Council talks big-box |

Council talks big-box

Officials consider imposing an emergency ordinance

Christine Metz

The City Council is considering an emergency ordinance to impose a 90-day moratorium on big-box stores.

The emergency ordinance will come before the council Tuesday night, allowing the council to develop a more detailed ordinance that will address the impacts of big-box retail in Steamboat Springs.

“It is simply a matter of giving us time to consider what the regulations would be and to enact those regulations before the big-box stores (come to Steamboat),” City Council President Paul Strong said.

The ordinance comes after more than a year of community discussion on the impacts of larger, outside chains coming into town.

The ordinance would impose a 90-day moratorium on the city accepting applications for development permits of retail commercial space that is more than 12,000 square feet for a single owner or tenant.

The ordinance would not limit the city from issuing permits to projects already approved or from accepting applications on projects that do not have commercial retail space exceeding 12,000 square feet.

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Council President Paul Strong, who worked with three area organizations to develop the ordinance, said it comes in response to the news that Gart Sports may open in Steamboat, but it was not his intent to stop the large sporting-goods chain from coming.

Strong worked with the Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley, the Downtown Business Association and the Mountain Business Association in coming up with the language of the ordinance.

“Because of the Gart Brothers situation, it seems to have created some urgency in the group’s concern about (big-box retail),” Strong said. “The group wanted to see if we could do anything about that and about addressing the issue in the future.”

Last month, developer Whitney Ward of the Wildhorse Marketplace announced he was in the final stages of negotiating a lease with Gart Sports, potentially bringing the nation’s largest sporting-goods chain to his new commercial center on Mount Werner Road.

Strong said there is some legal question as to whether the newly developed ordinance could retroactively apply to Gart Sports. When the development was approved, Ward agreed to a variance allowing the commercial development to occur over a 10-year period, but requiring that development to comply with any new regulations.

“We approved the Wildhorse Marketplace. They have been following the steps of approval. It would be inappropriate to do something about Wildhorse Marketplace at this time,” Strong said.

One other large commercial development, Sundance North, is in the city’s planning process. The development, proposed for the north side of Angler’s Drive, across from Sundance Plaza, could include one restaurant and an approximately 16,000-square-foot, two-story office building.

Developer Jim Larson said his group has submitted plans to the city and paid planning fees.

Diane Brower, president of the Community Alliance, said the organization began working with the two business associations last year. The three groups decided, given the update of the Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan, that now was the time to talk about big-box regulations.

“There are at least two development proposals now under way which can accommodate big-box and large retail businesses, so that adds some urgency to the effort to develop regulations that address the impacts of such businesses,” Brower said.

The proposed ordinance states that large retail commercial development may have a significant impact on the “existing financial, economic and social structure of our community.”

The 90-day moratorium would give the council time to research and create a more detailed ordinance to regulate big-box retail, Strong said. The council is scheduled to talk about a permanent big-box ordinance April 13.

The three community groups discussed regulations that would require developments larger than a certain size to complete an impact study and debated whether regulations should be placed on franchises and national chains. Strong said big-box stores are the issue the council can tackle most easily.

Strong sees the council as having three options in dealing with big-box stores: banning them, zoning them in certain areas and requiring stricter regulations.

“It could be a combination of all these,” Strong said.

Part of the reason the council is looking at this ordinance, Strong said, is because of the request and cohesiveness of the three community groups.

“When these diverse groups come together with a single goal, it makes you sit up and take notice,” Strong said.

Exactly one year ago, the council held a forum on the role government should play in controlling commercial growth. Residents packed Centennial Hall to discuss whether the city should support a free market or impose regulations in efforts to protect its community character.

“Tuesday is the first step. There is plenty of time for public comment,” Strong said.

— To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

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