Planning commissioners put limit on developments at senior center
10-year limit disappoints Casey’s Pond team
August 11, 2011
Steamboat Springs — The Steamboat Springs Planning Commission voted unanimously Thursday to recommend approval of the 121,000-square-foot Casey's Pond senior citizen community, but developer Charles Gee wasn't a happy man as he walked out of Centennial Hall.
Gee, one of three principals in Pearl Senior Living, was dismayed that the commissioners would not support his request that he be given an unlimited amount of time to add an additional 60,000 square feet of building on the 6-acre site as demand and the changing needs of seniors citizens require it.
"We're disappointed Planning Commission didn't understand the need to keep the project economically sustainable and meet the changing requirements of seniors," Gee said. "It's continually evolving."
Pearl Senior Living would develop, market and manage Casey's Pond for the nonprofit Colorado Senior Residences.
The six Planning Commission members heaped praise on the qualities of the proposed $40 million continuing care senior community that would offer skilled nursing rooms, independent living, assisted living and the region's first secure memory care housing.
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"I'm very supportive of the use, and I'm very excited about the architecture," veteran commission Vice Chairwoman Kathi Meyer said. "I'm just stuck on this additional 60,000 square feet as a player to be named later."
Gee said after the meeting that a delay resulting from Planning Commission's vote could set back a planned construction start in 2012.
"These are extraordinary times, and this is an extraordinary project," Gee said. "Any further delays could prevent us from breaking ground in 2012. There's tremendous interest-rate pressure on us."
The developers sought approval of their ability to add the 60,000 square feet through a variance to city code requirements that limit total allowable square feet as a ratio of the overall lot size. City planners call the constraint "floor area ratio."
Ultimately Commissioner Jennifer Robbins moved to recommend approval of the Casey's Pond plans but stiffened requirements that all future additions go through a complete development permit process. When Meyer added a friendly amendment that would limit the period in which the developers could build their additions to a decade, Robbins agreed.
"We've never done this for anyone else," Meyer said. "If you don't know what your addition will be after 10 years, perhaps the community should take another look at it."
Robbins also agreed to an amendment proposed by Commissioner Rich Levy to make the approval contingent upon the facility continuing to operate as a seniors community.
Levy agreed with Commissioner Brian Hanlen who thought the Casey's Pond project should have been brought forward as a planned unit development, which is a process that allows developers to employ more creativity in designing their projects outside strict zoning regulations in exchange for demonstrating significant pubic benefit.
"We love this project," Levy said. "I think it's appropriate density, (but) I really have problems with variances (including height and building setback) and the fact it didn't come through as a planned unit development. I don't think you would have had any problem showing public benefit. But it's a square peg in round whole. I do feel we have to make exceptions because it's a product the community needs."
Steamboat Springs Planning Director Tyler Gibbs pointed out that the development site was in a zone district that was not subject to floor area ratio constraints until the city asked the applicants to change the zoning so Casey's Pond could be reviewed as part of the entrance corridor to the city.
The irony didn't escape Gee after the meeting.
"I would have been happy to bring this through as a (planned unit development) if that was the advice I'd received from (planning) staff," he said.
Yampa Valley Medical Center CEO Karl Gills, who also is chairman of the board of Colorado Senior Residences, tried to make the case that it can best meet the changing needs of the community if it is given the flexibility to add some new services and expand on existing services over the long haul.
"It's a project that will evolve. It will not develop; it will evolve," Gills said. "The community will need expansion beyond 10 years. I doubt very seriously we would be looking at 60,000 square feet within 10 years."
Steamboat Springs City Council is in recess for the balance of August and will take up the development permit application in September.
— To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com