Our View: Stick up for development standards

The Steamboat Springs Planning Commission and the city’s planning staff should be commended for sticking to their guns in April, when developers proposed a project — anchored by a 14,820-square-foot Walgreens store — that didn’t measure up to the city’s “big-box” ordinance.

That ordinance, which faced its first test with the Walgreens proposal, sets more stringent requirements for commercial buildings larger than 12,000 square feet. It holds such projects to higher design standards and requires they provide a higher level of public benefit.

Commissioners in April faulted the project’s site layout, architectural design and lack of pedestrian connections.

Commissioners and planning staff members told developers that their project, proposed for the northwest corner of U.S. Highway 40 and Pine Grove Road in the Steamboat Crossings shopping center, probably wouldn’t get any better reviews from the City Council and made some suggestions for improving it.

Pederson Development Co. of Denver, which is representing THF Real Estate of St. Louis in the project, this month submitted a revised plan that, initially at least, bodes well for the ordinance’s workability.

Developers have made many changes to the project’s design and also now propose building 15 or 16 affordable residential condominiums elsewhere on the Steamboat Crossings site to meet the ordinance’s higher public benefit standard.

It remains to be seen exactly how well the revised plan meets the requirements of the big-box ordinance, but it’s already clear the process is working, and that’s no small feat.

Cities across the country are attempting to deal with the same root question: Should — and how should — residents manage development, especially that driven by huge national chains, so they can enjoy the benefits but still exercise control of how their town looks, feels and serves them?

Some places haven’t even tried. They’ve welcomed all comers, asked no questions, raised no objections and often tossed a tax abatement in to boot. You can see the consequences of that when you visit such places.

Others don’t attempt to influence development, even when there’s some desire to do so. The rationale is that the big corporate players have all the power. If you reject a proposal as submitted, they’ll take it down the road. The commissioners or council members who raised the objection will be labeled anti-business and accused of costing the community jobs and tax revenue.

That rationale has some justification, so it took backbone for the Planning Commission to send the Walgreens proposal back for revision.

It took something from the developers, too, something other than absolute fealty to the bottom line, to at least attempt to cooperate rather than trying to steamroll the commission or simply walking away.

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