700 plans hinge on retail
Big box store would have sizeable impact on development
Steamboat Springs — As the city enters its most serious considerations of annexing the Steamboat 700 development, one of the first questions it must answer is whether it wants to see a big box store included in the plan.
It’s a decision that would have major impacts on the final product.
“Starting in January, we’re going to start getting really busy,” Planning Services Manager John Eastman told the Steamboat Springs City Council at a recent meeting.
Since March 2007, there have been countless meetings, hearings and speculation regarding the 700-acre parcel just west of city limits that Danny Mulcahy and partners purchased in March 2007. In August, developers signed a pre-annexation agreement with the city overcoming potential deal breakers, and Mulcahy pared down his proposal from 700 acres to 508 after failing in a bid to extend the urban growth boundary. Beginning in January, city officials and developers will begin discussions leading up to the decision about whether to annex the master-planned community, a decision tentatively scheduled for July according to the pre-annexation agreement.
So that detailed land-use planning and review can commence, the big box question must be answered early in the process.
“We’re going to have that discussion with Planning Commission and City Council as an independent topic,” said Tom Leeson, the city’s director of planning and community development.
Leeson said the question will be considered in tandem with the city’s review of a fiscal impact study. Once Steamboat Springs’ Planning Commission and City Council answer the question about whether big box retail makes sense from a fiscal standpoint, the next questions will be whether it makes sense from a community-character and landscape standpoint.
“Historically, the Community Alliance has not supported big boxes within the city limits because we support local businesses,” said Steve Aigner, community organizer for the Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley.
The Community Alliance and Steamboat 700 often are at odds, but, on this point, they agree. Although he claims to have large-format retailers who are interested in his project, Mulcahy said a big box store does not necessarily fit into his new-urbanist, transit-oriented vision for the development.
“We have preferred not to put it out there mainly for character issues,” Mulcahy said. “I did not want to fight this fight.”
With or without
Several city officials, however, have worried about the unprecedented sales-tax leakage the city would see if a big box store opened outside the city. And at a time when revenue forecasts are bleak, a 2007 study that showed a big box store could generate $407,000 to $750,000 in new sales tax revenue for the city has some officials salivating.
“If I could see only one plan, it would be big box,” Councilwoman Cari Hermacinski said in September. “I’m very concerned about sales-tax leakage.”
If city officials decide to go with the large-format retail alternative, the total number of housing units in Steamboat 700 would be reduced from 2,044 to 1,818. The number of affordable or attainable housing units – the No. 1 priority of the West Steamboat Springs Area Plan – would be reduced from 511 to 455.
Also, under the large-format retail alternative, one of three mixed-use “village centers” – the primary one along U.S. Highway 40 – would be replaced by a 348,000-square-foot retail center with space for two big box stores and a grocery store. Without big box retail, Steamboat 700’s plans include a total of 340,000 square feet of commercial use in the three village centers. Without big box, a transportation study conducted on behalf of Steamboat 700 predicts about 17,600 additional automobile trips a day accessing roads around the development at completion. With big box, that number jumps to 21,900.
Aigner said the Community Alliance has yet to take a stance for or against the annexation of Steamboat 700. He said additional information, including the fiscal impact study, is needed. The organization is, however, encouraging the developers and the city to take their time, and Aigner said he is skeptical the decision will be made by July.
“The Community Alliance is concerned always and foremost with the extent to which public benefits exceed the costs to current residents. It’s going to require careful thought by City Council and staff and the public in order to anticipate future consequences,” Aigner said. “We don’t assume necessarily that this is going to be annexed. We’ll wait until all the data is on the table before we support annexation or don’t support.”
Among the materials Steamboat 700 has submitted as part of its official petition for annexation are a set of “form-based codes,” which Steamboat 700 land-use consultant Peter Patten described as “much more prescriptive than typical zoning.”
“To achieve new urbanism in its true form, you need to have a form-based code that says this is what we want specifically,” Patten said.
Form-based codes are mass and form guidelines that regulate elements such as density, height and setbacks. Mulcahy said the codes he has submitted are “not similar at all” to current city development codes. For example, the codes for Steamboat 700 dictate that homes must be built very close to the street to achieve the attractive streetscapes that are a tenet of new urbanism. In some cases, however, new urbanism will have to be tweaked to address realities of climate and geography in Steamboat Springs.
“We’re calling it ‘mountain urbanism,'” Mulcahy said. “We have snow removal, and we have lots of slope. Snow removal and slope don’t really fit into new urbanism very well.”
Mulcahy dismissed the notion that highly prescriptive form-based codes would create homogenous neighborhoods, because they do not regulate architecture.
Steamboat 700’s community housing plan calls for 20 percent of its units to be permanently affordable rental or for-sale units available to households earning 70 to 120 percent of the area median income, or AMI. An additional 5 percent of Steamboat 700 units will be designated “attainable” for-sale homes for households earning 120 to 160 percent of AMI. Deed restrictions on these homes last only 10 years from the time of the first sale in an effort to limit speculation. Mulcahy also notes that 85 percent of Steamboat 700’s units will be on lots 8,000 square feet and less, which he said is “a natural barrier to speculation.”
Finally, Steamboat 700’s plans also call for a 1 percent real estate transfer tax on all sales excluding initial land purchases and the permanently affordable community housing units. The tax would be earmarked for community enhancements and housing affordability.
Aigner said he is pleased with Steamboat 700’s affordable housing plan, especially the fact that it takes into account the results of a housing demand analysis released earlier this year. He is concerned, however, about who ultimately will administer proceeds from the real estate transfer tax, and he said it should be an organization that addresses the needs of the entire community, not just Steamboat 700.
Despite the impacts of a sobering worldwide recession, Mulcahy said Steamboat 700 is moving forward as planned.
“We never really felt we would be building houses until 2011,” Mulcahy said. “We all hope we’re out of this recession by then. : (Steamboat 700) will be the stimulus package this community needs to get out of this recession.”
Mulcahy and his team have shown no public signs of wanting to slow down. And although Aigner doubts an annexation decision can be made by July, Patten said it not only can, but also must.
“It’s very important to us that this schedule is met, and we’re able to get this done in July,” he said. “Timing matters in this project.”
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