A push in the right direction | SteamboatToday.com

A push in the right direction

At issue

The recent disagreement between city and county officials about the proposed Fox Grove subdivision is emblematic of the larger housing problem

Our view

We encourage city and county officials to take a new look at old procedures and agreements that may be contributing to the housing logjam

If city and county elected officials needed a push to take a fresh look at the area’s growing housing problem, County Commissioner Cari Hermacinski delivered that push — or maybe it was more of a shove — during a Jan. 17 meeting of the Routt County Board of Commissioners.

The push (or shove) came during a vote on whether to grant preliminary approval to plans for a small subdivision off Fish Creek Falls Road on a 5.7-acre parcel of county land. Dubbed Fox Grove, the proposed subdivision would provide six lots nestled into a clutch of other residential county homes, many of them in the Huckleberry Lane neighborhood, which also lies beyond city limits.

Commissioners approved the subdivision (though final approval will not come until after the final plat is filed Jan. 31) but not without controversy and dissent. With Commissioner Doug Monger absent, the remaining commissioners — Hermacinski and Tim Corrigan — ultimately voted 2-0 in favor of the subdivision over the strenuous objections of Steamboat Springs Senior Planner Bob Keenan.

Keenan argued the proposed subdivision lies within the Urban Growth Boundary, which would make it subject to city approval and annexation prior to development, adding, “It isn’t in conformance with the Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan …”

Hermacinski, on the other hand, pressed for approval.

“This is an infill parcel,” Hermacinski said. “It’s a piece in a puzzle. We know the city has no incentive to annex, because there’s no property tax benefit.”

While we tend to agree with Hermacinski’s characterization of the project as “infill,” we don’t necessarily extend that agreement to imply county commissioners were right to circumvent established planning practices agreed upon by both governments. It is incumbent upon elected officials to honor intergovernmental agreements, and the UGB is such an agreement. Furthermore, we have no delusions that a six-lot subdivision will emerge as the panacea for our housing woes.

But the very fact of the objection’s existence — that approving a 5.7-acre subdivision for six lots in an existing residential neighborhood requires negotiating the arduous process of annexation — suggests that the way we’ve always done things isn’t getting things done.

It’s our sense that Hermacinski’s frustration — as well as her willingness to circumvent a process she has, in the past, defended — is a reaction to the painful process required for the city to annex even a small piece of property for a handful of lots.

We also feel it is emblematic of the area’s larger housing challenges.

On Tuesday, Jan. 24, the Steamboat Springs City Council will meet to discuss the Community Housing Steering Committee’s recommendations in a workshop setting.

City leaders are expected to weigh in on such proposals as pursuing a tax on short-term rentals to support community housing, establishing a dedicated funding source to support the creation of seasonal, low-income, entry-level and move-up housing and modifying the city’s development codes to eliminate hurdles and make it easier for some projects to make it through the planning process.

Other recommendations city leaders will discuss include funding infrastructure that will support new development within the city’s UGB and investing in roadway and transportation options in concert with new housing developments. City Council President Walter Magill has also suggested that a sales tax proposal to support the development of housing might be the most worthy tax initiative this year.

We don’t specifically disagree with any of these approaches, but likely none of them will accomplish much in terms of meeting our housing challenges so long as the process of approving developable land for development remains as cumbersome and imposing as it currently seems to be.

“I think there’s a movement in our community to look at a paradigm change, and I think this six-lot subdivision makes all the sense in the world,” Hermacinski said during the Jan. 17 meeting, and that, we feel, is at the crux of both the disagreement over the Fox Grove subdivision and the logjam that has stymied efforts to develop additional housing in our corner of the Yampa Valley.

So, in anticipation of Tuesday’s meeting, we encourage city and county officials to consider the Fox Grove issue as a microcosm of our overarching housing crisis and examine how existing agreements might be acting as an impediment to future, potentially larger developments.

The bottom line is, we stand at a tipping point with regard to the housing issue.

Maybe a push (or a shove) is just what we needed.

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