Hayden approves 109-unit development in meeting focused on the town’s future | SteamboatToday.com

Hayden approves 109-unit development in meeting focused on the town’s future

Despite staunch opposition, members of the public and council said the project was vital to Hayden's life after coal

The town of Hayden is seen from an EcoFlight tour of the Yampa Valley with Friends of the Yampa on Friday, Feb. 4, 2022. The white void in the center of town is the parcel where a five-building, 109-unit development will be built after Hayden Town Council approved it in a 6-1 vote on Thursday, April 13.
Dylan Anderson/Steamboat Pilot & Today

The saga of a 109-unit development that has been the talk of Hayden since February came to an end on Thursday, April 13, when Town Council approved the project in a 6-1 vote.

Hayden staff added more chairs to council chambers as more participants filled the room than any meeting in years. Hayden Mayor Ryan Banks remarked at the onset of the meeting that it would be fun, as he said, “Not a lot of people come to our meetings.”

Opponents to the project spoke of traffic impacts to the streets surrounding their homes, the dangers it would pose to children walking down the street, and whether the types of people who would move into the development would pose a risk to their safety.

The density of the project — 109 one- and two-bedroom units — was the source of many residents’ angst.

But others spoke about how the meeting was bigger than a simple site plan review. For many, it signaled a larger moment for the town of 2,000 residents that is trying to stave off impacts from the closure of its main economic driver, Hayden Station.

While the agenda was about a development in the heart of the town, the sentiment in the room was that the decision council made was about the future of Hayden.

“We had 14 teachers that couldn’t find a place to live,” Council member Bob Reese said. “If they live in Steamboat, or if they live in Craig or if they’re living in the back of their car, they’re not going to be a part of our town.”

“Kids are our future, and if we don’t educate them, we don’t take care of them, we don’t give them a place to live, we’re going to be another Craig,” Reese continued. “Craig is failing. Craig is going downhill and that is just next door. We need this project.”

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Former Hayden Mayor Zach Wuestewald said during public comment that the only way for most Hayden High School graduates to stay in town is to live in their parents’ basements, especially when homes in town are selling for $650,000.

“Our mines are shutting down,” Wuestewald said, pointing to the commercial space the development could bring. “If one more business starts here, that’s a great thing. It gives us one more person that doesn’t have to leave our town and can work here. That’s a huge asset for us because one turns in to two.”

Council member Erin Wallace said the project would support people like her, who are in their 20s and looking for a place they can afford to live.

As proposed, the building that will front U.S. Highway 40 as part of a 109-unit development in Hayden will be two stories and have commercial space on the ground floor.
Town of Hayden/Courtesy photo

Opponents of the project said there was no promise that the units would be affordable. Hayden does have an inclusionary zoning policy, which requires a certain number of affordable units, a fee in lieu or another “significant community benefit.”

For that benefit, project developer Joe Armstrong said they are working to provide space for Totally Tots and Totally Kids, a child care provider that operates out of the adjacent Hayden Center.

As for cost, Armstrong said they are still working on price points for the development, but they are hoping to reach affordability metrics for up to 20% of the units. Armstrong also said the development team is talking about selling some of the units and potentially earmarking some for teachers, police officers and other civil servants in town.

Still, there was a vocal contingent that strongly opposed the project. Residents JJ Pike and Dana Haskins conducted a survey of 185 people with 150 of them opposing the project because of traffic, 134 because of the density and 137 because it doesn’t fit with the character of Hayden.

Some residents feared the added traffic would lead to their children getting mowed down in the street by speeding cars. Others spoke of the kind of people that would live in the housing, with one written comment fearing it would become a “liberal breeding ground.”

In his comments, Reese said he had received emails of people fearing the development would turn into a “migrant encampment.” Other emails he received feared the smell of the town would change if the development were approved.

“We don’t want them because they are a different color,” Reese said as he summarized some of the messages he received prior to the meeting. “Let’s be honest. We don’t want to come right out and call it racist, but that’s what it is.”

The Hayden Station just east of Hayden is shown from an EcoFlight tour of the Yampa Valley with Friends of the Yampa on Friday, Feb. 4, 2022. The coal-fired power plant is schedule to shut down later this decade.
Dylan Anderson/Steamboat Pilot & Today

The development is a use by right on the parcel, which was purchased for $1.25 million from the Hayden School District by developer Main Street Apartments LLC in December. The parcel was rezoned to central business district in 2020, which allows for multifamily development. The project meets every aspect of the town’s code and a denial could have triggered litigation.

Resident Ryan Domson questioned why residents didn’t participate more when the Hayden Forward Master Plan was approved or when the parcel was rezoned.

“You can’t just make rules, make codes, rezone stuff and then go back on it,” Domson said. “If you deny this, you’re putting out a statement that is bigger than the project. … You’re essentially saying we don’t want you here unless all the community members like you too.”

Banks made the motion to approve the project, which was seconded by Reese. Prior to the vote, the mayor spoke about Hayden’s character, but not in the visual or architectural sense, but the community’s values. 

“We as people of Hayden are people of character,” Banks said. “That same moral compass is exemplified on this council and in our town codes and our zones. … I have a lot of empathy and understanding for the folks that are going to live next to this property, I really do. I’m torn. But ultimately, we have to do what we say we are going to do.”

Town council then approved the project with council member Trevor Gann opposed.

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