Planning commission OKs variances for project despite protests |

Planning commission OKs variances for project despite protests

Developer plans to build 118 units at US 40 and High Point Drive

Neighbors are expressing concerns about a proposed housing development at the corner of U.S. Highway 40 and High Point Drive in Steamboat Springs. The city’s planning commission approved two variances for the project on March 10.
Steamboat Springs Planning Commission

Traffic impacts topped the list of concerns voiced by neighbors of the proposed Longview Highlands development — a planned 118 units in 12 buildings on 9.4 acres at the northeast corner of the U.S. Highway 40 and High Point Drive.

On March 10, the Steamboat Springs Planning Commission approved two variances for the project — one for the base plate height of two buildings with a partial skyline overlay zone waiver, and another for the building’s glazing — or doors and windows — with a 6-1 vote. Jeff Steck was the sole dissenting vote.

The variance requests are scheduled to go before city council April 5.

The majority of residents who spoke during public comments acknowledged they knew the parcel next to the Legacy Vacation Resorts would be developed as the second phase to the existing Longview Park.

However, through numerous written and public comments, neighbors detailed additional concerns about the density, view obstruction, drainage, safety, changes to the neighborhood’s character, and the developer’s “track record,” which includes lawsuits from two homeowner’s associations — Longview Park and Longview Highlands — regarding structural and other construction issues.

Many residents questioned the reliability of the information presented by the developer and questioned the conclusion of an independent traffic study that found the project would bring only a “minimal impact” to their neighborhoods.

Turning left at the bottom of High Point Drive onto U.S. Highway 40 was also discussed as a significant concern by both residents and commissioners.

Developers are proposing to build 12 multi-family buildings with 118 housing units. The location off U.S. Highway 40, north of the Legacy Hilltop Hotel.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot and Today

Representing the developer at the meeting, Walter Magill of Four Points Surveying and Engineering described the extensive plans to rebuild High Point Drive, adding a bike shoulder and detached sidewalk, as well as improvements to drainage and in order “to further minimize visual impact by extensive landscaping along the west hillside of the lot and by locating this landscaping in an easement that preserves the landscaping in perpetuity.”

Also, about $2 million will first be spent on a new road guaranteed to the city, Magill said.

The impact to the view from surrounding homes has been a source of debate for several years.

In September 2019, the developer sought a full waiver of the “skyline overlay” — a restriction created more than 20 years ago to ensure any development that protrudes into the skyline from significant viewpoints meets certain standards to minimize the visual impact.

In December 2019, the planning commission recommended approval of the preliminary plat and partial skyline waiver, but city council tabled the item in January 2020, requesting to consider the skyline waiver with a proposed development plan.

Regarding neighbors’ concerns about the developer’s history, Magill noted there are now higher standards for building and enforcement, and that it is a new project and a “fresh start.”

“I think it is a good project and going to help the community,” Magill said.

The majority of commissioners agreed the mitigation efforts were sufficient to grant the height variance.

The other argument cited by most of the commissioners in favor of granting the variance was the existing penetration of the skyline by the Legacy Vacation Resort and massive power lines.

Planning commissioner Jessica Hearns said she “weighed heavily” neighbors’ concerns about density, but given the existing townhouses and hotel, and the zoning, she could support the project.

“I find that it is not inconsistent,” Hearns said. “I support it, but it took me a while to get there.”

In addition, Hearns said the planning commission has “to think about the larger city goals.”

Commissioner Rich Levy also talked about weighing priorities.

“Yes, the skyline and the views are important to the community,” he said. “Is our skyline protection as important as achieving our housing goals?”

The other variance related to glazing — or the percentage of a building covered in windows and doors.

Some commissioners and neighbors were in agreement that they did not like the aesthetics of some end walls with few or no windows, but it was not enough for the majority to deny the variance request.

Commissioner David Baldinger, Jr. stressed that he had heard the neighbors’ concerns on traffic, but he would have to defer to the expertise presented in the traffic study and traffic engineers.

He also acknowledged the concerns about the developer’s history, but noted new codes, higher standards, higher bonding should help.

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