18 years after last update, Routt County is ramping up outreach to create new master plan

The cover of the current Routt County master plan document is a heavily pixilated picture of Hahns Peak, and the 45 pages that follow lay out how residents in 2003 wanted the county to develop.

The pictures are grainy, the text is pretty bland, and the thin green lines around the border of each page give it an aura of early-2000s professionalism. Some issues outlined in the earlier plan have changed significantly, while others seemingly have not.

“The topic of affordable housing has been discussed for decades in Routt County, yet limited progress has been made as the problem increasingly becomes worse,” the 2003 plan reads. “Families continue to be displaced.”

After 18 years, Routt County is updating that master plan for a community that has grown in population by nearly 30% since 2000, leading to shifts in the social and economic dynamics of the Yampa Valley. Initially started just before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, work on the plan is ramping up again, and much of the outreach to hear what residents think about the county’s future will take place in October.

“These plans should be the community’s vision for the future,” said Routt County Commissioner Beth Melton. “To the average person, the plan itself may seem a little boring, but I think the impacts to us are very tangible. … It has been 20 years since it was done, and there’s a lot of new people.”

The county started the new master planning process in June and hopes to approve a new plan by the end of May 2022. Currently, the county is gathering information, with much of the next month focused on engaging with residents in each part of the county.

“We all have property rights, we all have individual rights, and we also live in a community,” Melton said. “The plan and the purpose of that is to really make those agreements about what do we all agree on — what’s the consensus about what we want to do as a community?”

Over a three-day period beginning Oct. 12, the county and representatives from Cushing Terrell, the firm hired to assist with the planning, will hold four community open houses around the county, each lasting two and a half hours. The events are in the evening, except the one being held in Steamboat Springs, which is scheduled for 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 13 at Olympian Hall at Howelsen Hill.

If you go

What: Routt County Master Plan open house community meetings:

When and where: 5:30-8 p.m. Oct. 12, Glen Eden Resort, 54737 Routt County Road 129, Clark

11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 13, Olympian Hall, 845 Howelsen Parkway, Steamboat Springs

5:30 to 8 p.m. Oct. 13, Soroco Middle School auditorium, 305 Grant Ave., Oak Creek

5:30 to 8 p.m. Oct. 14, Hayden Center, 302 Shelton St., Hayden

Commissioner Tim Corrigan questioned the haste of the open houses, saying he was concerned that each of the meetings across the county would take place in just three days.

Heather Henry, outreach lead with Connect One Design, another firm helping to create the plan, said this wouldn’t be the only time they would go into communities. When a draft plan has been completed, they will go back out and have meetings to get more feedback.

Though based in various parts of the county, any resident can attend any open house. Henry said participants do not have to stay the whole time but, instead, can come in and work through various stations at their own pace.

“There is an openness to these events,” Henry said. “If I work in Steamboat, and I get to go to one of the sessions where it’s the lunch hour, but I live in Oak Creek, I might also stop by the evening meeting in Oak Creek.”

The county is also launching an online survey that can be completed by people who cannot attend one of the sessions, Henry said. The survey will open Oct. 11, and people can submit responses until Nov. 9, though it could be left open longer if they want to get more responses.

“It’s just critical that we have the conversation, and then in the end we can say, ‘Yeah, this truly is the community’s vision for what we want the future of the county to be,’” Melton said.

One of the most visible impacts of that 2003 plan is the open space in Routt County today, which commissioners say is envied by their peers in other resort-dominated communities.

“When you drive around other resort mountain counties — Eagle, Pitkin — look at what you see. You’ve got that sprawl going all along your lines of communication, all along your roads,” said Commissioner Tim Redmond.

Melton said the county has been very intentional about limiting this growth, instead prioritizing it for the established urban centers in the county. This policy has had the desired effect, but it also may be contributing to the lack of affordable housing supply.

“We all agree that we appreciate the open space, right? We don’t want to see a bunch of sprawling suburbs, small lots, houses,” Melton said. “But I think we also recognize that affordability is an issue, and to me, it’s obvious that there is some conflict there.

“I think we have to grapple with that as a community,” Melton said. “How can we be creative? How can we make sure that we have both, that we value both and have policies that allow us to have both?”

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