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Steamboat residents have chance to put their stamp on downtown vision

Aerial photos of downtown Steamboat Springs by Cedar Beauregard
Survey information: To fill out the survey and look at all the graphics and explanations of how downtown is currently situated for zoning, you can go to steamboatsprings.net and click on the “Downtown Survey” link or go to engagesteamboat.net and click on "Downtown Vision."

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — If you want to affect how downtown Steamboat Springs will feel, look or develop for years to come, you have until the end of the week to participate in a city survey that will get collect input from respondents.

Not only did residents Sonia and David Franzel participate in the survey, they made sure they attended the public workshop that was held last month to see how the city is handling any possible changes.

“I would be concerned about anything that takes away from the character of downtown,” said David Franzel, who permanently settled in Steamboat seven years ago with his wife after more than two decades as part-time residents.

“I love the concept of being able to see the river,” David said. “To be able to see down to the river from Lincoln and see that green space. Once the green space goes away, you never get it back.”

Wife, Sonia, who also serves as chairman of the Yampa River Botanic Park board, brings clients and visitors to Lincoln Avenue, knowing historical downtown and views of the surrounding mountains will charm even the most indifferent of individuals.

“It’s so quaint and beautiful, and people are friendly; the lights in the winter …” Sonia said.

But there is a caveat for her and many others.

“I try to pick up my clients, so they don’t have to suffer through the parking,” Sonia said.

Parking is one of the issues residents and city officials tend to disagree on.

Tyler Gibbs, director of planning and community development for the city, said the parking is there downtown but maybe not in the exact places where people want it. And if citizens bring up the idea of building parking structures in Steamboat, he reminds folks of what’s out there.

“They’re building a parking structure in Blackhawk that costs $46,000 a space to build,” he said.

But Gibbs agreed that the Franzels touch upon what many people are concerned about in the ongoing survey.

“Lots of people are commenting on maintaining character, strong support for local business, and we hear about preservation of views of Howelsen Hill and Sleeping Giant,” Gibbs said.

This is the first time in 18 years the city has worked on a new document to help guide the future of downtown.

Chris Dillenbeck, owner of the historic F.M. Light & Sons western shop, sits on the Downtown Plan working group. He encourages everyone to go online to take the city’s new survey and follow up at future public meetings that will focus on the plan for downtown.

“The biggest reason people should take the survey is the reaction to the 12th Street building they tried to put in,” said Dillenbeck, referring to a five-story development the city approved with several variances, only to be blocked by a lawsuit from one resident who called it a “college dorm.”

City Council had approved the new development at 1125 Lincoln Ave. with the hope it would help alleviate a housing shortage for young professionals. A pricey downtown market makes development difficult, thus the council’s argument for compromise.

But some things shouldn’t be compromised said Dillenbeck.

“It’s frustrating that you read these articles that we have to build this huge thing to make it work. If it doesn’t work, don’t buy it. If nobody buys it, the price will come down,” said Dillenbeck.

“If people want their voices heard, this is the chance to tell the city their priorities,” he said.

Jamie McQuade, owner of the iconic Winona’s café and bakery downtown, is afraid the only way to keep downtown quaint, yet viable, is some kind of compromise.

She sits on a small piece of property, one of the many charming storefronts visitors love.

“Our codes really are pushing downtown to build up,” McQuade explained. “You can literally have a building like mine paying as much property tax as a new building four stories high just because the land value is high.

“That encourages you to scrape off the building along with the historical part of Steamboat,” McQuade said.

She hopes the city looks at a possible tax break incentive for owners of places like hers, perhaps a “historical property annex.”

“I am all for the ‘vision,’ but we cannot put the brunt of the cost on the business owners,” McQuade said. “There are already so many taxes and costs. People have no idea.”

In the meantime, residents like the Franzels will stay on top of the city’s plans for downtown, remembering what drew the couple here in the first place.

“You felt you were walking in the steps of the people a hundred years ago. All that history,” Sonia said.

“That’s how we felt when we first came here,” added David. “I still love walking down the street (Lincoln). You feel relaxed. Safe. Not hectic.”


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