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No development boom in Oak Creek

Christine Metz

— While developers are planning subdivisions at a record pace to the west of Steamboat Springs in Hayden, Oak Creek to the south has seen limited plans.

Over the last two months, some six developers have come before the town of Hayden to propose building nearly 2,200 homes on more than 1,000 acres of land. But things are much quieter in Oak Creek.

The two towns have very similar statistics Hayden is 25 miles away from Steamboat with a population of 1,600 and Oak Creek sits 17 miles away from Steamboat with a population of 800.

An Oak Creek business owner, real estate agent, planning commissioner and elected official point to four characteristics that have kept Oak Creek at a slower growth rate: topography, geography, infrastructure needs and an anti-growth sentiment.

Located at the bottom of Oak Creek Canyon and in a narrow valley, the town does not have the flat land that Hayden has.

County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak, a longtime Oak Creek resident, said land outside the town limits that has been identified for growth, Rossi’s Meadow, has the potential problem of underground springs. She said owners of land targeted for development north of town have not been willing to sell the land.

Oak Creek Planning Commissioner Andy Benjamin said nothing is before the board right now and much of that has to do with topography.

“Hayden is surrounded by huge open fields,” Benjamin said. “In Oak Creek, there is not a lot of land for sale right now. We don’t have as much land available that is easily buildable compared to Hayden.”

But the difference between Oak Creek and Hayden is also a matter of roadways. After years of driving Colorado Highway 131, Oak Creek residents say the commute into Steamboat is not bad. But the twist and turns through the canyon can intimidate those who haven’t made the daily trip, especially in the winter months.

“I don’t think it’s an issue for those of us who drive it. It is an issue for those who don’t drive it,” said David Bonfiglio, who owns Bonfiglio Drug on Oak Creek’s Main Street.

And although snow can drift over U.S. Highway 40 and winds can pick up, the straight stretches are less daunting for those commuting from Hayden.

“Highway 40 is much more drivable,” Stahoviak said. “Hayden is halfway between Craig and Steamboat. It’s a lot more attractive to the developers.”

Oak Creek has infrastructure issues. The town has just three paved roads, no town manager and dated water and sewer systems. Because of expected growth in the 1970s, Hayden has built out its schools and sewer plants, although water is still an issue.

Oak Creek Realtor David Erickson said the lack of infrastructure in Oak Creek has kept some developers from building.

“Our water and sewer system and electric (grid) may not be able to handle (a big development),” Erickson said. “I think that has been a discouragement to some of the developers.”

And with the three to four homes that developers tend to build at one time in Oak Creek, infrastructure costs can run high, costs that can be more easily absorbed in larger developments.

“It is a lot easier to fit into a plan at that scale,” Erickson said.

Benjamin said there is no comprehensive plan for dealing with growth. As a planning commissioner, he would like to see an updated plan with areas targeted for growth, areas that need to be protected and the infrastructure upgrades to go along with the growth. Another deterrent to growth in Oak Creek is the town’s attitude to large expansion.

Bonfiglio said most locals would not be comfortable with the 900-acre and 2,000-home Sunburst Ranch subdivision proposed in Hayden.

“I think the feeling pretty common to locals is sustained growth, but not fast, not big. We would like to see slow and steady growth,” Bonfiglio said.

Although some might think Stagecoach, sitting three miles away, would deflect some of the growth in Oak Creek, most say Stagecoach targets a different kind of homebuyer than Oak Creek and Hayden.

Many of those building homes in Stagecoach have owned lots for years, Erickson said, and most of the homes cost more and come with more acreage than those in Oak Creek and Hayden. “Stagecoach has gone a different direction,” he said.

Also, when people look at moving to South Routt, they look at homes in all the towns in the area including Yampa and Phippsburg.

“In Hayden, there is not a lot of anything available,” Bonfiglio said. “There is really no big competition like there is in South Routt with Stagecoach, Oak Creek, Phippsburg and Yampa.”


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