Election 2017: Q & A with Sonja Macys, Steamboat Springs City Council candidate, District 3
October 14, 2017
Do you think the city's codes regulating downtown development need to be changed in the wake of a lawsuit that stopped the 1125 Lincoln Avenue project? Please explain.
City codes are simply the tools that we use to operationalize a community plan or a land use plan. These plans should be shaped by the community's vision. To me, changing city codes is the last step in a longer process. The first step is to define the community's vision for downtown. And, yes, it is time to do that. Within the next year the city's planning department will begin a participatory planning process to try to better understand what the community wants for our downtown. Where should development occur? What historical landmarks or natural resource features should we highlight? How do we want people to move within our downtown and through our downtown? What type of housing, if any, do we want to see? The answers to these broader questions will define what the code needs to look like to make the vision a reality.
Airbnb, VRBO and other vacation rental companies are seeing increased usage in resort communities. Do you think the city should do anything to curb the potential growth of this type of short-term housing? Why or why not?
I see two different scenarios. The first is the permanent resident who occasionally rents a room, or the entire home. Provided that they are in compliance with the city's regulations and respectful of their neighbors, I do not see the need for the city to be involved any further with them. Permanent residents spend their money here, supporting the local economy and generating sales tax revenue. In my mind, this scenario does not take housing out of our very tight housing market because, presumably, the resident does not want a roommate but may be fine with an occasional guest. Greater concerns arise when a property is used solely for short term rental. The city's processes and definitions do not differ between the occupied residence being used on an occasional basis and unoccupied properties being used solely for short-term rental. I'd like to understand that split prior to making a recommendation.
How are you feeling about Brynn Grey's annexation proposal? What are the next steps, in your opinion, for the city and for the developer?
Let's start with annexation. Through my background in natural resource management, I have studied good and bad examples of land-use planning and annexation. Case studies tell a cautionary tale of making sure that development pays its way. This is particularly important in municipalities without a property tax, such as Steamboat Springs. Even with a property tax, the long-term costs of adding pressure to municipal infrastructure through annexation and development are rarely fully covered by a property tax itself. So, why even entertain the prospect? Annexation can be a valuable tool that allows a municipality to work with developers to direct growth to where it is most appropriate. However, the devil is in the details. I support the council's request to see a fiscal impact study and a proposal, in writing, which details the potential public benefit of the annexation. Until there is a specific proposal, it is just a conversation.
Do you think the city and the council are as transparent as they can be? If not, what ideas do you have to make the government more open and accessible?
I am pleased with the efforts the council and city staff have made to improve transparency. I will continue to be a supporter of any and all efforts to do the public's business in public. During my last term, Scott Ford's proposal to do "Coffee with Council," was a hard sell. Now it is just how business is done. I tip my hat to the council for being at the farmers market too. Both of these venues provide people the opportunity to have casual conversation with council members. City staff have made the city's expenditures available in real time through the city's website and continue to offer even more opportunities for transparency. The most recent was the idea of broadcasting council meetings on the radio. As I dig into the work, I may find other opportunities for greater transparency. If members of the public have ideas, I am all ears.
Is child care/preschool programming a service the city government should be providing?
The city has a long history of providing child care/preschool programming. From my discussions with the public, I know that the city's programming has helped many working families provide a safe, affordable and enjoyable place for their children. I believe that the expectation of our community is that the city continue to offer this programming. As we near the time when city expenses are projected to exceed our revenues, we will need to have a tough conversation about what our community values and what city government should provide. And we will need to run all of our programming through a solid fiscal analysis to evaluate its financial viability. If the child care/preschool programming is financially viable, I would support its continuation. I was pleased to see that two council members will be working on this topic, and I look forward to hearing their recommendations.
The city has been grappling with how to come up with a vision for Howelsen Hill and how to make the hill more financially sustainable. Do you think this can be accomplished? What should the city's commitment to Howelsen Hill be in the future?
I am a fan of Howelsen. It is a point of pride that we have one of the country’s oldest ski areas in continuous use and the only one on the Colorado Register of Historic Places. The hill is a cornerstone of our Olympic tradition. But there are many reasons that the hill is less utilized by our community than it could be. Cost may be the barrier for some, and there are others. Operating hours are not widely understood, nor is the arrangement with the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club. Helping the public understand that this is their hill and offering incentives for them to use it are good strategies to increase use. But it's going to take a whole lot more. The hill is a city asset, but until we start running it more like a true commercial venture, we should not expect for it to perform financially.
What are the top three challenges facing the city in 2018?
The major challenge facing the city is getting a handle on how we will deal with the imminent situation of having our expenses exceed our revenues. As a community, we have a healthy appetite for services but a strong distaste for taxes. Recently, we have invested in our downtown, which is a good thing. But it has also increased our operation and maintenance costs. This is just one example. We will need to define what the city's essential services are and discuss what other options there may be if current revenues can't support them. An additional challenge includes making sure the city continues to play an appropriate role in creating a "liveable community" where "real people" can live and work. Affordable and appropriate housing and transportation options are elements of a liveable community. And, at least for the residents of Steamboat Springs, it seems Parks and Recreation are too.
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Open-ended question: Why are you running for re-election to the City Council?
I am running for City Council to help bring the community's voice and values to all decisions made by council. My personal values include fiscal discipline, a commitment to transparency and good governance and a firm belief in the importance of the natural resource base that brought so many of us here, and that we continue to enjoy. I believe that the city can return to being a recognized leader in sustainability and save the taxpayers money by focusing on common sense energy and resource saving practices, starting with internal operations. I've always believed in the importance of public service. And I enjoy public policy at all levels. But it is no secret that my last term on the council was pretty tumultuous. Things have changed, for the better, since then. Steady leadership is coming from the city manager's office. Staff morale has improved. The current council has made significant strides in creating a transparent work environment. The conditions are good to get something done. You might remember that I don't shy away from tough conversations so the revenue challenge intrigues me, as do the issues with Howelsen Hill. I look forward to representing you.