Election 2017: Q & A with Scott Ford, Steamboat Springs City Council candidate, at-large (2-year term)
October 14, 2017
Do you think the city's codes regulating downtown development need to be changed in the wake of a lawsuit that stopped the 1125 Lincoln Avenue project? Please explain.
Although I was not involved in the series of council decisions made regarding this project, there are some very valuable lessons to be learned from it.
- A hardship variance requires a finding that there is a special circumstance of the subject property such that strict enforcement of the zoning regulations would cause an unnecessary hardship.
- That special circumstance cannot be caused by the property owner and granting the variance will not negatively affect surrounding uses.
The current downtown development codes have not been reevaluated since 2004. The City Planning Department will be starting the public process necessary to update downtown codes before the end of the year. City Council has indicated that they would like this public process completed with recommendations by summer of 2018. I am comfortable in letting this public process unfold and look forward to the results.
Airbnb, VRBO and other vacation rental companies are seeing increased usage in resort communities. Do you think the city should do anything to curb the potential growth of this type of short-term housing? Why or why not?
This discussion refers to an entire home being offered as a nightly rental; it is not about a homeowner using Airbnb to make available a spare bedroom on a short-term basis. Without question there are nightly rentals that have not been approved taking place in residential neighborhoods. I do not think yet more regulations are needed. What is needed is better enforcement of existing regulations and easier ways for complaints to be registered. There are lessons to be learned from communities like Durango, which publicly posts the contact information for all approved nightly rentals on their website. Sec. 26-88 of the Steamboat Springs municipal code describes the terms and conditions of approval of nightly rentals. There is a public approval process and surrounding properties are given the opportunity to comment. Once approved, failure to meet the terms and conditions carry fines and possible revocation of approval.
How are you feeling about Brynn Grey's annexation proposal? What are the next steps, in your opinion, for the city and for the developer?
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There have been discussions about a cornucopia of topics ranging from water to transportation, however, no negotiated agreement exists. These discussions have been occurring within the context of the West Steamboat Springs Area Plan, which is the guiding document to be used when considering an annexation. City Council is growing weary of just talking. It has directed the developer to begin providing specific details about what they are willing to do and what their desired expectations are from the city. Hopefully as specifics are discussed an annexation agreement can be developed consistent with the principles of the WSSAP. Realistically, it makes little fiscal sense to extend city services to a newly annexed area without a property tax in place. Sales tax alone from new residences will not cover the cost of services. Ways need to be explored to address this reality. I remain cautiously optimistic.
Do you think the city and the council are as transparent as they can be? If not, what ideas do you have to make the government more open and accessible?
The current City Council is committed to doing the public's business in public. As a result, council meetings often go late to allow time for meaningful deliberation on issues to take place in public. This approach also allows ample time for public comment and is time well spent. I believe that city council members ought to be the most accessible elected official people have in their lives. While on City Council I have hosted 42 consecutive monthly Coffees with Council. This is essentially a town hall where interested citizens can ask city council members any question and express their opinions. Over the past two years, I have also set-up and staffed along with other council members a booth at the weekly farmers market. To increase financial transparency, in June the city started using OpenGov. This web-based tool allows taxpayers to quickly and easily explore current and historical revenues and expenditures.
Is childcare/preschool programming a service the city government should be providing?
There are services that the city must do. These include public safety (fire/police), water and sewer and roads (maintenance and plowing). These are essential services. The city's top priority is to be sure essential services are provided in a first-rate manner within well-defined financial constraints. The city, however, can financially support initiatives being done by other organizations that are working toward meeting community needs. Childcare and preschool is one of those needs. During my time serving on City Council, the contribution the city has made to scholarship funds to help families afford quality childcare has increased 37 percent from $54,000 to $74,000. In addition, as a part of the 2018 budget, the micro-grants to help support and encourage more home-based daycare was increased from $20,000 to $30,000 with the goal of increasing infant and toddler slots.
The city has been grappling with how to come up with a vision for Howelsen Hill and how to make the hill more financially sustainable. Do you think this can be accomplished? What should the city's commitment to Howelsen Hill be in the future?
Howelsen Hill has been part of Steamboat Springs' skiing tradition since 1914. It is integral to who we are as a community and what helps make Steamboat – Ski Town USA. City Council is aware that they are the caretakers of a legacy. Four primary uses of the area have been identified: summer hiking/biking, Nordic skiing, Alpine skiing and ski jumping. Each use has needs. Each of these uses have different potentials and demands that council is evaluating in the context of fiscal sustainability. Council may need to curtail some uses due to cost. I am committed to making Howelsen Hill broadly accessible to the public. The idea of a $1 lift ticket has merit with the goal of increasing public use. I would like to carry forward the historic legacy of making Howelsen Hill the area where current and future Steamboat generations can say they learned to ski.
What are the top three challenges facing the city in 2018?
- Over the next two years fiscal sustainability needs to dominate council's focus. I am in no hurry to propose any type of new taxes as the easy solution before the problem is well defined. As a part of this process, there needs to be careful analysis of what constitutes essential services and what the true costs are to provide those services in a first-rate manner. This is the city's most important job.
- Continue forward with of the combined (city/county) law enforcement facility within the proposed time and budget constraints.
- Complete Downtown Improvement Plan, and for the near term, define parking problem and investigate solutions for the downtown area. For the long term, make sure a public process is followed where all interested parties’ voices are heard in discussing the future character of the downtown area. These discussions include land uses, density, height, parking standards, etc.
Open-ended question: Why are you running for re-election to the City Council?
City Council has become highly focused and productive. I point to the progress that has been made with the improvements downtown and partnering with the county to construct a joint law enforcement facility, resulting in saving taxpayers millions of dollars. I have made a substantial difference in making both happen. Important work remains to be done. My guiding principle in making decisions has been and will continue to be what makes Steamboat Springs a great place to live for those of us who call it home. This philosophy has served the community well. I have been willing to educate myself thoroughly and highly value what the citizens expect. I have not missed any City Council regular meeting or work session in four years. I do my homework, value discussions with people who have a different point of view and come prepared to discuss the issues from an informed perspective. My service to the people of Steamboat is characterized by respect, civility and a belief in the great things that are possible when committed to an open public process. I would like to continue to serve this community for another two years and would value your vote of confidence in me.