Hermacinski pushes 700 vote; other council members disagree
Steamboat Springs — The controversial annexation of Steamboat 700 would be put to a citywide vote under a proposal Councilwoman Cari Hermacinski plans to suggest next week.
Hermacinski confirmed Monday that she plans to broach the subject near the end of the April 7 City Council meeting. If a majority of the seven-member council agrees, a discussion about putting Steamboat 700 on the ballot could be added to an upcoming City Council agenda.
Hermacinski said she is leaning toward support of a public vote for reasons including conflicts between the city’s Home Rule Charter and state statute, which could result in a legal battle if citizens were to petition for a referendum election of an approved annexation. She also noted the magnitude of the 508-acre, 2,000-home application west of city limits.
“I think when you have decisions of overwhelming magnitude, putting it to the community is a valid option,” Hermacinski said Monday. “It’s an undoable thing, essentially. : I don’t know if it’s just the job of council members to make that decision. : I was elected for two years, not to bind the community for the next 40.”
Other council members disagree, thinking a decision on the annexation is their responsibility and that a vote would improperly delay the development review process.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea,” Councilman Jon Quinn said Monday, noting that the city’s pre-annexation agreement with Steamboat 700 calls for a decision about the annexation this summer. “You’re probably delaying a process that’s already been going on for a really long time. : I think that there’s an elected body for a reason.”
Steamboat 700 Principal and Project Manager Danny Mulcahy strongly opposes a vote.
The 1995 Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan “was the first to direct future growth to west Steamboat; to protect the valley from sprawl, provide work force housing, and to preserve the character of Steamboat Springs,” Mulcahy wrote in an e-mail Tuesday. “At every step since then, and at countless public meetings and public hearings including the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan update in 2006, the citizens of Steamboat Springs have reinforced their support of that vision, and our elected officials have voted unanimously to implement the plan.
“So we believe that our plan fulfills the vision that the community has said again and again that it wants,” Mulcahy continued.
Last year, Mulcahy said he thought he would win a referendum election “hands down,” but that the added time and cost would mean higher prices for Steamboat 700 homes, thus defeating the city’s No. 1 goal in the WSSAP: affordable housing.
Also last year, City Council President Loui Antonucci agreed with Mulcahy that the community already has weighed in through the area plans.
“Collectively, the community thought west Steamboat was the place to grow,” Antonucci said. “I wouldn’t want to go through (a vote) unless someone went out and got the signatures.”
Councilman Steve Ivancie said Monday that he probably will support scheduling the discussion because of the number of city residents who have expressed interest in a vote on the development.
“I think there’s a lot of merit to discussing that,” Ivancie said. “This is such a big, enormous undertaking that I think we need to have that conversation.”
The city’s 1973 Home Rule Charter states, “Referendum petitions must be signed by qualified electors of the city equal in number to at least (20 percent) of the total number of electors registered to vote at the last regular municipal election.” The state Constitution, however, states, “Not more than (10) percent of the registered electors may be required to order the referendum.”
City Attorney Tony Lettunich said Steamboat is unique in requiring such a high percentage of voters for a referendum petition, and that it is an untested question whether the Home Rule Charter or state statute should apply. By voluntarily putting Steamboat 700 to a vote, Hermacinski thinks the city can head off the potential for long and costly legal proceedings that would leave everyone, including the developers, in limbo.
“Presumably, whoever is on the wrong side of this would want to litigate,” Lettunich said.
Lettunich also confirmed that the city could not “play it safe” and simply go with the lower percentage in the state statute because it has an obligation to defend its Home Rule Charter.
Under an election scenario, Hermacinski said it would be the City Council’s job to negotiate the best annexation agreement possible. Then, she said, council could either vote to approve the project with a condition that voters also must approve the annexation agreement, or leave the decision entirely up to citizens.
Last year, Minturn residents resoundingly upheld their Town Council’s decision to annex a planned 4,300-acre ski and golf resort on Battle Mountain in a referendum election. Vail Daily reported that, out of 11 ballot questions, an average of 87 percent of voters chose to annex the property.
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Yampatika, an environmental education nonprofit based in Steamboat Springs, will host its 22nd annual Wild Edible Feast on Thursday evening, May 26, at Aurum Food & Wine.