Steamboat City Council candidates for Districts 1, 2 talk local housing crisis, climate, diversity and more in election forum

Candidates for Steamboat Springs City Council include (clockwise from top left) Loui Antonucci, Joella West, Blair Picard, Gail Garey and David Baldinger Jr.
Dylan Anderson/Steamboat Pilot & Today

Editor’s note: This story discusses candidates from Districts 1 and 2 for Steamboat Springs City Council. Steamboat Pilot & Today will run stories about District 3 and at-large position candidates later this week.

Five candidates for Steamboat Springs City Council from Districts 1 and 2 — with two candidates seeking District 1 and three in District 2 — shared their opinions on what vision they saw for the city’s future Monday during the Steamboat Pilot & Today Election Forum.

On Nov. 2, Steamboat voters will have the option to vote for four candidates — one from each district and one person for the at-large position. All residents may vote for all districts, but candidates must live in the district they are running in.

Though they shared different solutions to the problem, both candidates for the District 1 seat — David Baldinger Jr. and Gail Garey — agreed a lack of affordable housing was the biggest issue facing the city.

“We need to provide for the future of the community, and without affordable housing, we can’t have families living in town,” Baldinger Jr. said. “It’s extremely important, and I think the City Council’s role will be to develop incentives and really expedite the planing and zoning process in West Steamboat especially.”

Garey agreed with Baldinger Jr. and pointed to short-term rentals as a cause of the city’s affordable housing crisis.

“We all know people who are losing their long-term rentals because they’re being turned over to short-term rentals, and we certainly know families that are in this community that are leaving, as well,” Garey said.

Both candidates emphasized the importance of expediting the annexation and development of the Brown Ranch, the property west of Steamboat formerly known as Steamboat 700, which the Yampa Valley Housing Authority has purchased.

As the current City Council has amped up its efforts to create a more diverse, inclusive and equitable city, Baldinger Jr. said he would like to take the foundation laid by current council and create tangible action to achieve goals around diversity, equity and inclusion.

“Communitywide, the greatest equalizer is people having equal opportunity to housing,” Baldinger Jr. said. “I think it’s a really important aspect that people who live here, work here and visit here are all in close proximity. That’s a big part of inclusionary practices.”

Garey said she believes the city should work to be welcome all visitors and locals, regardless of their gender identity, sexual orientation, race or age.

As for regulating short-term rentals, the current City Council has contracted with an enforcement agency to ensure short-term rental rules are being followed, a moratorium on applying for a vacation home rental permit is in place for all of the city — though it is set to expire Oct. 31 for certain communities in the mountain area — and the city’s planning commission is in the process of researching overlay zones where short-term rentals could potentially be restricted or outright prohibited.

Garey said she believed enforcement and registration were correct first steps to solving the short-term rental problem, but she hoped to look at more in-depth policy, though she did not specify whether she favored restriction, prohibition or other policies.

“We do have a housing problem, we also have a workforce problem, and a lot of the workforce problem is due to the shortage of housing, which I believe is directly tied to short-term rentals,” Garey said.

Baldinger Jr., who sits on the planning commission and opted to allow short-term rentals without needing a permit in much of the mountain and downtown areas, said he supports overlay zones in some areas of town but, ultimately, believes stricter enforcement of renters causing problems will solve the issue.

“In general, I think that we’re on the right track, and the key is going to be enforcement,” Baldinger Jr. said. “I think having an enforcement mechanism is going to really quell the fears of those that feel that they’re losing their community character.”

When asked about how he would decide when to step down when facing a conflict of interest, Baldinger Jr. said his time on the Planning Commission and other city boards has made the rules about conflicts of interest clear to him.

“In general, it is a small town; you’re going to have occasional conflicts of interest,” Baldinger Jr. said. “If it’s an obvious one where you have a business relationship with someone that’s an applicant, you self recuse; other times, you put it to a vote.”

Garey agreed with Baldinger Jr. and said she would treat each situation on a case-by-case basis.

“I have a small business, and I certainly am interested in making sure that we have a diverse economy,” Garey said.

Later during the forum, City Council candidates for District 2, including Joella West, Blair Picard and Loui Antonucci, discussed what each saw as their top three funding priorities.

Picard named housing, child care and environment as his top three items for funding, while Antonucci named transportation, climate change and additional trail systems, and West named transit, improvement in the existing bus service, child care and affordable housing.

Antonucci said he believed the joint climate action plan between the city and county was a great starting point for combating the climate crisis but wanted to take a closer look at specific options that can be funded, either with city money or grants from the state and federal governments.

“With this current administration, I think funds and grants will be available,” Antonucci said.

West also suggested continuing to move forward with implementing the laid out timeline of the climate action plan and suggested more emphasis on a regional transit authority between Steamboat and other municipalities in the Yampa Valley.

“My inclination is always to go with regional transit,” West said.

Picard suggested adding more walking and biking trails near the Brown Ranch, as well as extending Steamboat Springs Transit to the area.

“In a perfect world, there should be adequate bus service to take care of that prop; there should also be adequate walking and biking trails so people can choose to walk and bike to work when its possible,” Picard said.

When asked about expanding transportation service to the Sleeping Giant School and Brown Ranch development, West suggested expanding multiple different transit options to the future development, which she said would also help achieve the city’s climate goals.

“In a perfect world, there should be adequate bus service to take care of that property,” West said. “There should also be adequate walking and biking trails so that people can choose to walk to work or bike to work when it’s possible.”

Antonucci echoed West’s ideas and added he believes it’s important to work with Routt County and the future developers of the area to ensure residents plan to take the bus.

“The last thing we need is buses that are empty,” Antonucci said. “We also need to be providing trails for walking and biking.”

If elected, Picard said he hopes to work with Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. to implement more paid parking spots on the mountain.

“Free parking at ski resorts is becoming a dinosaur; charge for those spots,” Picard said. “Get people thinking about getting out of their cars again and use that money to promote e-bikes, walking, whatever.”

The three candidates shared different viewpoints when asked for their thoughts about building a downtown campus for a new City Hall and Steamboat Springs Fire Rescue station.

Antonucci felt the project was an unnecessary expense.

“Part of the tax issue is we have to control our spending and learn how to live within a budget,” Antonucci said “We need to put money where it needs to be.”

West, who formerly served as a volunteer emergency medical technician with North Routt Fire Rescue, said she thinks the department’s current location on Yampa Street is not large enough.

“I don’t love what the city is proposing right now, but what I think is that we need that fire station now, not 10 years from now,” West said.

Picard said he believed trust in government has declined over the past several years, and he hoped building a centrally-located government campus would help City Council feel more accessible to the community.

“It’s important to have our government represent something, and it’s a symbol,” Picard said. “Having that hall of government where you go there and you see that, that means a lot.”

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