Ski Time Square improvements won’t happen this year as Steamboat Springs, Alterra clash over easements

Steamboat Springs City Council directed staff to continue talks with Alterra Mountain Co. to secure easements, setting a deadline for a deal of May 2

A conceptual drawing of Ski Time Square Drive after improvements and redevelopment. The planners that worked on the Mountain Area Master Plan envision the potential for activating the ground floors of nearby structures for commercial use. Improvements to the area's streetscape are also depicted.
City of Steamboat Springs/Courtesy photo

Redevelopment of Ski Time Square Drive near the base of Steamboat Resort will be delayed at least a year after Alterra Mountain Co. and Steamboat Springs failed to come to an agreement over easements needed for construction.

The easements in question are on the south side of Ski Time Square Drive and include a 71-square-foot permanent easement as well as temporary construction easements on parcels owned by Alterra that used to be Thunderhead Lodge.

Because the city cannot legally take a project out to bid before easements have been secured, the project will remain delayed until the easements are in place or until it is redesigned to avoid Alterra-owned property.

Even if easements were secured immediately, Steamboat Springs Redevelopment Authority Project Manager Gates Gooding told City Council on Tuesday, March 22, that it is now too late to complete the six months of construction this year as initially planned.

“Easement negotiations with all other property owners were successfully included by late January. However, Alterra has yet to grant easements,” Gooding said. “Ongoing negotiation for these easements has now delayed the project beyond the point where it could reasonably be put out to bid and completed in its entirety in 2023.”

During public comment on Tuesday, Jim Schneider, vice president for Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp., which is owned by Alterra, said he was confident the two groups could come to an agreement.

“We’ve had a good public-private partnership on all of these projects and to date it’s been very collaborative,” Schneider said. “I think we’re really close … I think we can get there and we can get there quickly.”

This map depicts the street improvements planned on Ski Time Square Drive, which will now be pushed to 2024 after the city and Alterra Mountain Co. failed to come to an agreement over easements needed to bid out the project. The easements in question are on the bottom of the map on tracts D and F.
City of Steamboat Springs/Courtesy photo

Acting in its role as the Steamboat Springs Redevelopment Authority, City Council directed staff to continue negotiations with Alterra, setting a deadline to have a deal by May 2. If reached, the agreement would be presented to council May 16.

One proposal from Alterra was for the city to pay $150,000 for these easements with that money being set aside for a snowmelt system on public sidewalks that would be added when the company eventually develops the two parcels in question.

While the Urban Renewal Authority Advisory Committee — a group that makes recommendations to City Council about projects within the boundaries of the Urban Renewal Authority — unanimously recommended accepting Alterra’s offer, city staff recommended against that move. Council members also indicated they were not interested in including any payment to Alterra for these easements.

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“I don’t support any sort of payment to Alterra,” council member Gail Garey said.

“I agree with you, Gail. I have no appetite for payment,” council member Heather Sloop added.

After city staff told Alterra that they did not recommend accepting a cash offer, the company pitched future payments or relief from the city’s development code in exchange for the easements, which also did not sit well with staff.

“While staff later made further efforts to convince Alterra that the Ski Time Square Drive project is in their own interest and would result in improvements to their property, Alterra concluded that they are not willing to sign easement agreements without direct compensation and subsequently ceased negotiations,” Gooding wrote in a project update.

Another wrinkle in the project’s delay is snowmelt systems that are planned to be part of sidewalks near the Torian Plum and Kutuk developments, which are a condition of them granting easements for the project.

As planned, these snowmelt systems would be fueled by natural gas, which goes against the Routt County Climate Action Plan approved by the city and other local governments in 2021. In December, City Council directed staff to explore alternatives that would not burn fossil fuels.

Gooding said alternatives like geothermal or waste-heat capture systems were not viable, and going all-electric would add $150,000 to $200,000 to the capital investment in these systems. Natural gas and electric would have similar operating costs, though electric requires an additional $5,000 fee per property.

Another factor involved is that the city intends to adopt the 2021 energy codes in the next year, which take steps to limit the use of fossil fuels for outdoor applications. Because the project has been pushed back at least a year, Steamboat Springs Public Works Director Jon Snyder said the city may need to renegotiate the easements at that time to accommodate electric systems.

But leaders at the two properties remain skeptical of any alternative to natural gas, saying that they are unproven.

“Torian Plum, along with our neighboring properties, insist that a reliable, affordable and most importantly maintainable snow melt system be installed,” said Donn Lewis, president of the Torian Plum Homeowners Association, during public comment. “Only natural gas meets these requirements today. Any other solution would not be acceptable.”

Paul Bony, energy and transportation director with the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council, told City Council he was there to speak on behalf of the climate action plan that they had endorsed.

“Quit burning natural gas for snowmelt,” Bony said. “One square foot of snow melt is going to generate 12 pounds of carbon per year for 30 or 40 years. … I would encourage you to follow the (Climate Action Plan).”

A majority of City Council directed staff to continue forward with the currently agreed upon easements with Torian Plum and Kutuk, and if policy changes before the project breaks ground, then they would need to renegotiate.

“Keep it at a policy level,” council President Robin Crossan said. “If a policy changes, then the negotiation would have to change.”

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