City to consider vacating easements near RiverView development on Yampa River
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The Steamboat Springs City Council will consider vacating several easements at the site of the RiverView development project.
The project is slated to include duplexes, a hotel and other commercial spaces surrounding a pedestrian plaza in the area near Third and Fifth streets at the east end of Yampa Avenue.
Council will vote on the second reading of an ordinance vacating the easements at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, which starts at 5:30 p.m. in Centennial Hall.
Four easements are under consideration.
A 5-foot-wide fishing easement, which dates back to the 1960s and allows anglers to cast from the bank, would be replaced by an easement about 10 feet wide designed to protect vegetation in the riparian area. Two access points to the river would be built, along with a 5-foot-long, soft-surface pedestrian trail and a 12-foot, multiuse trail.
“One of the goals was to improve the health of the Yampa River,” said Rebecca Bessey, the city’s principal planner. “Restricting the access to certain points maintains the vegetation, which helps maintain the health of the river overall.”
Critics of the draft easement are concerned the new access points would allow very limited use of the river — language in the draft easement would not allow river users to swim or to use the accesses to put in or retrieve tubes and watercraft. Users would still be able to fish by wading in the river, but anglers would have to use the designated access points to enter the water.
Real estate transfer fees will be paid to the city on each residential unit in the development. The fees are intended to be dedicated to “enhancing and protecting the fishery and in-stream and riparian areas of the Yampa River and its tributaries.”
Three utility easements would also be vacated. One is an old utility easement referenced on the original plat of the town of Steamboat, and it is unclear if utilities were ever placed there, Bessey said.
Another one of the easements was granted to the city after the city eliminated public rights of way on portions of streets that no longer exist in the area.
“When the city vacated the right-of-way, they reserved some easements for public access as well as underground utilities that were within those rights of way, so they reserved those easements until the property was to be redeveloped and new easements would be dedicated,” Bessey said.
The utility lines that ran beneath those roadways are being relocated to align with the approved redevelopment plans, Bessey said. The final easement is one that allows for a sewer line that would also be relocated.
RiverView’s attorney Bob Weiss said the ordinance is a formality required by city code, but the vacation of these easements has been approved in prior processes.
“There have probably been a dozen public hearings on this already,” Weiss said. “In every one of those, they voted to get rid of these easements. All this is because of a technical requirement in the city charter. They have to adopt a city ordinance confirming that they’re vacated. This is just a final step in a process that’s been going on for two years.”
Planning documents filed in 2005 for an earlier iteration of the development, which never came to fruition, anticipated the easements would be vacated when the utilities within them were relocated, Bessey said.
Since then, new documents outlining the developer’s plans for the development have been approved by City Council. Developers are currently in the process of moving those pipes and electric lines, which would trigger a vacation of current easements.
Eric Meyer, a Steamboat Springs resident, is concerned about public access through the development and how current plans for the development could impact the ongoing discussion about eastern expansion of the Yampa Valley Core Trail. Earlier plans for the development filed in 2005 had a riverside path that connected to a small triangle of city property located between Rabbit Ears Motel and the river.
“There’s no discussion of the value in that,” Meyer said.
In his opinion, the proposed public access in the new plans is very limited.
He’s also troubled by a clause in the 2005 documents that states that if no final plat is recorded after the 2005 plans, the developers would be responsible for “maintenance repairs and improvements of the roadway within the easement premises.” The 2005 final plat wasn’t recorded, and in Meyer’s opinion, the city should put this clause to use.
“I don’t know what it is to build those roads, but it’s a big chunk of change, so the city is in a really good spot if they really want to move forward with their new proposal to say ‘Hey, we just need some trade-offs,’” Meyer said. “We can’t just let the developers off the hook of what they’ve agreed to.”
A vote on the ordinance that would vacate the easements was tabled at City Council’s last meeting on July 3, when council members told city staff they wanted more information before they voted.
For the first time since council started to formally discuss vacating these easements, the easement documents filed in the city planning office and drafts of the easements that would replace those being vacated were included in the council’s agenda packet. Previous packets contained a diagram illustrating the easements to be vacated.
Should the easements be vacated, the change would not take effect until easements replacing them were dedicated.
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