Steamboat Planning Commission favors extending worker housing at downtown motel through April 2016
New rental units on horizon?
City of Steamboat Springs Planning Director Tyler Gibbs told members of Planning Commission Thursday night that he recently has had several informal conversations with developers regarding multiple rental apartment building developments on sites close to U.S. Highway 40 and stretching from the west side of town all the way to the south side.
Steamboat Springs — The city of Steamboat Springs Planning Commission voted 5-0 Thursday night to recommend allowing the owners of the Alpiner Motel to continue operating as a place for long-term workforce housing through April 2016. That’s provided they can meet any building code and fire safety issues.
The Alpiner, located in Steamboat’s historic retail and restaurant district on Lincoln Avenue, has been housing housekeeping staff for a large condominium management company, Resort Group, this winter.
In a memo to Planning Commission sent before the meeting, Principal Planner Rebecca Bessey wrote that her analysis of the use of the Alpiner as a “dormitory,” with its shared kitchen and long-term rentals, was inconsistent with zoning codes in the downtown commercial district. However, she began Thursday’s meeting by telling Planning Commission that she had changed her original recommendation that the Alpiner be given a conditional permit to continue long-term rentals only through April 30 this year.
“I’ve revised my recommendation,” to allow the Alpiner to continue as workforce housing “through April 30, 2016,” provided the owners are able to meet building department and fire safety requirements, she said.
Prior to this winter, the Alpiner had not been in operation since 2013 but was approved by the city in October 2014 to reopen as a “lodge.” That approval allowed owners Jon Wade and Chris Paoli to rent no more than 20 rooms on a short-term basis. However, when the Resort Group was confronted late last fall with a sudden shortage of housing for its seasonal employees, it turned to the Alpiner, which agreed to a contract to house the workers through the end of ski season.
“We had an asset that just wasn’t being used,” Wade told Planning Commission, “We wanted to help the broader resort economy. I think we all wish we had understood how (city zoning) code should be applied a little better at the start. I assure you our intentions were always good.”
However, after planning staff became aware that the Alpiner was operating outside the bounds of its October permit and renting rooms on a long-term basis, a violation notice was sent to the owners seeking a response.
Resort Group President Mark Walker told Planning Commission that his company’s need to identify a new source of employee housing in late autumn 2014 was urgent.
“It was a large need to have housing this winter,” Walker said. “If this hadn’t occurred with this opportunity, I don’t know what the impacts on our guests would have been…we might have had employees living in other cities. We were down to the last hour and this opportunity for a property sitting empty in downtown Steamboat,” came up.
Walker added that because the tenants are members of his housekeeping staff, the rooms at the Alpiner are naturally well kept, and his management team is monitoring the property closely.
“We’re in it on a regular basis and keeping in touch with the neighbors,” Walker said. “It’s very important to us. It’s something that we desperately need.”
Planning Director Tyler Gibbs told Planning Commission his department was seeking assurances that the conditions placed on the Alpiner’s status were documented and understood, so that the city and the owners could work together to make it work.
“It was not a situation where we were ever opposed to this use per se,” he said. “We wanted to make sure everyone understood what we were doing.”
Planning Commissioner Charlie MacArthur said the current operation of the Alpiner was sensible when considered from the standpoint of meeting a community need.
“In the broader context of things, I don’t think there are too many people in the community who aren’t applauding a free-market solution to a rough rental market,” MacArthur said. “I applaud staff for looking through those lenses at this project.”
Commission Vice Chairwoman Kathi Meyer said she expects the Alpiner site will someday find a different use altogether.
“I would rather see a request (for) a temporary use than have a vacant building on main street,” she said. “We clearly have a huge need. But I would hope the long-term vision for this property is much bigger, and we look forward to having those discussions.”
The Alpiner’s status next goes to City Council for final approval or denial March 17.
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STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — After almost four years of providing service to the community as a standalone, full-service emergency department, Steamboat Emergency Center will end its operations April 30.