Our View: Vote ‘yes’ on Referendum A
February 24, 2010
Steamboat Springs — The carefully and expertly negotiated Steamboat 700 annexation agreement — already approved by City Council and the Planning Commission — offers the city a chance for smart, master-planned growth in the area we long have identified as the place for future residential expansion. With a "pay to play" structure and language requiring the developer to provide significant funding for capital facilities and infrastructure improvements while protecting existing city residents from fiscal liability, Steamboat 700 provides a rare opportunity for Steamboat Springs to grow in a measured, responsible way in the coming decades. For those reasons and many more, city residents should vote 'yes' on Referendum A.
This is perhaps the most important local election in a generation, if not longer, so the passionate debate surrounding Steamboat 700 and the annexation agreement is appropriate and healthy. After all, most of us care deeply about our community and its future, and that's one reason why Steamboat Springs and Routt County are such a special place to live, work and play.
We'd like to see Steamboat remain special for generations to come, and that will require managing the inevitable growth. Make no mistake about it, today's economic woes won't last forever, and Steamboat will remain attractive to young families, retirees and vacationers.
Of course, we've known that and planned for it. The West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan, adopted in 1999 after countless hours of community input, was revised in 2005 and puts forth a vision of an annexed area with affordable housing, commercial centers to provide self-sufficiency, schools and highway expansions.
In the nearly three years since Steamboat 700 LLC purchased about 700 acres of land — only about 485 acres are part of the annexation — city staff and a negotiating team that includes one of the state's top annexation attorneys have hammered out an agreement that achieves fiscal neutrality for existing city residents while simultaneously providing land and money for affordable housing, a new public school, and funding for significant U.S. Highway 40 improvements that will be necessary no matter where our future growth occurs. Much of that funding would come from the establishment of five metro districts within Steamboat 700.
The annexation agreement also mandates that the developer and city agree to an attainability plan — an agreement on a structure that will ensure that at least 30 percent of the free-market homes in the future development are affordable to folks who make between 120 percent and 200 percent of the area median income — before any construction begins. The annexation agreement similarly includes an anti-speculation clause to discourage and penalize people who purchase property within Steamboat 700 for the purpose of turning a profit.
Some of the most vocal opponents of the annexation agreement regrettably have reverted to misinformation in an attempt to sway voters. And why not? Such campaign tactics have proven to work time and again.
For example, opponents claim that city residents will get stuck with the bill if the development flops, sales slow or federal and state agencies such as the Colorado Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration don't provide additional funding for infrastructure projects. That's simply not the case, and the annexation agreement makes that clear. If the funding isn't available, the developer must front the money or halt development until such money is available. That's the "pay to play" structure that protects us from being left with the tab.
They also claim the development is too big and that Steamboat can't possibly support all that growth during our current economic woes. The fact remains that this development would be built during a 20- to 30-year period, if not longer. Development will occur as the free market allows it to. There simply won't be any sudden or dramatic impacts to Steamboat Springs as a result of the annexation. This is long-term, master-planned growth and an opportunity for the city to be proactive instead of reactive — a chance to keep growth close to Steamboat and our community intact instead of the sprawl seen in other resort areas such as the Vail and Roaring Fork valleys.
Which brings us to an important but often misunderstood point. It's essential that voters understand that approving an annexation agreement is not the same as approving development. An annexation agreement simply provides the parameters future development must stay within. Any development within Steamboat 700 must go through the city's development review and approval process, just like any other development. This is not a green light to build 2,000 residential units. It is, however, a binding legal document that establishes big-picture requirements of the development and developer. The city would have to agree to any future changes or revisions to the annexation agreement.
Finally, we must point out that despite the acrimony surrounding the Steamboat 700 debate, we can and will survive and thrive as a community. We think upholding the City Council's October annexation decision is the best way to hold on to the community we care so deeply about. Vote 'yes' on Referendum A and Steamboat 700 — not for tomorrow or next year, but for the decades to come and the future generations of residents who will reap the benefits of smart, controlled growth.