Commissioners open to 5-acre lots north, west of town |

Commissioners open to 5-acre lots north, west of town

Routt County is moving forward on a transfer of developments rights program that could someday create 300 or more five-acre building lots in new rural subdivisions just north and west of Steamboat Springs.

— Routt County officials are moving ahead with a plan that would create the potential for 300 or more five-acre home sites on land wrapping around the northern and western perimeters of the city of Steamboat Springs.

The Regional Planning Commission tentatively is scheduled to make a recommendation April 1 on the new transfer of development rights receiving area map. When the commission convenes, it will have a clear recommendation from the county commissioners. The three county commissioners told Planning Director Chad Phillips on Tuesday that they wanted to see 1,150 acres added to the map — far more than the 300 acres anticipated in the original map, which closely hugs the western borders of the urban growth boundary for the city.

"I think we're looking for a balance between the ability to allow for another mechanism to preserve land in the rural areas of the county while creating a receiving area near the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan without allowing a lot more development," said Nancy Stahoviak, chairwoman of the Routt County Board of Commissioners.

The transfer of development rights would require a three-way negotiation among two private property owners and the county. The two landowners would be seeking common ground on a sale of development rights away from one parcel to another. The commissioners would be looking to ensure sufficient public benefit in return for the creation of new development lots just outside Steamboat Springs.

The commissioners approved a transfer of development rights test case in 2009, when they approved a project that took the right to develop homes away from property owned by the John Adams family on Flying Diamond Ranch and Thorpe Mountain in the South Valley and transferred those rights to the existing Alpine Mountain Ranch subdivision just outside the southern boundary of Steamboat Springs.

The new TDR regulations would require would-be developers of five-acre lots to go through a two-step approval process once they brokered a deal for transferring development rights.

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"They would have to meet the requirements of full-blown subdivision regulations," Stahoviak said. "First, there would be a pre-application process where the sending and receiving areas would be (evaluated), and (planning) staff would work with the developers. Second, there would be the approval process, and the commissioners would determine if the plan was appropriate for the community."

Steamboat 700 and TDR

The town of Hayden already has expressed interest in creating a receiving area for the transfer of development rights, Commissioner Doug Monger said Wednesday. For now, the county is content to see how the TDR process works around Steamboat before considering a more widespread program.

Monger said he was attracted to the ability of TDR to contain growth while offering homeowners the opportunity to enjoy a more rural lifestyle than they can inside the city limits.

"It would create a buffer between the urban subdivisions in the city and the more suburban development in west of Steamboat and rural areas," Monger said. "We don't want these guys up in Clark, or out on top of the Cog or building in the meadow land in South Routt."

Stahoviak and Monger agreed that the outcome of the Steamboat 700 vote could have an impact on the TDR map they could approve this spring.

"The whole idea is that there is a transition from urban to rural," Stahoviak agreed.

Stahoviak said she knows some county residents think that if voters reject the 700 annexation in the urban growth boundary west of Steamboat city limits, another proposal for something similar will surface. She doesn't think that's likely. If the Steamboat 700 developers find themselves looking for another way to develop their property, the landscape in west of Steamboat could change, she said.

"If that becomes no longer the urban boundary, what does that mean?" she asked rhetorically.

Monger had an answer.

He would not look favorably on a proposal for a land preservation subdivision with­­in the Steamboat 700 bound­­aries, he said, because the purchase of development rights process sets aside a large remainder parcel that is conserved in perpetuity. Taking that large an acreage within the growth area out of development is the wrong idea, Monger said.

However, he said he could envision considering a new subdivision of five-acre lots under TDR regulations with the idea that several decades in the future, a developer might approach the county with a plan to re-subdivide and create more density.

Change of direction

The county's willingness to consider new subdivisions of five-acre home sites marks a significant shift in policy. In another era, Stahoviak and former County Commissioner Ben Beall drew a hard line in the sagebrush and declared that they would no longer approve rural subdivisions such as the existing Deer Mountain Estates, Elk Mountain Estates and Saddle Mountain Estates.

"It is a big deal," Stahoviak said. "Initially (in the 1990s), we said we weren't going to allow for more mountain residential estate subdivisions in Routt County."

The transfer of development rights "is the only way it's happening, as far as I'm concerned."

— To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205 or e-mail

Understanding transfer of development rights

The new transfer of development rights regulations Routt County is developing are intended to achieve multiple public benefits. They would allow the owner of rural land parcels with scenic, agricultural or wildlife values to sell development rights off their land and transfer them to a developer who owns land closer to the county’s population areas.

In addition to conserving the rural lands in perpetuity, Board of Routt County Commissioners Chairwoman Nancy Stahoviak said the plan contains growth. Commissioner Doug Monger added that the plan also would reduce the cost of extending government services to country residents who might have otherwise lived farther from road crews, law enforcement officers and social service caseworkers.

In the transfer of development rights process, the property owner who gives up development rights is called the sender, and the property owner acquiring those rights is called the receiver.

New lots wouldn’t be built until the developer successfully navigated the county’s regular subdivision process.

The TDR lands initially would not be candidates for annexation by the city. And the county would not allow lots smaller than five acres — that’s the threshold for relying on a leach field for wastewater treatment.