Oak Creek outlines goals | SteamboatToday.com

Oak Creek outlines goals

Affordable housing, cleaner air and regional transit top list

Melinda Dudley

— While there’s general consensus that Oak Creek wants to support affordable housing in the community, improve its air quality, support sustainability and create a regional transit system, reaching those goals is proving more difficult than creating them.

Oak Creek government officials and residents mulled their options for the town’s future at a community forum Tuesday night, as part of an ongoing comprehensive plan update by the Oak Creek Town Board.

The town has contracted with Britina Design Group, a Denver-based consulting firm, to examine future areas of growth for Oak Creek and conduct reviews of the town’s building codes and annexation policies. The town’s comprehensive last was revamped in 1996.

The comprehensive plan’s update should be completed by late September, Mayor Pro-Tem Angie Krall said. Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak moderated Tuesday’s forum.

Affordable housing

Oak Creek, along with Yampa, Phippsburg and Stagecoach, chose not to join the Yampa Valley Housing Authority when it was established in 2003. Those communities’ general attitude at the time was that it was not their responsibility to provide affordable housing for Steamboat Springs, Stahoviak said.

But Oak Creek needs to have a serious discussion about joining the Yampa Valley Housing Authority – and what the give-and-take in the relationship would be.

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“More and more, we’re going to be tasked with annexation here. And we need to be ready for that,” Krall said. “Affordable housing needs to be the first thing that we talk about.”

In its future negotiations with developers, Oak Creek is looking at Hayden’s existing policies as a model.

“We’ve talked about, in our development of annexation agreements and policies, the possibility of inclusionary zoning and requiring deed-restricted affordable housing from developers,” Krall said.

The Housing Authority is in the midst of a countywide housing needs assessment study, due to be finished this fall. The results will guide policy for the Housing Authority and the city of Steamboat Springs while giving local developers data about what type of housing is needed and desired, Housing Authority Executive Director Donna Howell said.

Air quality, sustainability

“Most Colorado mountain communities face problems with air quality, and it’s mainly due to particulate matter,” Routt County Department of Environmental Health Director Mike Zopf said. Particulate matter is any solid or semi-solid particle small enough to remain suspended in the air.

Other than by observation, Oak Creek does not know what its air quality problems are. The only air quality measuring station in Routt County is on the roof of the Routt County Courthouse in Steamboat Springs, Zopf said. But well-intentioned monitoring can backfire, because once a town knows it’s out of compliance with state or federal regulations, the town would be required to make changes, possibly more ambitious ones than they’re willing to make or could afford, Zopf said.

“It sounds like you all already know you’ve got a problem you want to solve,” Zopf said. “If you don’t want the sulfur smell, if you don’t want dust from the roads, if you don’t want fireplace emissions, you can fix that now.”

Coal and wood-fired stoves are common sources of heat for homes and businesses in Oak Creek, and people may need incentives or assistance to change that.

“One of our realities is that we have these retired coal miners, who as part of their pensions get coal for life, and for someone who can’t afford an alternative that’s very attractive,” Krall said.

Oak Creek is lucky in that it’s one of only a dozen or so Colorado towns that owns its own electricity grid, which provides it with unique opportunities to explore renewable energy generation. The town government has been in talks with Kremmling-based Confluence Energy on the possibilities of biomass – talks that are only becoming more pressing as propane and other fuel costs continue to rise.