After 20 years and no new housing, Routt County questions details in West of Steamboat Plan | SteamboatToday.com

After 20 years and no new housing, Routt County questions details in West of Steamboat Plan

— Concerned with the dwindling supply of workforce housing here, the Routt County commissioners will ask Steamboat Springs City Council members July 20 during a joint meeting, "What's not to like about Silver Spur?"

Two decades have passed since the city of Steamboat Springs and Routt County first signed a pair of long-range planning documents intended to provide an orderly way for the city to grow beyond its western boundary.

The only problem is not a single home has been built within the Urban Growth Boundary (UGB) outside of pre-existing subdivisions in those 20 years. In the meantime, existing suburban-style subdivisions in the county just west of the city like Silver Spur have been filling the need for working families.

"The need for workforce housing….becomes more acute every day," the commissioners wrote in a June 30 letter to City Council. "Housing is scarce, rents are rising, and it remains very difficult for a working family to afford a home in the Steamboat Springs area."

Now, Routt County commissioners are preparing to ask Steamboat Springs City Council if it would consider returning to an older model of allowing urban growth that has resulted in the creation of 396 homes (all but a few are single-family) since 1971 first in Steamboat II, then in Silver Spur and finally in Heritage Park. All three are laid out like traditional suburban neighborhoods, but are outside of the city limits and rely on metro districts to provide water and municipal services like snow removal.

Simply put, the county is asking if it isn't time to revisit the Steamboat Springs Community Area Plan and the related West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan (north of the Yampa River to the west side of Steamboat II), to allow new rural subdivisions on the same successful model, only within the previously delineated UGB.

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"We've had this vision for 20 years, and it hasn't been working," County Commissioner Cari Hermacinski said Monday. "The assessor (Gary Peterson) gave us amazing data that shows that those homes (in the combined subdivisions) consistently sell for 33 percent below similar homes within the city of Steamboat Springs and more than 90 percent of the tax bills go out to local addresses."

The original Steamboat II, subdivided in 1971, Silver Spur (1996) and Heritage Park (1997) are all rural subdivisions that pre-date the 1999 West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan (WSSAP), which was updated in 2006. One of the chief tenets of the plan provides that new subdivisions within WSSAP, although they would be in the county, would come through the city planning process in anticipation of annexation into the city upon approval.

That was the expectation in 2007 when the Steamboat 700 project came forward. After two years of public hearings and extracting promises of tens of millions of dollars in infrastructure improvements from the developers, City Council approved an annexation agreement. Citizen opponents petitioned the matter to a public vote, and it was defeated at the polls in 2010.

Steamboat 700 would have included 2,000 dwelling units from apartments to large-lot single family homes and 380,000 square feet of commercial buildings on 487 acres, developed over decades.

The annexation process is at the core of what the county commissioners propose to change.

Recognizing that the city, which does not have a municipal property tax, has little incentive to annex new subdivisions, the commissioners are proposing to undo the portion of the WSSAP that leads to annexation in favor of requiring that subdivisions be built to city infrastructure standards in anticipation that they could someday be annexed.

Hermacinski theorizes that because subdivisions on the scale of Steamboat II and Silver Spur are far less intimidating than what Steamboat 700 involved, they would be more palatable to the public. Because they would be administered by a metro district, they would not have the same impact on city services the original Steamboat 700 would have had. And with close-in housing, homes in the three existing subdivisions are in high demand among people who work in Steamboat.

The letter from the commissioners concludes by pointing out that eliminating the immediate annexation process from WSSAP does not undermine its intent of providing attainable workforce housing, in their view.

"By directing growth to well-defined contiguous areas, the community can efficiently serve development; protect open lands and natural resources; deliver public facilities and services more effectively; provide a greater range of housing types in neighborhoods and in more areas; and make available a diverse range of transportation choices," the commissioners wrote.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email tross@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

Three subdivisions at a glance: Steamboat II, Silver Spur and Heritage Park

Total home lots: 411

Existing homes: 392 single-family, four duplexes = 96 percent buildout

Out-of-state ownership: 23 improved lots

Colorado owners outside Routt County: 12

Local ownership: 91.5 percent

Cost to buy: averages 33 percent less than similar homes in the city

Recent sales: 1,551-square-foot, two-bedroom house on .42 acres in Steamboat II sold July 1 for $367,000. Last sold for $215,000 in 2001.

Source: Routt County Assessor