Steamboat Springs city planners hope to inspire innovative development
January 23, 2013
Steamboat Springs — The Steamboat Springs Planning Commission is set Thursday to review a revision to the city development code intended to inspire creativity on the part of developers while saving them money.
The new regulations, in the form of an ordinance, will be most important to developers and people who own land zoned for commercial or multifamily projects.
Steamboat Springs Planning Department Senior Planner Bob Keenan said that when a group of development professionals called the Community Development Code Users Advisory Group was asked to identify what was the most problematic portion of the development code, it cited a group of regulations commonly called the PUD process. It is applied when developers set out to get city approval for projects that may be too big, too dense or too high to fit within city regulations.
Any time a project has needed three or more variances from the development code in order to gain approval, it was kicked into the planned unit development process, requiring developers to provide additional public benefit, sometimes in the form of cash. One of the problems with PUDs was that they lacked clear guidelines on how much public benefit was enough and failed to inspire developers to propose innovative site plans.
"We've known the process is somewhat broken," Keenan said. "You shouldn't have to pay your way out of a variance. Variances should stand on their own."
Keenan said the Walgreens store in Steamboat is an example of a development that had to qualify for a PUD.
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Ryan Spaustat, president of Landmark Consultants, said the development community has regarded the PUD process as a form of punishment that potentially can cost many thousands of dollars.
"Once you exceed the three variances, you have to provide the public benefit," Spaustat said. "It's punitive in the sense that if it's a better project for everyone, isn't that the public benefit?"
Keenan said the new ordinance is designed to address that very sentiment by creating a new process that would begin with developers explaining why the current zoning on their development parcel could not accommodate their project. Next, they would be expected to introduce a project that, in and of itself, would provide enough public benefit to warrant the creation of a unique PUD zone district for the development site.
For example, a developer might want to build on a parcel of land along one of Steamboat's creeks but be thwarted by the fact the buildings must be set back from the creek so far that not enough land remained to allow building a three-story structure.
The developer could offer to include several attainable housing units in the project while offering some public access to the stream bank where they would install a piece of public art, all in exchange for the ability to build a taller building on the site.
Spaustat said the savings for the developer would result from a revamped planning process. The old PUD process required developers to spend heavily on architectural and engineering documents before learning from city officials whether they would be granted the variances they needed, he said.
The proposed PUD zone district would give them the feedback they need very early on.
"This new process would give the city and the community the chance to say right up front if the building is acceptable," Spaustat said. "In the meantime, (the developer) hasn't spent $300,000."
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com