Steamboat to weigh economic benefit of Walgreens
January 16, 2011
Steamboat Springs — A building proposal that some say represents economic development in Steamboat Springs ran into the realities of the city's development code at a Steamboat Springs Planning Commission meeting last week when plans for a new Walgreens store were tabled until Jan. 27.
The Planning Commission urged developer Brian Olson and his architectural and site plan consultant, Eric Smith, to use the intervening time to go further in justifying their request for 11 variances from the code and quantify the economic benefit they say their proposal would provide.
Olson and partner Rod Forester are planning to build a 16,450-square-foot Walgreens and sign a long-term lease with the pharmaceutical giant that already operates 7,000 stores in the U.S. The Steamboat store would be built on the corner of U.S. Highway 40 and Pine Grove Road, across the highway from Ski Haus Conoco and Ski Haus Liquor.
In a tabling motion made Thursday by Planning Commissioner Jennifer Robbins and seconded by Commissioner Kathi Meyer, Olson was asked to go into more detail about the positive economic benefits that could be generated by a Walgreens store. They also asked him to provide more specific dollar figures to support his contention that his plans to build a public transit stop and traffic roundabout on Pine Grove Road west of U.S. 40 promise significant public benefit.
In response to a question from Commissioner Rich Levy, Olson acknowledged that he did not pursue an economic benefit analysis because the consultant he contacted proposed a lengthy and costly study.
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"We're contractually obligated to deliver a building to Walgreens by Halloween," Olson said. "A full economic analysis would have cost us another six weeks and $25,000."
The commission agreed that it did not need that detailed of an economic impact analysis and would settle for a less detailed report on the prospects for employment and tax revenues.
Olson said he was told a Walgreens could generate as many as 26 jobs.
Defining public benefit
The city's big box ordinance requires that single-tenant commercial buildings larger than 12,000 square feet go through the planned unit development process that requires developers to show public benefit to gain approval. Specifically, developers must show one or more public benefits for a building between 12,000 and 20,000 square feet, and three additional public benefits when more than six variances are approved.
Senior City Planner Bob Keenan explained in a written report this month that Olson and Forrester are asking for variances from the big box ordinance, the entry corridor and urban design standards, front setbacks and landscape screen requirements. To win approval for those variances, he wrote, they need to demonstrate that the advantages of their project outweigh the disadvantages and that the proposed variances help to "achieve a more desirable environment than would be possible through strict application" of the code.
Olson and Smith told the commission they would work to provide more answers in time for a Jan. 27 Planning Commission meeting and a subsequent meeting with the Steamboat Springs City Council on Feb. 1 when a final vote could be taken.
Smith told the Planning Commission that Walgreens' need to route weekly delivery trucks and passenger cars destined for a pharmacy drive-through window around the outside of the building make it impractical to meet the development code's requirement that the building move closer to the street corner.
"Tonight's hearing is really about primarily one issue relative to building location," Smith said. "Walgreens has a number of criteria that are critical to their operation, whether it's Steamboat or another market. The drive-up component for Walgreens' business model is critical. And it doesn't work for them to set their loading dock out into the parking lot. Unfortunately, those requirements put us in conflict with some of the requirements of the community development code."
Several commissioners lamented the fact that the Walgreens plan places the least attractive side of the building, with its loading dock and trash enclosure, adjacent to the highway.
Keenan observed that Olson and Forrester control more adjacent land that is removed from the highway. Locating Walgreens there would eliminate approximately half of the variances they are requesting, he said.
Smith countered that the current development code requires that a new Walgreens store be built closer to the intersection of U.S. 40 and Pine Grove Road than any of the existing buildings, including Staples, and the Ski Haus buildings on either side of Pine Grove.
Public speaks out
Steamboat excavating contractor Ed MacArthur told the commission that in his view, the current development code for commercial land on U.S. 40 was created for another economic era.
"We just came out of a time, writing this CDC, when we were flying high and money was flying all over the place," MacArthur said.
Chuck McConnell, a retired chemical engineer, said he had just come from City Council's economic development retreat where the discussion had turned to seeking grant funds to spur economic activity.
"It dawned on me, at that meeting, that (Walgreens) is a form of economic development — private industry bringing their shareholders' money here and spending it in Steamboat Springs," McConnell said.
Bill Jameson urged the commissioners to enforce the development code and added that he does not think the Walgreens proposal goes far enough to improve pedestrian connections to the nearby Yampa River Core Trail.
— To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205 or e-mail email@example.com