Preserving rural Routt County: Public input sought amid above-average growth
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Growth rates in rural parts of Routt County over the last 20 years have outpaced the state average as development on large acreage increases, according to a recent population report from Colorado researchers.
The county’s Interim Planning Director Kristy Winser presented the findings during last week’s Steamboat Springs City Council meeting as a report on the county’s initiative to update its master plan. It was one of several community meetings held across the county to inform the public about the process and to encourage residents to offer feedback.
A master plan is a formal document the county adopts to help identify the community’s vision for the future. It sets priorities and gives direction to county staff and elected officials as they make decisions on land use development and redevelopment.
It has been 17 years since the county last updated its master plan. One of the major priorities residents voiced when the plan was adopted, according to Winser, was preserving the rural integrity of Routt County. To that end, land use policies have sought to restrict growth to municipalities like Steamboat, Hayden and Oak Creek.
It therefore came as a surprise to many that unincorporated areas have seen 41.8% growth since 2000. According to Winser, that is about 12% above the state growth average and about the same rate Steamboat has grown in the same time.
Winser is unsure exactly what is driving that growth, but migration has been a major factor. Data shows the majority of Routt County residents have moved from other areas, mostly from different states. From 2017 to 2018, 73% of the county’s growth came from people moving to the area, rather than being born here, according to a report from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs.
The county also has seen a burgeoning population of older residents in the last decade. In 2010, 16.6% of Routt County residents were over the age of 55, according to census data. In 2018, that proportion grew to 29.55%. In the same period, people ages 35 to 54 accounted for the largest percent decrease in population. In 2010, this group comprised 34% of the county’s population, but by 2018, it had dropped to 26.4%.
Researchers forecasted retirees ages 75 to 84 moving to Routt County will comprise the majority of future growth, about 65%.
Part of the reason the county is updating its master plan is to explore these growth factors and to update regulations surrounding how it handles future development.
While it is too early in the process to draw conclusions, Routt County Commissioner Beth Melton said many residents and stakeholders, such as agricultural and environmental groups, want to uphold regulations from the existing plan that protect the rural integrity of the area and preserve open space.
For example, Melton explained how subdivisions are not allowed in rural parts of the county, called unincorporated areas. Any new dwelling must be built on a lot larger than 35 acres. The goal of this restriction, Melton said, is to prevent urban sprawl.
“Routt is one of the only such counties that has those restrictions,” Melton said.
The difference can be seen in the swaths of open space in rural parts of the county, with thousands of acres preserved for agriculture and natural habitat. Elsewhere, such as in the Eagle Valley, largely unchecked sprawl has caused communities to merge together, making it hard to know where one town ends and the other begins.
“Other communities have looked at Routt County as an example of good growth management,” Winser said.
County officials encourage the public to weigh in and share their vision for the future of Routt County. Until Friday, Feb. 14, the public can complete an online survey to list the community issues that matter most to them and their priorities for the county’s future development. Results will help to guide future discussions surrounding the mater plan update. To fill out the survey, visit navigateyourroutt.com.
This is the one of many opportunities for people to get involved in the master plan process. The Board of Routt County Commissioners offers a public comment period during the start of its Tuesday meetings at the historic Routt County Courthouse. There also will be future meetings and outreach as the process continues.
For a more creative way to get involved in the master plan process, residents can participate in a photo contest organized by county officials. Residents are encouraged to showcase photographs that capture the character of the area, including its rural lifestyle, outdoor recreation, family life, agriculture, natural landscapes and wildlife. Winning photos will get a spot in the finalized plan, which is slated for adoption in August 2021.
The deadline to submit photos is Feb. 28. Details are at co.routt.co.us/CivicAlerts.aspx?AID=280.
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