Steamboat City Council OKs large, controversial development in 4-3 vote
In a 4-3 decision on Tuesday, Aug. 23, Steamboat Springs City Council approved the Longview Highlands Development Plan, a 9.4-acre, 118-unit development on High Point Drive near McDonald’s.
More than two dozen residents showed up to protest what would be one of the largest privately developed housing projects in recent years. The project is across from the Emerald Park Soccer Fields and would create condominium units priced around $750,000, according to an estimate by the developer, Longview Village Inc.
The development plan was presented to City Council on Tuesday, so council members could decide on a skyline waiver and two variance requests from the developer.
Many of the residents who spoke out asked City Council to reject the developer’s requests in favor of a project that wouldn’t have as dramatic of an effect on the neighborhood or the city skyline.
“We believe that this project could move forward with no need for variances if (the developer) were willing to adjust the building to meet the code,” said Holly Weik, president of the Longview Park Townhomes Homeowners’ Association.
After Weik’s comments, the crowd clapped in support.
“We’re not going to do that,” said City Council President Robin Crossan to deafen the applause. “We’re going to let people speak and we’re going to move on.”
Essentially, the four-story project needed council’s approval to proceed because two of the buildings detailed in the blueprints are taller than city code allows. Also, the developer’s plan had too small of a percentage of window space.
The skyline requirements in the community development code were designed to protect the view of the mountains from significant vantage points around town. In this instance, U.S. Highway 40 was cited as the most significant viewpoint.
The variance requests were tabled during a City Council meeting on April 5. Since then, the developer has widened and added new windows to the design and moved a few of the buildings to try to reduce the impact to the skyline.
The Steamboat Springs Planning Commission approved the Longview Highlands development 6-1, and city staff recommended that council approve the variances as well because the project aligns with the development department’s goal of expanding low, moderate and median income housing.
City staff recommended approving the waiver and said the skyline impacts were minimal, nearby structures already disrupt the skyline and the adjacent Longview Park Townhomes received the same waiver.
“Because a variance was approved on a past project doesn’t mean it has to be approved on this project,” said Brad Stiff, a resident who argued that every project is different and should be treated as such.
Dan Foote, the city’s attorney, agreed with Stiff and advised council not to put too much weight on variance approvals for previous projects.
Several residents also said the developer has a bad reputation, but Foote advised council members that a developer’s reputation should not factor into their decisions on variance and waiver requests.
Traffic was also a concern for the residents, especially those who live in Longview Park Townhomes along Parkview Drive, a small triangular residential block that would share two access points with the development.
A commissioned traffic study suggested that existing roads could accommodate the influx of traffic the development would bring, but residents on Parkview Drive remained skeptical, saying their street would be the shortest route to access Longview Circle and Hilltop Parkway.
The developer had agreed to extend High Point Drive to connect with Longview Circle, creating a more direct access route that would circumvent Parkview Drive. The traffic study concluded that with the new road, there wouldn’t be a large enough increase in traffic on Parkview Drive to deny the development application.
Under an agreement with the developer, the city would convert High Point Drive, which connects U.S. Highway 40 to Longview Circle, from a private to public road, and the developer would repave it.
“I would argue that it’s probably the worst road in Steamboat,” Public Works Director John Snyder said in reference to High Point Drive.
The traffic report also included a recommendation from the Colorado Department of Transportation to eventually convert the intersection at U.S. 40 and High Point Drive to a three-quarter intersection, which would restrict left turns going into High Point Drive from the highway.
Council members asked many questions of city staff and Walter Magill of Four Points Surveying and Engineering, who spoke on behalf of the developer. Council member Joella West asked Magill what would happen to the development if the skyline waiver wasn’t granted.
“There’s no development,” Magill said. “It’s done. It’s taken us three years to get to here, so there’s no road, there’s no community housing. Does the owner put it up for sale? I don’t know.”
Weik said Magill’s statement was a false dichotomy and insisted there were other alternatives.
Prior to the final vote, council members Crossan, Michael Buccino and Heather Sloop spoke in support of the development, while West, Gail Garey and Ed Briones opposed it. Council member Dakotah McGinlay remained on the fence.
“This might not be affordable housing, but it can help supplement some of the housing that we need,” McGinlay said. “And I understand that with change comes sacrifice, and I see you all and your stories. I feel for you.”
When the vote was called, six of the seven council members cast their final decisions but McGinlay remained silent.
“You have to vote Dakotah,” Crossan said.
McGinlay took a few last moments, and then spoke into the microphone.
“Aye,” she said.
To reach Spencer Powell, call 970-871-4229 or email him at spowell@SteamboatPilot.com
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