Concession by 700 developers removes threat of costly legal battle | SteamboatToday.com

Concession by 700 developers removes threat of costly legal battle

Brandon Gee

An unexpected concession from the developers of Steamboat 700 may have diffused the Steamboat Springs City Council’s consideration of voluntarily putting the controversial annexation project to a vote.

Councilwoman Cari Hermacinski planned to ask fellow council members at their meeting Tuesday whether there was support for a discussion of putting Steamboat 700 – the 508-acre master-planned community west of city limits seeking annexation – to a citywide vote.

Hermacinski was primarily concerned about conflicts between the city’s Home Rule Charter and state statute, saying the conflicts could result in a legal battle if citizens were to petition for a referendum election of an approved annexation.

The city’s 1973 Home Rule Charter states, “Referendum petitions must be signed by qualified electors of the city equal in number to at least 20 percent of the total number of electors registered to vote at the last regular municipal election.” The state Constitution, however, states, “Not more than 10 percent of the registered electors may be required to order the referendum.”

“Presumably, whoever is on the wrong side of this would want to litigate,” City Attorney Tony Lettunich said last week.

At Tuesday’s City Council meeting, however, attorney Bob Weiss said Steamboat 700 would not contest a referendum petition that had enough signatures to meet the state requirement. Weiss represents Steamboat 700 and also represented the plaintiffs in a previous suit challenging the city charter’s higher signature requirements.

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Jerry Dahl, the city’s special legal counsel for the annexation, said it would be possible to formalize Steamboat 700’s concession in an annexation agreement.

The city would be obligated to defend its charter in a legal battle, and Hermacinski said last week that she was leaning toward support of voluntarily putting Steamboat 700 to a vote to avoid that possibility. But she said Wednesday that Steamboat 700’s promise not to challenge effectively removes the threat of a costly legal battle.

“I don’t believe in voluntarily putting that on the ballot if the applicant agrees to that,” Hermacinski said. “I was quite pleased with that resolution and pretty surprised the applicant agreed to follow the rules of the state Constitution.”

By following the referendum rules of the state Constitution, the number of signatures that would be required to bring Steamboat 700 to a referendum election is about 950, rather than about 1,900 that would be required under the city’s charter.

Council did agree to schedule a future agenda item to discuss the conflict between the city charter and state statute, and Hermacinski said she hopes to put a question on the ballot this November that would cure the discrepancy.

Also Tuesday, council members unanimously approved a proposed water dedication policy ordinance on first reading. The policy would require the developers of land outside the municipal water utility service area to bring water rights – or money to help develop the city’s existing water rights, through means such as infrastructure – to the table as a condition of approval. The policy still is subject to final approval.