City, county discuss merging plans to expand Steamboat’s west side

Opinions were mixed this week as city and county officials discussed how to expand the west side of Steamboat Springs, a process that hasn’t been updated in about 15 years.

During a combined meeting of Steamboat Springs City Council and Routt County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, a proposal was examined to merge the city’s Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan and county’s West Steamboat Springs Area Plan. The plans guide decision making on housing, business development, construction and traffic issues. If the two entities opt to combine the plans, the updating process would begin in 2022.

“We know this is a really important issue for both entities,” said Kristy Winser, Routt County assistant planning director.

Winser and Steamboat Planning Director Rebecca Bessey wrote a joint memo recommending combining the plans.

The county’s plan defines West Steamboat as the neighborhoods of Copper Ridge, Silver Spur, Heritage Park, Steamboat II and Deer Mountain Estates. Winser said while large empty lots and agricultural fields have historically made up the area, it has grown exponentially over the past decade and will likely continue to do so, particularly as the city continues to seek options for affordable housing.

“Every month, I think the urgency for this increases because of the post-pandemic issues,” said Steamboat Springs City Manager Gary Suiter, referring to the city’s affordable housing crisis that intensified during COVID-19.

Still, city and county elected officials shared varying views on whether or not a single merged plan would equally benefit both groups.

“For me, we really need to do this together because the county benefits from us going west of town, but we don’t necessarily benefit by taking on more,” said council member Robin Crossan. “Whatever we do affects the bounds of the community and this whole county.”

Routt County Commissioner Beth Melton disagreed, claiming growth in Steamboat does not necessarily benefit the county enough to shoulder the costs of the plan. Melton also said the city would benefit more if any of the areas listed were to be annexed into city limits and, therefore, be subjected to the city’s property tax.

“Everything that happens in our municipalities benefits the county, but that doesn’t necessarily make them the county’s responsibility financially,“ Melton said, adding Hayden and Oak Creek could see the county’s involvement as unfair favoritism to Steamboat.

Bessey and Winser did not provide a cost estimate but would research the issue further before the next joint meeting. How much each entity will contribute is up to the elected bodies, but Commissioner Tim Corrigan suggested a 50-50 split.

“It used to be that the county did our thing, and the city did their thing,” Corrigan said. “We found out how interdependent we are on each other for everything economically and for housing and transportation.”

Council member Sonja Macys said an added benefit of combining the two plans would be to preserve the open spaces in unincorporated parts of the county.

“There are some things that make this county really unique that are in the city and are unprotected,” Macys said. “My hope would be that some of the assets that are truly assets of an entire county could be protected in highlights of this plan.”

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