December 17, 2006
Lisa Lesyshen and her family moved to Stagecoach six years ago because of the privacy and the incredible views of the surrounding mountains and reservoir.
But exponential growth in the Stagecoach area quickly is changing the landscape for Lesyshen and others, and making Stagecoach one of the hubs of residential development in Routt County. The rapid changes also are rekindling interest in transforming Stagecoach into an independent, incorporated municipality.
In 1999, the Routt County Board of Commissioners, Routt County Regional Planning Commission and Stagecoach Planning Steering Committee drafted the Stagecoach Community Plan, a document intended to serve as a directive for future growth in the area. The 20-year
plan says Stagecoach is expected to grow into a balanced community with diverse housing, open space and a small retail and commercial space to serve the community.
Seven years after the adoption of the plan, Stagecoach’s future is still unclear. While several residents have begun discussions about incorporating Stagecoach, county officials question whether the community is ready for such a step.
But one thing is certain – Stagecoach is booming, and that’s not likely to change anytime in the foreseeable future.
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By the numbers
In 1971, there were 133 residential units in Stagecoach, a rural area about 20 minutes south of Steamboat Springs and home to Stagecoach State Park. That number has grown to 421 this year. Most of the growth occurred from 2001 to 2005, when 95 single-family homes were built in Stagecoach – the most growth the area had seen in 30 years. And the trend is expected to continue.
This year, 54 homes have been erected in the rural area south of Steamboat Springs. Routt County planning officials estimate there could be as many as 640 homes in the Stagecoach area by 2010 if growth continues as expected.
Routt County Planner Mary Alice Page-Allen said current development, including the Red Hawk and The Neighborhoods at Young’s Peak subdivisions and plans for the Stagecoach Marketplace, is forcing officials to ask tough questions about how growth is affecting the availability of basic services the county can provide for current and future residents.
“I think we’re beginning to ask ourselves what is going to be the threshold of development for the county to consider it enough? What’s going to be the impetus for incorporation?” she said. “Is it going to be 500 homes? We don’t have the answers : these answers are going to have to come from the community.”
Developer Brian Stahl said his The Neighborhoods at Young’s Peak subdivision will be fundamental to Stagecoach’s future.
“My goal is to create a vibrant, friendly, dynamic residential community. The goal is to create an inclusive community rather than an exclusive community,” he said.
Stahl said he will continue to evolve as Stagecoach evolves, and that he is committed to making the community viable.
“I am cautious when I say this, but these things take time,” he said. “Stagecoach is a fantastically beautiful place and it has a lot of potential, but there are also a lot of challenges facing the area.”
The Stagecoach area originally was platted in the 1960s and ’70s to be Colorado’s sixth-largest ski area. The area was designed by Woodmoor Corp. to sustain more than 2,000 single- and multi-family housing units to create a healthy, bustling community similar to what Steamboat Springs is today.
But that vision never became reality, and Woodmoor filed for bankruptcy in the late ’70s, leaving the area with an underdeveloped infrastructure and a lack of direction.
Some lots were sold before Woodmoor went bankrupt, but many were not. As a result, the Morrison Creek Metropolitan Water and Sanitation District also went bankrupt because of a lack of growth, which hampered tax revenues.
Woodmoor’s dream of a major ski area eventually was replaced with a focus on residential growth and only moderate commercial development. That residential growth has taken off in the past few years, particularly as families have been forced to look beyond the city limits of Steamboat Springs to find affordable housing.
But with growth comes growing pains.
Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said the most pressing concern Stagecoach residents have raised is the condition of the county roads that lead to the community.
“With the development that is going on, we’re seeing more and more traffic all the time out on (Routt) county roads 14, 16 and 212,” Stahoviak said. “That is one of the big issues that keep coming back to us.”
Paving or improving county roads 14 and 16 could cost millions of dollars. It’s not a bill the county can pay.
“The county can only provide the level of service it has funds for,” Stahoviak said. “If the residents of Stagecoach want something different to happen, they themselves have to figure that out.”
The county commissioners will meet Jan. 15 to hear from a road review committee that is assessing and prioritizing which county roads are most in need of improvements. Public comments are welcome at the meeting.
Road maintenance is not the only demand created by Stagecoach’s growth.
Steve Colby, general manager of the Morrison Creek Metropolitan Water and Sanitation District, said the increase in growth soon may force the district to make some big decisions in order to continue providing district residents with water and sewer services.
“Right now, we’re trying to stay ahead of the curve on our water supply and routine maintenance, but you can only suck so much water out of a six-inch hole in the ground,” he said. “Eventually, it might make more sense for us to use surface water sources.”
The district owns 500 acre-feet of water stored in Stagecoach Reservoir, but it would cost a significant amount of money to build a pumping station to access that water. If the district opts to provide surface water instead of well water, it would have to build a water treatment plant. A small treatment plant could cost between $1 million and $2 million, Colby said.
Colby hopes Stagecoach’s growth will pay for itself through tap fees charged by developers.
“These (water) projects will depend on how fast the area continues to grow. We’re certainly keeping a close eye on what’s happening,” he said.
The cost of incorporation
Incorporating Stagecoach is a concept that continues to float through the community.
For resident Chris Zuschlag, the idea might become a reality sooner than later.
“I think that within the next three to five years that’s the direction we will be heading,” he said. “Right now, we’re just looking for community input to determine what the advantages would be. It’s something we’re trying to figure out.”
Stahoviak said incorporation is a difficult undertaking. Phippsburg, Yampa and Clark still are not incorporated municipalities, she added. Incorporating Stagecoach is further complicated by the fact that the area has no commercial core and does not bring in any sales tax revenue.
“There would be no reason to incorporate unless the area can generate enough revenues to support itself,” she said. “Unless you have a commercial core generating sales tax, that would be very, very difficult to do.”
If Stagecoach were to incorporate, the county then would be relieved of providing some basic services to residents, such as road maintenance and police service. The newly incorporated town could be responsible for electing a governing body, building a police department and purchasing the equipment necessary to support a town, such as snow-plowing equipment.
Without the combination of property and sales tax revenues to support such an endeavor, the residents of Stagecoach most likely would have to tax themselves to provide the monies necessary to sustain the town.
“It’s been proven time and time again – new development through property taxes does not support itself,” Stahoviak said.
Regardless, Zuschlag, who served on the Stagecoach Property Owner’s Association board for six years and on the Stagecoach Planning Steering Committee in the late 1990s, said it is an option residents need to consider.
“Now is the time to bring this up. It’s going to be hard, but people need to understand that this is the time to start getting involved,” he said. “If and when we start making decisions, we don’t want people to say, ‘Hey, wait, I never knew about this.'”
Sue Kimes, president of the Stagecoach Property Owner’s Association, thinks incorporation could reach fruition in the next 10 to 15 years if the county and Stagecoach residents begin the work now.
Re-visiting the Stagecoach Community Plan next year will be crucial to that process, she said.
“Our board has been looking at models of what has happened to other communities around ski towns like Basalt, Edwards and Glenwood Springs. We anticipate that what has happened there is going to happen in Stagecoach, and when it does, we want to be prepared,” she said.
“All the pieces are there : we could have a school, we could have a connecting trail system, we can have the homes. We are committed to doing this right,” she said.
Like Stahoviak, Kimes is aware that incorporation could be difficult without a strong commercial core.
“The key is getting sales tax here,” she said. “We’re not going to just leap into incorporating.”
Chris Wittemyer, one of the largest landowners in Stagecoach, has laid the basic infrastructure for the Stagecoach Marketplace, although the building has not yet been erected.
Wittemyer was unavailable for comment Saturday.
Lesyshen, whose view of Stagecoach Reservoir soon may be obstructed by encroaching development, said she would support plans for incorporation to control current growth rates.
“It’s been too much, too fast,” she said. “I don’t think we have planned for it. We don’t even have paved roads.”
When Lesyshen first moved to her home on Arapahoe Road, there were five houses in her neighborhood. There soon will be 13.
“It’s amazing how much has been built out here,” she said. “I moved here because our house was off the grid, which I liked. I had a great view, I loved being outside in the summer and I didn’t have neighbors. Now it’s almost a certainty that someone could build right in front of me.”
Stagecoach’s future also will be, at least in part, determined by growth elsewhere in Routt County.
The West Steamboat Springs Area Plan, much like the Stagecoach Community Plan, is a directive for commercial and residential growth west of Steamboat Springs. The plan was jointly adopted by the city of Steamboat Springs and Routt County with the idea that if residential growth cannot occur in the Steamboat area, it will occur in areas like Oak Creek, Stagecoach and Hayden.
One of the main goals of the West Steamboat Springs Area Plan is to provide affordable housing for those who work in Steamboat.
Once homes are built there, residents could have a choice whether they want to pay the same amount of money for a home closer to Steamboat or live in a less urban area such as Stagecoach, Page-Allen said.
“It’s a classic trend. People are going to continue to be pushed out to the areas where they can find affordable housing,” she said. “I do think the West of Steamboat plan will impact that because it’s going to come down to lifestyle choices. It’s very nice to have a three-minute ride to work and a five-minute bike ride, but it might be nice to also live in the ‘country.’ It depends on what characteristics folks are looking at.”
Regardless of where people choose to live, Kimes thinks residents will continue to move to Stagecoach.
“It’s inevitable,” she said. “As Steamboat continues to grow, so will we. We’re going to continue to see this trickle-down theory of people moving away from Steamboat into places like Milner, Hayden, Oak Creek and Stagecoach.”