Steamboat explores relaxing zoning laws to allow for dorms in industrial, commercial zones

Steamboat Springs could allow the building of dormitories in industrial areas, such as the Copper Ridge area. l Steamboat Pilot & Today archive

In an effort to help address one aspect of Steamboat’s worker shortage and affordable housing crisis, Steamboat Spring Planning Commission and staff are exploring amending the city’s code to allow for dormitory housing in the industrial, commercial old town and commercial services zones.

The industrial district resides on the west side of town — with most of it near 13th Street, Copper Ridge and Elk River Road. The commercial old town and commercial services districts include much of the downtown and Old Town areas.

Planning Commission held a non-vote work session Monday to discuss the matter, so no decisions have been made, but commissioners agreed dormitories should primarily be built by employers looking to house their own employees.

In the industrial district, specifically, commissioners agreed to require dormitories to be within 600 feet of a business. City Manager Gary Suiter and Steamboat Springs City Council member Michael Buccino — who sit on the city’s affordable housing subcommittee, which first discussed the idea — said the distance requirement is to ensure the industrial districts stay within their intended usages.

“I think it has to be carefully and thoughtfully done; otherwise, you start mixing those land issues, and it can create social issues and social problems,” Suiter said. “If you have people living close to a construction yard, and you have kids playing around there, you’re going to get complaints, and there could be safety issues.”

Though the Copper Ridge area has several live-work units, Buccino said dormitories in industrial zones should come on a conditional-use basis with a compelling reason from an employer, rather than a by-right usage where developers can build housing without explicit permission from the city.

“We need housing for our bus drivers, so having a small dorm behind the bus barn works well when you’re housing the people that start their work shift there,” Buccino said. “But I do want to avoid having a lot of residents in an industrial zone.”

In addition to noise complaints, which could come with living near a factory or other industrial business, Buccino said having children playing outside in an industrial area could also present public safety issues.

“When you have an industrial zone, inherently, you’re going to have dump trucks and work trucks, and not a lot of industrial zones have sidewalks,” Buccino said. “It’s more about mixing the uses without having the right infrastructure.”

The Steamboat Springs Community Development Code defines a dormitory as a residential facility that is designed specifically for housing more than five unrelated persons in sleeping rooms with private or shared sanitation facilities and shared kitchen facilities

Planning Commission Chair Brian Adams said the option would exist primarily to help employers staff their businesses back to full capacity.

“You hear stories in town that places want to hire, but their employees can’t afford housing,” Adams said. “It’s a cheaper way to build than building individual condos.”

Though the ordinance as currently written would require dorms in the industrial district to be located near an employer, it would not require the same for the commercial old town and commercial services zones.

“The downtown and industrial areas are not areas that should be dedicated entirely to dorm usage, but they shouldn’t be excluded for it either,” Adams said. “We need to make sure that use criteria makes it appropriate in certain ways but doesn’t just allow dorms to be built everywhere.”

Senior Planner Toby Stauffer, who presented the idea to the Planning Commission, said land in the industrial districts is cheaper than that of most other city zone districts, so the city wants to ensure that most of it can continue being used for manufacturing and other industries.

“We’re not trying to fill up the industrial zones with dorms,” Stauffer said. “It’s just another option that’s possible to help with the affordable housing crisis.”

While the city hopes to open the option for dormitories to both employers and schools, Stauffer said staff anticipate employers — particularly larger employers, such as the city, UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center and Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp. — using the option more than a school would.

“Right now, a dorm use is not allowed in the industrial district or much of the community, so that’s the goal,” Stauffer said.

The decision comes after the city has identified that it plans to build dormitories for Steamboat Springs Transit drivers in the winter and Parks and Recreation employees in the summer.

Planning Commission will continue discussing the issue and will eventually make a recommendation to City Council, who will have the final say.

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