Public invited to try its hand at community planning
May 19, 2012
Steamboat Springs — Steamboat Springs and Routt County officials are inviting residents to play a high-stakes poker game that could influence how the city and surrounding land in the county are developed in the future. But it's not like it sounds.
City Planner Jason Peasley and County Planner Rebecca Bessey did put their poker chips on the table Friday afternoon at Sweetwater Grill, but there were no cash bets. Instead, the small group of business people in attendance used the multicolored chips to indicate their preference for where future commercial, industrial and residential development would take place when local population growth takes off again.
The board game that played out on a city map is part of the latest update of the Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan that has been branded as "Compass."
"We're trying to get some measurable objectives for the community so we know that we're making good" assumptions, Peasley said.
Playing the game
The Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan is the visioning document for the city of Steamboat Springs and surrounding areas of Routt County. It originally was adopted in 1994 and last was updated in 2004. As a follow-up to the public meetings conducted in spring 2011, the city and county will host a series of public workshops intended to allow the public to speak out on the top priorities established in last year's public outreach campaign.
Just four people, including a newspaper reporter, showed up Thursday to play the game, so it was a tight little round of Steamboat Hold 'em. Three hands were played, requiring the participants to anticipate three major periods of population growth here in increments of 1,500 new arrivals. In each round, the players had a limited number of chips to assign to industrial, commercial, single-family/duplex and multifamily/mixed-use residential development.
Different areas of the community, from "condo land" at the base of the ski area to West End Village, were identified on the map with a box that told the players just how many undeveloped sites were available for each type of development. The data also showed how many square feet of commercial growth, for example, could be accommodated there. Or, in the case of housing, how many units in three price ranges could be added to the neighborhood.
Commercial real estate expert Bill Moser, Mike Lang, of restaurant Harwigs/L'Apogee, and Mainstreet Steamboat Springs Manager Tracy Barnett, a former restaurateur herself, had an interesting exchange on the most critical places to put new commercial.
"We have to plan for the (re-purposing of the) public safety building on Yampa Street," Barnett said.
And there was a sense that some chips needed to be held for the base of the ski area in anticipation that the new public promenade would stimulate demand for new dining, retail and entertainment businesses. But the trio also acknowledged
that much of the remaining potential for commercial development is clustered around the intersection of U.S. Highway 40 and Pine Grove Road.
Barnett said that when the redevelopment of Ski Time Square was being contemplated at the ski mountain, the sentiment of local officials was that while there needed to be additional restaurants and entertainment businesses, not a whole lot of new retail was required.
"When I was a concierge at Bear Claw, people didn't want to go downtown," Barnett recalled. "I told them it's just two miles and they needed to go see the community."
Barnett suggested that west Steamboat is the place for new big box retail, particularly a good grocery store, when the time is right, but she's not confident it will turn out that way.
"I don't think that's where they'll go," Barnett said. "I think they'll all want to be close to (U.S.) 40 and Pine Grove."
Where to grow
Bessey said each group that has played the game this spring has come up with very different conclusions.
One factor underlying the Steamboat development game is the scarcity of building lots that could support entry-level, single-family homes or duplex units presumed to cost in the range of $300,000. The map prepared by the two planning departments shows just 22 such lots scattered across the city.
In the final round of Thursday's session, the group resolved that in order to meet demand for workforce housing, either at the low end or the middle of the range, it would be necessary when the local population has grown by 4,500 new residents to develop new building lots within the boundaries of the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan. That implies going outside city limits on the west side of town.
"That tells us something," Bessey said. "There's a reason why you're saying 'grow out here' when there's still capacity here (in a large area that takes in The Sanctuary, Boulder Ridge, Rollingstone Ranch Golf Course, Blue Sage Drive and Cherry Lane). You're putting the emphasis on" workforce housing.
Bessey pointed to research by the American Community Survey that shows that 38 percent of Routt County households spend more than the recommended 30 percent of their budget on housing, and the number is higher — 54 percent — among renters.
"Twenty-three percent of renters spend more than 50 percent of their income on housing," Bessey said. "That leaves a lot less to spend on food, health care and entertainment."
Moser said he thinks the community could explore the potential for more residential development on Elk River Road.
Future of light industrial
Almost as scarce as building lots are the remaining industrial sites within city limits. Thursday's group assigned 50,000 square feet of new industrial development in the area close to the Ace at the Curve hardware store with the arrival of 1,500 new residents.
Peasley said the goal of the community meetings that will continue through June is not to come up with one right answer but several versions of how Steamboat might grow and what the associated costs could be.
"We'll synthesize the results into preferred alternatives and (study) how much each will cost so we can present the public with five scenarios and say, 'Here are the dollars and cents,'" Peasley said. "Hopefully, from there we can home in on a precise direction for the community."
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com