Planner discusses annexations | SteamboatToday.com

Planner discusses annexations

Community Alliance gets advice on how to proceed with growth

Brandon Gee

During its annual meeting Saturday night, the Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley discussed annexation and its impacts - a topic that could affect land to the west and south of Steamboat Springs, including portions of this parcel near Emerald Mountain, shown during summer 2008.

— An annexation should preserve community character, mesh well with the existing municipality and be as detailed as possible when approved, John Hess said at the annual gathering of the Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley on Saturday.

Hess is the director of planning and community development in Crested Butte and a former Routt County planner. In his presentation to the Community Alliance, Hess discussed four annexations he has overseen in the small Gunnison County town. As the city of Steamboat Springs grapples with two annexations proposals – Steamboat 700 and 360 Village – Community Alliance officials hoped Hess could help residents become more knowledgeable about the process.

“Our mission is always to make sure people are making informed decisions,” Community Alliance organizer Steve Aigner said last week.

A decision about whether to annex Steamboat 700 – a proposed 508-acre master-planned community just west of city limits – is expected later this year. Hess offered several tips for negotiating a good deal, but he acknowledged that Crested Butte’s annexations are nowhere near the size and complexity of Steamboat 700.

Hess’ first piece of advice was to look at an annexation more like a legislative act than a typical development application. The decision to annex is a municipality’s alone, Hess said, and, like any ordinance, a town or city council has the right to approve or deny it and can change its mind all the way up until the end of the process.

“Just because someone comes and says they’d like to annex doesn’t mean the town has to do it,” Hess said. “It’s a legislative act.”

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That gives municipalities the upper hand from a negotiating standpoint, and Crested Butte has taken advantage of that to exact public benefits such as water rights, snow removal impact fees, trails, open space and land for parks, schools and government buildings from developers. The town also requires 60 percent of all new residential development to be affordable, deed-restricted housing.

Hess also recommended leaving no stone unturned before approving an annexation. He said on the night the Crested Butte Town Council approves an annexation, it also approves the associated final development plan, zoning and subdivision improvements agreement.

“We don’t want to annex until we know exactly what it’s going to look like,” Hess said. “We do all this stuff up front, and we know exactly what we’re going to get the day we annex.”

To guide its decision-making process, Crested Butte relies on a number of maps and planning documents that identify valued community features from views to irrigated hay meadows. The town even includes a count of dogs in its town census. At last count, there were 295 dogs and 1,555 people.

Crested Butte has never put an annexation to a vote of the entire town, Hess said. The town has had a developer leave because the town asked for too much, but Hess said the developer returned within a matter of months once the Town Council decided to soften its stance.

“In the annexation, you’re going to need to make trade-offs,” Hess said. “The question is, ‘Is the trade-off fair?'”

The Community Alliance has grown from 144 members last year to 198 this year. The organization says it is “committed to the mission of preserving the natural environment of the Yampa Valley, enhancing the quality of life, retaining the unique character of our community and building a sustainable society in harmony with nature.”

The organization is concerned with a variety of issues, including renewable energy and the oil and gas industry, but its core issue and primary focus of late has been growth in and around Steamboat Springs.

– To reach Brandon Gee, call 871-4210 or e-mail bgee@steamboatpilot.com