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Steamboat growth plan in spotlight

700 vote turns eyes to county’s transfer of development rights proposal

County planners have drafted language for a transfer of development rights policy that would allow increased density of homes on some county land

— A Routt County proposal to allow increased density near population centers is suddenly in the spotlight after city voters' denial of the Steamboat 700 annexation.

The county's proposed transfer of development rights program would allow 5-acre home sites in some unincorporated areas, potentially including about 1,400 acres north and west of Steamboat Springs. The proposal represents a shift in policy from the 35-acre parcels county zoning regulations currently allow.

Routt County Planning Director Chad Phillips said TDR language has been in the works for three years, with little public attention. But the resounding defeat of Steamboat 700 has city and county officials looking for new answers to regional growth questions, and a public conversation about the TDR program is shaping up to be one of the first ideas on the table.

That is, if other questions don't get in the way first.

"Right now, we've created an area around the current urban growth boundary for the transfer of development rights that would create a transition between urban development and the much more rural 35-­acre county development," said Nancy Stahoviak, chairwoman of the Routt County Board of Commissioners. "With the failure of the 700 annexation, there's going to be conversations now about whether that's the appropriate urban growth boundary, whether it should change, whether the city should grow beyond its current limits."

Steamboat Springs City Council members acknowledged the uncertainty of growth planning Tuesday night.

"We clearly don't know in which direction we're going at this point," Councilman Jon Quinn said.

A direction could begin to unfold in coming weeks. The Routt County Planning Commission is scheduled to address the TDR proposal April 1. The City Council and county commissioners have a joint meeting April 20, when growth plans will be a primary topic of conversation. County commissioners could approve TDR regulations April 27.

"I bet the TDR is sort of the next evolution of where we're going," City Council President Cari Hermacinski said.

The council, though, agreed unanimously Tuesday to send a letter to county commissioners asking that the county Planning Commission postpone its discussion of the TDR program until after the meeting April 20, to allow for more city input in the process.

Stahoviak said city planners have been communicating with county planners about the TDR plan and that there will be plenty of additional opportunities for input from all angles. She said she hasn't yet discussed postponing the April 1 meeting with the other two commissioners.

"My initial take on it would be we've scheduled that hearing, we've extensively advertised that hearing and it gives us a chance to get some public comment, which I think is very important," Stahoviak said. "It starts the consideration and the process."

A transfer of development rights requires a three-way negotiation among two private property owners and county officials. A landowner whose land has scenic, agricultural or wildlife values could sell development rights on his or her land to another landowner close to a population center, who could develop with increased density near county services and commercial areas. Such a deal would allow commissioners to preserve open space in the county's rural areas and gain public benefit in return for the creation of new development lots located, for example, just outside Steamboat Springs.

Last summer, a Houston-based development firm collaborated with local Realtors Brent Romick and Joan Ryan on a tentative proposal for as many as 235 5-acre home sites and a golf course on land that's northwest of Steamboat Springs Airport and shares a boundary with city limits.

Phillips said that proposal has not moved forward in the county planning process and could change given the economy, the outcome of TDR discussions and other factors.

Stahoviak said the 700 vote has changed the growth conversation.

"My opinion is that the city itself now has some work to do with its citizens to determine whether or not it wants to grow beyond its own boundaries," Stahoviak said. "I think it raised a lot of questions that need to be answered."

Phillips said county planning meetings could see more attendance.

"For the last three years, all of our work sessions, nobody shows," he said. "Now the spotlight is kind of on us because of 700."

— To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4233 or e-mail mlawrence@steamboatpilot.com