Our view: Deja vu all over again
At issue: Developers with Brynn Grey think a public vote on the proposed west of Steamboat annexation is unnecessary
Our view: Talk of a vote is premature. While the city process provides for annexation without a public vote, failing to solicit voter support might be a poor PR choiceEditorial Board • Suzanne Schlicht, COO and publisher • Lisa Schlichtman, editor • Jim Patterson, evening editor • Tom Ross, reporter • Beth Melton, community representative • Paul Weiss, community representative Contact the editorial board at 970-871-4221 or editor@SteamboatToday.com.
Editor’s note: Editorial Board members Bob Weiss recused himself from the discussion on this issue.
Last week’s developments in the ongoing impasse between the Steamboat Springs City Council and Brynn Grey Partners — the real estate developer that wants to build some 450 new homes west of Steamboat and have them annexed into the city — brought an eerie sense of deja vu.
Near the end of a lengthy city council work session July 18, Brynn Grey CEO David O’Neil said he doesn’t feel the need for a community vote on the proposed annexation.
“I’m not feeling it in terms of the need for a community vote on this,” O’Neil told council members, adding that city process spells out the process for annexations without a public vote.
O’Neil is right, of course. City Council can, in fact, approve annexations without the consent of voters. But, in reading O’Neil’s statement, we can’t help but recall the ultimate fate of Steamboat 700, a similar effort undertaken nearly a decade ago. Many will remember that the Steamboat 700 annexation was approved without a public vote by a split city council in late 2009, only to be overwhelmingly turned back the following March by a citizen-initiated referendum.
For this reason, alone, we feel that, before City Council enters any annexation agreements with Brynn Grey, it should strongly consider gauging public sentiment through a vote, lest it find itself in the same situation faced by the 2009 council.
In reality, however, even debating the merits of a public vote is premature; as of now, there’s nothing to vote on.
During the July 18 work session, council members and Brynn Grey developers continued to barter over how upfront costs — such as transportation and utility infrastructure — should be divided between city and developer, and at the end of the meeting, the two seemed no nearer a resolution, so there’s still a lot of negotiating to be done.
And while we are hopeful these differences on immediate costs will eventually be worked out, there remains the problem of the perpetual costs associated with providing city services to more than 400 new households.
In a July 14 letter to the editor, Paul Hughes, former Steamboat city manager and former member of this editorial board, pointed out that, based on current revenue and future projections, the city cannot afford the cost of servicing the proposed annexation.
“ … we cannot presently afford to annex even one more square foot or one additional house,” Hughes wrote. “Two analyses a few years ago showed that it costs the city thousands of dollars more annually to serve every residence than the occupants of that residence pay in sales taxes — essentially our only source of revenue.”
The quandary is this: Community leaders know we desperately need additional housing, but acquiring such housing entails a cost the city cannot currently afford.
To make the proposed annexation feasible — and as Hughes suggested — we need a property tax, which would work to fatten the city’s coffers with every new home Brynn Grey sells and also enable us to draw revenue from part-time homeowners, who pay relatively little in sales tax, but enjoy the same city services as full-time residents.
Brynn Grey Partners’ track record in establishing new neighborhoods in mountain towns makes them a desirable partner, and honestly, if we can’t partner with them, we probably can’t partner with anyone. But due to the lack of a property tax, the city can neither provide the incentives the developer needs to provide desirable housing at the price point we need, not can it provide services to the new housing once it’s been established.
Ultimately, residents want to — and should — have a say in a decision that will so dramatically affect them, so philosophically, we agree a vote should ultimately be taken. But the funding question — both initial and long-term — needs to be worked out first so voters know what they’re voting on.
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