west of the current city limits.

If the council OKs a vote, it must occur 30 to 90 days after that decision. That means a vote on the annexation could occur in late January through early March. It would be an all-mail-ballot election, and Steamboat 700 has agreed to pay for it.

The likely time frame leaves plenty of time for voters to seek information. We encourage the council, developers and those who oppose the annexation to discuss ways to get the facts out.

Steamboat 700 will affect the entire Yampa Valley if it's approved. Indeed, many people argue that all of Routt County should be allowed to vote.We're not sure that a countywide vote on a city annexation ordinance is wise or legal, but city voters should remember that they would have the opportunity to guide the future of that land with this vote.

City Council members have considered the possibility of putting together a "blue book," or voter information guide, on the Steamboat 700 issues, Council President Cari Hermacinski said. But the trick there is that such government-provided material must be completely without bias, she said, so Lettunich is examining the legal aspects.

For now, voters can start informing themselves.

The city provides information on its Web site. Visit steamboatsprings.net and click on the Steamboat 700 link under "Quick Links."

Let's Vote committee member Tim Rowse said his group planned to share information from its point of view but hasn't created a plan for doing so. Those interested in receiving e-mails and newsletters from the group can e-mail letsvoteboat@yahoo.com, he said. Steamboat 700 Principal and Project Manager Danny Mulcahy could not be reached Friday, but a transcript from a Steamboat Pilot & Today chat with him is at http://www.steamboatpilot.com/chats/2009/sep/18/danny_mulcahy/.

The newspaper will continue to provide coverage. Go to http://www.steamboatpilot.com and search for Steamboat 700 to read previous stories.

If you're not yet registered to vote, information about how to register is at http://www.co.routt.co.us/clerk. Routt County Clerk Kay Weinland could not be reached Friday, but voters typically must register at least a month before an election they want to vote in. If the same is true for this special election early next year, we suggest that all city residents 18 and older get registered and make sure the county has their correct mailing address on file.

The November City Council election was important, but voter turnout fell short of what's expected of citizens in a participatory democracy. We would argue that a vote on the Steamboat 700 annexation ordinance is of even greater importance when you consider the implications. This issue is too crucial for voters not to make every effort to get the facts and consider the long-term impacts to the community and county. An emotional vote isn't always a rational, educated vote.

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