Our View: How will we grow? | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: How will we grow?

At Issue

Housing our growing workforce

Our View

It’s time we resumed the conversation about the unfulfilled promise of the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan

A pair of news stories that broke this week and are related to the city’s ambitions to provide additional workforce housing close to Steamboat Springs have persuaded us it’s time for the community to re-engage the prickly question of how we are to grow.

Our View

It’s time we resumed the conversation about the unfulfilled promise of the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan

We learned this week proponents of the Steamboat 700 development are interested in studying the feasibility of creating a subdivision that could accommodate perhaps 200 new homes in the county west of Steamboat Springs. That’s fewer by tenfold than the 2,000 homes envisioned by the original Steamboat 700 plan that was shot down by voters in March 2007.

Overwhelmed by the sheer size of that project, the community demanded tens of millions of dollars in public infrastructure projects from the developer, so much that they probably could not have delivered attainable housing even if voters hadn’t rejected the required annexation agreement.

The story of Steamboat 700’s renewed interest closely followed news of the letter recently sent by the Routt County Commissioners to the Steamboat Springs City Council expressing a desire to ask during an upcoming July 20 meeting how council members would feel about waiving community planning guidelines to embrace the possibility of approving a new residential subdivision to the west of the city without requiring it immediately be annexed into the city.

What commissioners have in mind is permitting a new subdivision not unlike the existing Heritage Park, Steamboat II and Silver Spur subdivisions. Doing so would probably require revising both the Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan and West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan. Both are non-binding, community-driven planning documents that provide overarching principles guiding how and where we grow.

“The need for workforce housing … becomes more acute every day,” the commissioners wrote to City Council. “Housing is scarce, rents are rising and it remains very difficult for a working family to afford a home in the Steamboat Springs area.”

We can confirm that characterization is accurate from the experience of our own staff. People here can expect to pay $600 to $850 per bedroom in a two-bedroom house with a shared bathroom. And our classified ad section in the newspaper tells us that some job openings are becoming increasingly difficult to fill.

The commissioners appropriately point out that, in 20 years, no new homes have been built in the area under the umbrella of the West of Steamboat Springs Area plan outside of the three existing subdivisions.

The county’s research shows that, of 392 homes in the three subdivisions, all but 35 are owned by Routt County residents. And, on average, homes in Silver Spur, the original Steamboat II and Heritage Park are 33 percent less expensive than similar homes in the city. It’s difficult not to agree that those subdivisions have functioned well in the role of providing homes for people who work and live here.

Without taking a position on the ambitions of Steamboat 700’s Mark Fine or the question the county commissioners’ plan to ask City Council later this month, we think that, unless we are all content to permit down valley growth to take its course, we must get back in the game. We must all attempt to answer the question of why the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan has not delivered on its promise.

We would probably all agree the Great Recession took our eyes off the prospect of the housing shortage returning with a vengeance, but it’s time to re-focus.

The difficult question at hand is whether we can afford to wait any longer for a developer to find a way to deliver attainable housing under the guidelines of the West of Steamboat Plan, or whether we need to follow the direct path to enabling an updated model of a subdivision that has proven itself through time.

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