Routt County restarts work on master plan |

Routt County restarts work on master plan

Routt County is restarting the master planning efforts it began in 2019, updating an over 15-year-old document that guides development in the county. (Photo by John F. Russell)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Routt County is restarting its master planning process after it was stalled by the COVID-19 pandemic in March of last year.

Work on the plan started in fall 2019, and the county was awarded a matching grant from the state to fund consulting work to update the plan for the first time in 15 years. A survey of residents was open until February 2020, and planning officials held the bulk of their community meetings in January of last year.

But more immediate needs arose, as commissioners had to mount a response to the pandemic, so developing the plan was put on hold. Now Commissioner Tim Corrigan said he is eager to get back to the plan.

But Commissioner Beth Melton questioned whether it was still too early to restart the process, worrying the pandemic would hinder the county’s ability to do the necessary community outreach to craft a plan.

“As long as we are still in the midst of this pandemic, it is hard to get people to think about anything else,” Melton said.

County Planning Director Kristy Winser said she shared Melton’s concern but devised the plan taking that into account, saving much of the public outreach parts for the latter half of 2021.

“I am confident that it is the right time to move forward,” Winser said. “I have spoken with a lot of community members about not kicking the can down the road.”

Winser said the plan is especially important because of the sheer number of people who are moving out of cities into rural areas.

“Particularly, with Routt County and the valley being very attractive for people to move here,” Winser said, “we’re already seeing where that development is happening, and I think that we do need to start having those conversations.”

Melton said regardless of the pandemic, the plan still needs to be updated, and she supported moving forward this year.

Similar plans have been undertaken by other governments during the pandemic. Hayden just approved its master plan last week, and Steamboat Springs is currently working on two plans, one for the city and one specifically for downtown, Winser said.

In November, a survey was sent out to residents to compare what they felt should go into a plan with what the county wanted.

“The intent of that was to just get a baseline temperature from the community to see how far off we may have been,” Winser said.

While the results are slightly outdated now, she was encouraged by the response with more than 900 residents participating in the survey. After that, commissioners were to have a joint meeting with the County Planning Commission last March, but that never happened.

“The intent was to get the scope of services and for us all to agree on the size of this update,” Winsor said. “Was it going to be a complete rewrite, just an update or a focused update?”

But worried about budgets and the economic implications of the pandemic, the master plan update was put on hold.

On Tuesday, Winser laid out a proposed timeline for the plan. In the next few months, the county will hire a consultant and have a joint meeting with the County Planning Commission.

The Planning Commission is technically the one that crafts the plan, but it needs to be approved by the Routt County Board of Commissioners.

The process will begin in July and end in May 2022 with the plan’s adoption. This will involve engaging the public through meetings focused specifically around land use. From there, a working draft will be created and molded by the Planning Commission and commissioners until they have a final draft.

Winser said she anticipates the county will have better outreach now around the plan as people are more familiar communicating virtually and may be more willing to join a Zoom meeting than they would be to attend a meeting in person.

The planning consultant the county hires could be a valuable asset for outreach, Winser said, as they have been finding creative ways to reach residents throughout the pandemic. The final adoption process could take about two months, Winser said.

“I do not feel this is a total rewrite, throw it out, start from scratch and build it up,” Winser said.

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