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Locals compare woes to Aspen

Pitkin official: '12-inch rule' quick to go

Avi Salzman

— One of the first things that will go when Steamboat grows too much is the “12-inch rule,” said Mick Ireland, a Pitkin County Commissioner who spoke to a fascinated group of more than 100 Routt County residents Monday night.

The 12-inch rule, or powder clause, maintains that when the snow is deep enough, the entire city shuts down and everyone goes skiing. As longtime Steamboat residents will contend, the clause is supposed to be written into every worker’s contract.

But when too many out-of-towners come in and build second homes, workers have to be available for their needs, and the 12-inch rule no longer applies the beginning of the end of the small ski town.

“When you lose your 12-inch rule, you will know it’s gone and you will not be able to replace it,” Ireland said.

Ireland and five other speakers discussed issues of growth control and the effects growth can have on sense of community and infrastructure at the second forum on growth in a series of three.

The Steamboat Chamber Resort Association and the Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley are holding the forums to get ready for the rewrite of the Steamboat Springs Community Area Plan. The city and county each pitched in to support them, with contributions of $2,000 and $1,000, respectively.

The other five speakers Monday night were: John Spezia, a local activist, teacher and outdoorsman interested in showing how man can imitate nature’s successes; Shawn Sigstedt, an ethnobotanist who spoke about having a distinct worldview based on nature and allowing it to come to fruition; City Manager Paul Hughes, who discussed the city’s capacity for growth in terms of its infrastructure needs; Bob Stoddard of Mount Werner Water, who talked about water capacity; and Professor Diane Mitsch-Bush, who discussed the social implications of growth.

Mitsch-Bush said the city will continue to lose its character as more people unfamiliar with its history enter the community, though she added that Steamboat’s “social capital,” its series of interrelationships, is still very strong.

Ireland shared his experiences in Pitkin County, where government has taken a strong role in dictating how the community will look and when it will stop growing a move that some say came too late. Ireland said the county has established a growth limit of 30,000 people, something that may be in Steamboat’s future.

Steamboat has grown 47 percent population-wise in the past decade, based on census records.

Ireland gave Steamboat residents hints about what to look out for when discussing growth. Population, for instance, is not a good gauge of growth, because physical growth in resort communities comes in the form of mansions bought by second-home owners, he said. He said the community must look just as hard at who it wants within its borders as how many people it wants. That entails providing affordable housing for teachers, police officers and service workers, among others, he said. He added that one tool to control growth is to limit the size of homes, which in Aspen’s case caps out at more than 5,000 square feet.

The audience was highly engaged and asked questions until long after time had run out on the scheduled forum. Many stayed to pick Ireland’s brain about possible solutions to the growth and affordable-housing issues.

“We need to have him come back and talk to the City Council and the county commissioners,” local resident Valerie Perea said.

“We need to learn from the lessons of Aspen, Vail and Breckenridge.”


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