Our view: Consistency is a virtue | SteamboatToday.com

Our view: Consistency is a virtue

At issue

Routt County's sometimes inconsistent approach to approving or denying low-impact development in the South Valley

Our view

It may be time for elected county officials to step back and consider the variety of developments they have denied and approved in rural Steamboat over the years and the reasons for doing so

Routt County’s ability over the past 20 years to protect the open hay meadows in the Yampa Valley immediately south of Steamboat Springs from sprawl has been a remarkable success story.

However, the 2-1 vote March 24 by the county commissioners to deny a permit for The Foundry substance abuse treatment and rehabilitation facility left us conflicted over the criteria being used by the commissioners to permit or deny applications from the southern city limits to the base of Rabbit Ears Pass and beyond to Blacktail Mountain.

It isn’t our intent in this opinion piece to quibble with the commissioners’ decision on the Foundry, but to take a step back and look at previous decisions and consider the broader context of this week’s decision.

The Foundry is a proposal by Routt County resident Scott Borden to build a residential treatment center on a 38.8-acre parcel currently occupied by a single-family home in an informal neighborhood of similar properties. It would have housed up to 18 people at a time who were there for a 90-day stay to put substance addiction behind them. As such, the rehab facility most certainly would have represented a change of use on that land.

It was opposed by a significant number of neighbors who live along a stretch of Colorado Highway 131 just beyond the highway bridge over the Yampa River where the highway makes a sweeping right turn and heads toward Oak Creek Canyon.

Commissioners Doug Monger and Tim Corrigan described the proposed rehab facility as being too intense a use for that location. Commissioner Cari Hermacinski was unconcerned and voted in favor of the project.

And the reasoning behind their decision-making provides some of the impetus for this editorial. Not far from the proposed Foundry site are a variety of commercial enterprises that generate their own share of visitation. In a couple of cases, they generate substantially more vehicle traffic than the Foundry ever would have. We also believe that each of those developments have desirable qualities and benefit the community.

Less than a minute before reaching the site that was proposed for The Foundry, motorists traveling south on Highway 131 come upon the site of a new gravel pit, Steamboat Sand and Gravel, which is in the early stages of operation. Certainly, the gravel mine and the trucks that haul the gravel away, represent a more intense use than a rehab facility, albeit on a larger tract of land.

No one wants to live in the vicinity of a gravel pit, but everyone needs gravel to build a home.

A few miles away, on Routt County Road 18, which begins at the sweeping curve, the Lake Catamount residential subdivisions, with large tracts of land under conservation easements, is host to a Nordic skiing center and a restaurant/recreation center that hosts weddings, holiday parties and fundraising events that generate many visits annually.

And just over a low hill from the proposed Foundry site is a large steel building that houses the equestrian program at Sidney Peak Ranch. In addition to serving its relative handful of owners, the equestrian center boards horses and has perennially hosted one of the largest fundraising events in the community.

Both the Catamount and Sidney Peak facilities are valuable to the broader community, serving both tangible and symbolic purposes by giving members of the public access to recreate and celebrate at a couple of the most exclusive residential subdivisions in the South Valley. We don’t believe they have disrupted life in the South Valley for rural residents.

Nor do we think The Foundry would have had a more intense impact on the neighborhood than those operations.

The city of Steamboat Springs, the growth center in the valley, hasn’t annexed a significant tract of land in many years, and without a municipal property tax to help cover the cost of extending city services beyond its current boundaries, there is a disincentive for Steamboat to grow, even in responsible ways.

We don’t want to see Colorado Highway 131 turn into a long commercial strip. But the pressure to grow isn’t going away. And we think it may be time for the county to revisit its master plan and consider more precise language and criteria for measuring the impact of proposed new developments in a consistent way. And we’d propose the county explore the possibility of creating new growth areas where new development could occur.

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