Growth control debated
Steamboat Springs — Adam Smith and Karl Marx would have been proud.
For nearly two hours, the Steamboat Springs City Council and more than 30 community members debated the role the city should play in controlling commercial growth.
Local business owners, developers, Chamber Resort Association members and other residents packed into Centennial Hall Tuesday night to defend the free market or to ask the council to protect Steamboat’s character through limiting commercial growth.
Last month, Councilman Bud Romberg had brought the question of controlling commercial growth before the council, asking members, “when is enough, enough?”
Romberg expressed concerns about the danger of empty downtown storefronts, the role of franchise or formula businesses and being able to preserve the unique character of Steamboat.
“I am just scared to death that if we allow market forces to take control, people with the deepest pockets will end up having control of the businesses and the nature of this town,” Romberg said as a corner of the room erupted in applause.
The city had set aside Tuesday night to hold a public discussion on commercial growth, and both sides of the spectrum spoke out.
Developer Jim Larson pointed to restaurants to show that despite the turnover, those that are good and distinctive survive. He also said the four dozen franchises he counted in Steamboat are not bad for the local economy.
“They bring in outside ideas and systems. They bring in a better overall product to the consumer,” Larson said.
Jim Hansen, a real estate agent who works with Central Park Plaza, pointed to Aspen as a community that had put a moratorium on growth and suffered sky-high commercial rent rates. He said the town is now looking to reverse those consequences.
“It is not the place for the city government to put controls on growth. Take Aspen as an example,” Hansen said.
But Steamboat resident Stuart Orzach said the market is regulated and has been regulated for quite some time through minimum wage, child labor laws, unemployment, Social Security and zoning.
“Don’t be afraid to stick your hands in a pie that has already been quite mucked,” Orzach advised the council.
Council members made no decisions Tuesday night, except to say they would continue to look at the issue through the Economic Summit in May, the Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan Update and the results of the chamber’s consumer preference survey.
And Romberg urged the council to not let the issue drop.
After residents stressed the connection between commercial growth and more city sales tax revenue, almost every council member said the city was looking at swapping part of its sales tax revenue with property taxes.
Councilman Paul Strong said the discussion should have taken place five or seven years ago, and as the economy weakens, the issue of managing commercial growth might not be pertinent.
“About the time the government realizes there is a problem, the problem is gone,” Strong said.
Councilman Loui Antonucci said until the community came forward with a plan to slow growth, he preferred the checks and balances of the capital system.
Council President Kathy Connell said the discussion should not be focused just on Steamboat and should go beyond the city limits.
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