Steamboat Planning Commission will have power to grant final approval on certain developments in 2020 |

Steamboat Planning Commission will have power to grant final approval on certain developments in 2020

Public can appeal those decisions to have them heard at City Council

As officials project the coronavirus pandemic to take a major toll on public budgets, Steamboat Springs and Routt County are preparing to make cuts, predominately in operations and payroll.
Scott Franz

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — You’ll probably start seeing more yellow “Development Proposal Under Review” signs in Steamboat Springs, but it’s not because the number of new projects are expected to sky rocket.

Under a new ordinance, the Steamboat Springs Planning Commission will be allowed to approve certain development applications in the city, which has the city Planning and Community Development Department more focused on outreach.

“The goal is to let the public know sooner at the beginning of the process that there’s a development proposal on that property,” Planning and Community Development Director Rebecca Bessey said. “(It will) give them more time to contact the planning department, to look at the current projects map, learn about the project, ask questions (and) provide feedback.”

That includes more yellow signs. Bessey said the department is looking to change city code to require developers to place that yellow sign sooner, within seven days of submitting an application, instead of 10 days before it goes to public hearing.

Giving planning commission more authority

Currently, the Planning Commission serves as an advisory board to Steamboat Springs City Council. Applications that require a public hearing would see one hearing from the commission, in which the group would vote to recommend approval or denial of the development, then one or two more hearings at City Council, which grants the final decision.

Now, for four types of applications, the Planning Commission has the authority to make the final decision. Within 10 calendar days from the date of the decision, the public or City Council members can request to have the application heard at City Council. 

The new rule will be in effect for the Jan. 9, 2020, Planning Commission meeting.

“It was really a matter of trying to streamline the process with a goal of a predictable process and eliminating duplicative hearings,” Bessey said.

She said the decision came out of the Housing Steering Committee recommendation.

To appeal a decision, a member of the public must submit an application to appeal the decision to the planning department.   

“In that, they’re required to note how they think that the Planning Commission erred in making their decision, so what standards or what criteria for approval do they think Planning Commission applied inappropriately,” Bessey said.

Once submitted, the appealed application would go before City Council at its next available meeting.

There is a $500 fee to appeal other similar planning decisions, including Board of Adjustment and administrative decisions. A fee for the planning commission appeal has not been set yet.

What kind of developments would this apply to?

The new rule takes effect Jan. 1, 2020, and it applies to:

  • Conceptual development plans without variances
  • Development plans without variances
  • Conditional use applications
  • Preliminary plats without variances

That means any project that requests a variance — those that don’t meet city zoning code to a tee — will still be required to go before council, Bessey said.

Only development plans applying for structures larger than 16,000 square feet in floor area go to public hearing. Development plans for projects that are smaller than 16,000 square feet can be approved administratively.

“Oftentimes, those larger developments are the ones that include some variance requests, and so, those would still go on the council,” Bessey said. “However, we are hoping that this change may incentivize applications to come through without variance requests. We’ll have to wait and see if that really plays out.”

The city typically sees conditional use applications when a site is already developed, but the use coming into a site requires conditional approval, such as private marijuana grows in areas zoned for industrial development, Bessey explained.

Lots have to be platted to be submitted later as part of a development application. Several lots in the city are still unplatted, but preliminary plats could also be filed as part of the process to build a subdivision, Bessey said.

Between January and the end of November this year, 26 of the 68 development applications would’ve been impacted by the new rule, according to Bessey. That’s about 38% of the applications that went before the Planning Commission and City Council. The planning department reviewed 209 decisions administratively over the same time, which includes smaller development plans without variances as well as items that don’t require public notice, such as sign permits.

Learning more about where someone wants to build what

In addition to having the yellow signs up sooner, the Planning Department aims to use social media to make people more aware of what’s on the Planning Commission agenda and what decisions the commission makes, Bessey said.

Planning Commission agendas are available online about a week before the meeting at On the same website, the public can livestream meetings as they happen and watch meetings that have already taken place.

The city also has an interactive map of all projects currently proposed, which includes information about the applicant, the project that’s proposed and where it’s at in the process at  

“(We’re) just trying to get the public to become more accustomed to attending Planning Commission, knowing that there’s decisions being made there,” Bessey said. “I think, oftentimes, under the current process, concerned neighbors and the public don’t always come to Planning Commission. They skip that opportunity to provide comment, and they just wait till the City Council hearing.”

To reach Eleanor Hasenbeck, call 970-871-4210, email or follow her on Twitter @elHasenbeck.

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