Our view: Putting a plan in place
April 22, 2006
The update to the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan is nearly complete.
The City Council tweaked and approved the plan last week, becoming the last entity to do so. Now, a hearing involving the city and county to adopt the plan is the final step in implementing it.
Overall, the plan — arduously and painstakingly crafted and revised — is an important tool for government officials to use in guiding future development in that area, which stretches from west of Steamboat II to the city limits near Sleepy Bear Mobile Home Park.
But just because we have a plan in place doesn’t mean development will occur. The first version of the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan, approved in 1999, was an obstacle to development. Given our housing crunch, we can’t afford for that trend to continue.
The revised West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan not only must guide residential development but also encourage it.
The biggest housing problem our community faces is the availability of family homes at prices within reach of middle-income earners such as teachers, firefighters, nurses and accountants. Such workers are vital to community stability, yet it is becoming harder and harder for them to own homes here. The multiple listing service shows how slim the supply is: There are fewer than 10 single-family homes in the Steamboat Springs area available for less than $500,000.
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The West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan outlines what happens if there is not new residential development. “If residential growth cannot occur within the Steamboat Springs urban area, it likely will 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 to Steamboat Springs.”
To officials’ credit, the updated plan includes key revisions. The requirement that one-third of all housing in the area be deed-restricted affordable housing is gone. In its place is a 15 percent affordable-housing requirement with the same flexibility provided to developers in the city’s new inclusionary zoning ordinance. Now, the plan includes incentives to reach a goal of 30 percent affordable housing.
Also, the updated plan approaches west of Steamboat development as a potential benefit to the overall community rather than a financial drain. Gone are taxes and fees that would have required residents in the area to pay more for city services.
Mary and Steve Brown, who own 80 percent of the land in the defined area, are critical components of what happens next. Mary Brown said last week that it is too soon to predict the future of her property, but she thinks the plan has been improved. She is still wary of the extensive development requirements. The plan addresses the Browns’ property specifically, requiring that a Village Center be identified and that the property get a Master Development Plan approved by the city before annexation.
City Council member Towny Anderson is confident development will come. He said the next five years will not be like the past five and that the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan is the community’s chance to make sure development is done right. Anderson sees a new community being built to the west, with not only housing but also a bank, post office, fire station and commercial stores.
We can only hope that others — particularly the Browns and the development community — share in Anderson’s vision. Ultimately, they are the ones empowered to turn a paper plan into a much-needed reality.