Oak Creek restaurant owner joins Routt County Planning Commission | SteamboatToday.com

Oak Creek restaurant owner joins Routt County Planning Commission

Andy Benjamin brings experience to panel

— As the new Oak Creek representative on the Routt County Planning Commission, Andy Benjamin said he hopes he can use his training to help the town grow successfully.

Benjamin replaces 10-year member Bill Norris on the commission and joins fellow new member Brian Arel, who has been on the board since the beginning of the year. Benjamin, owner of Chelsea's Restaurant in Oak Creek, said he has experience with planning, and he hopes to use it to help the town create long-term goals.

"I'm a landscape architect; that's what I went to school for and what I did a couple years professionally before coming to the valley, and for a couple years in the valley," he said.

He also has served on the Oak Creek Planning Commission for four or five years. As a landscape architect, he is used to working on residential jobs, but he said he's ready to do larger projects.

"That's not really what we're trained professionally to do," he said. "Large scale is where my training and specialty lie."

The Routt County Planning Commission has 10 members representing each municipality and area in the county. Planning Department Director Chad Phillips said that is especially important when it comes to master plans for the communities.

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"Even though these are appointed positions and not elected officials, we still like them to represent the different members of the community," he said.

South Routt has three of the 10 spots, Phillips said, with Dick Klumker, of Yampa, Terry Hunter, an at-large commissioner from Phippsburg, and now Benjamin, of Oak Creek. Chairman Don Alperti is from Stagecoach.

Benjamin said one of the biggest challenges facing Oak Creek is its population, which the U.S. Census Bureau estimated at 813 in 2008.

"We are severely hampered by the fact that there are only 800 residents in our town, not enough volume to support all the businesses in town, not even one, really," he said.

He said incentives offered by the town could help, as would public involvement by the residents.

"The big fear in Oak Creek is we're going to get this development, we're going to get a stoplight in town, and it's going to change the whole character of the town," he said.

He said that mentality of preservation has a place in the town, and those are people who often participate in the local government.

He said he also hopes to look at the possible use of the transfer of development rights program, which could help increase the density in some of the areas around Oak Creek. It has traditionally been discussed in areas across Steamboat Springs, Benjamin said, but he said there are several ways it could help Oak Creek.

"I think there are some other municipalities that can take advantage of this and need to be a part of the discussion," he said.

The Routt County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to table the program in early May.

No matter what, Benjamin said it would take time for the county planning to take its full shape.

"The biggest thing I see is that people don't realize that communities don't pop up overnight; it takes thousands of years … many generations to develop," he said.