Our View: Council should approve Steamboat 700 | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: Council should approve Steamboat 700

The annexation of Steamboat 700 isn’t about today, tomorrow, next month, next year or even five years from now. It’s about the long-term future and growth of our community, and although that may be a difficult goal to focus on amid an economic recession, it’s the proactive approach our elected officials should take and are taking.

After nearly two years of negotiating with Steamboat 700 developers, city officials are scheduled to take a final vote next week on an annexation agreement that we think offers substantial promise for the future of our community while also addressing some of the issues we have struggled with for years. Although the agreement may not be perfect – and no annexation agreement ever will be – it is worth a yes vote from our City Council members, and it is worth the support of the greater Steamboat community.

To understand how Steamboat 700 meets the needs of our community, it’s essential to first understand the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan and how that plan came to be. The numerous entities and residents that participated in the WSSAP creation correctly recognized that growth is inevitable in our beautiful valley. For the same reasons we came here to settle and build our lives, future residents will come here to settle and build their lives. But developable land within city limits – and even within close proximity of city limits – is limited, and so lands west of city limits were identified and marked as the most appropriate and logical for future residential growth.

“If residential growth cannot occur within the Steamboat Springs urban area, it will likely be forced to outlying areas such as Oak Creek, Stagecoach, Hayden and Craig. This will result in increased commuting time, road and infrastructure costs, traffic impacts, split family life and other social costs, and higher costs of recruiting a work force for Steamboat Springs businesses,” the plan reads.

Not all growth is good, and it can be particularly bad when it’s not part of a larger growth strategy. The West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan establishes goals for our growth, including the creation of affordable housing, commercial centers to provide self-sufficiency for the newly developed area, schools and the New Victory Highway. But after its adoption in 1999, there was little progress in providing affordable housing in the identified growth area. So the City Council and Routt County Board of Commissioners got together in 2005 to begin an update to the plan. The update had three goals, No. 1 being to ensure that the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan is achievable.

In March 2007, Steamboat 700 LLC purchased 540 acres of land within the WSSAP for $24.6 million. The same group purchased an adjoining 160 acres, and the 700 total acres represent about 80 percent of the land in the WSSAP. Since the purchase, Steamboat 700, led by Danny Mulcahy, has worked with city staff and officials to negotiate the annexation agreement the council will decide on Tuesday. The negotiations haven’t been easy, nor should they, as city officials and their attorneys, including an annexation expert, have worked to ensure that the deal is in the best interest of the community. We believe it is.

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Steamboat 700 represents our opportunity as a community to see the WSSAP come to fruition, and in so doing, to create a master-planned community that helps provide needed infrastructure improvements. Those include U.S. Highway 40 work that will be needed regardless of whether Steamboat 700 is developed; land and money for deed-restricted, affordable housing; a future stock of housing units that will help prevent the insane run-up in home values experienced just a couple of years ago, thus keeping Steamboat more affordable for its work force; a west Steamboat commercial center and grocery store; parks and open space; money for a new K-8 school and improvements to the existing high school; and funds to help expand the city’s municipal water supply.

There is much more to the deal than can be printed here, but it is all available online at http://www.steamboatpilot.com/news/steamboat700.

The magnitude of the proposal, and its impact on Steamboat, understandably is causing a great deal of fear among some in our community. As such, there are myths about Steamboat 700 that need to be debunked.

– There’s no market for a new development offering 2,000 residences.

Steamboat 700 won’t be developed overnight, or even in a decade. Rather, the development would not achieve build-out for as many as 30 years. The first homes likely wouldn’t be built until 2012, at the earliest. In 2007, our real estate market reached record levels. In 2009, it shrank to record levels. Who knows what it will be in 2012, 2017, 2020 or 2025? But we do know that the free market will dictate the pace of development and sales. If they can’t be sold, they won’t be built.

– There are no jobs for all the new Steamboat 700 residents.

Do jobs exist today for thousands of new residents? No. Steamboat Springs and Routt County will continue to grow, that much is inevitable. Growth itself can create jobs in industries such as construction and retail, but we also must remember the large numbers of location-neutral businesses and workers who continue to make Steamboat home. People won’t move here if there aren’t jobs to support their move. And if people don’t move here, the homes won’t be built.

– There’s not enough water to support Steamboat 700.

The city has sufficient water supply to meet the demands of a development the size of Steamboat 700. A city water study came to that conclusion. What the city needs is money to help it “firm up” its existing water rights – in other words, process that water and make it ready for municipal use. Part of the annexation agreement includes funding from Steamboat 700 to firm up existing city water rights.

– The development will exacerbate existing traffic problems.

Let’s first pretend that Steamboat Springs has a traffic problem. Provided we accept that Routt County will continue to grow, so will the traffic problem. The Colorado Department of Local Affairs estimates that Routt County’s population will swell from 22,980 in 2008 to 44,708 in 2035 – about the same time that Steamboat 700 build-out would be complete. Would we prefer that increasing traffic be generated by new development in Milner, Hayden, South Routt and Craig, or that new traffic be generated by a close-in development that will provide millions of dollars for U.S. 40 improvements? Those improvements will be necessary no matter what. In Steamboat 700, we have a developer who is agreeing to help pay for the work. That won’t happen with other developments.

It’s also notable that entities including the Routt County Board of Commissioners, Steamboat Springs School District, Yampa Valley Housing Authority and Steamboat Springs Planning Commission have voiced their support for the annexation of Steamboat 700.

Finally, consider this: What happens if Steamboat 700 isn’t approved? What if the developers don’t come back to the table, where they ostensibly would be asked to provide even more? Would we, as a community, be satisfied with 35-acre parcels and 20 or so mansions on the land we’ve designated as our future residential growth area? Would county-approved land preservation subdivisions be preferable to a well-planned community of diverse dwelling units, including apartment complexes and condominiums?

For many, Steamboat 700 represents the fear of the unknown, and that’s why we have a sound annexation agreement in place to protect the residents of Steamboat Springs. To that end, annexation approval is not a blanket approval for the development. All aspects of the development still must go through the city’s development review and approval process.

For many others, Steamboat 700 represents change, which is always difficult to embrace. But rest assured that Steamboat Springs and Routt County will change, and it will grow, whether or not Steamboat 700 is approved. The difference is that we likely won’t ever again have this much say in how we grow and how we change. We could be the next Roaring Fork Valley. Or we could be different, and we could maintain the community character we hold in such high regard.