Steamboat’s downtown plan calls for better historic preservation, different uses for retail space

Editor’s note: This story is the first of a two-part series about Steamboat’s downtown plan. Check Wednesday to learn more about recommendations regarding parking, transit, downtown character and the implementation of the plan.

The Steamboat Springs City Council is accepting public comment on the future of downtown. (File photo by Scott Franz)

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — If you have something to say about downtown parking, historic buildings, bike lanes, crosswalks or anything related to Steamboat Springs’ downtown corridor, the city wants to hear from you.

The city is accepting public comment on a draft downtown plan that, once finalized, will be used to guide changes to city code and infrastructure. The document contains a number of recommendations that tackle everything from downtown parking to the shape of new buildings.

The Steamboat Planning Commission will host a public work session on the plan during a meeting that starts at 5 p.m. Oct. 11 in Centennial Hall. The downtown plan is the third item on the agenda.


What: Steamboat Planning Commission public hearing and work session

When: 5 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 11

Where: Citizens meeting room in Centennial Hall, 124 10th St.

If you can’t attend the meeting, you can also submit public comment by visiting

To view a live stream of the meeting and a recorded video after the meeting, visit, click “Agendas” and locate Thursday’s planning meeting.

Former city planning director Tyler Gibbs is serving as a consultant to develop the final downtown plan. He said items like parking, building setbacks and the height of structures kept coming up in discussions about development downtown.

“All of these are the kind of questions that, when you see them coming up again and again and again, you go ‘We really need to have a comprehensive community discussion about these things,’” Gibbs said.

Ultimately, zoning code is developed from long-term plans created with community input, he added. The plan was developed out of community meetings and an online survey, which received more than 600 individual responses.

The plan makes several recommendations, all of which would undergo additional public process before being implemented. There are four elements of the plan — land use and zoning; connectivity, parking and mobility; art, culture and heritage; and character of the built environment.

“What we heard right away about what people value downtown is local businesses — the importance of local businesses,” Gibbs said. “That really falls into this broad discussion of character … Character isn’t just historic buildings and beautiful views to the mountains — those were mentioned as well, but it’s also people.

“It’s the uniqueness of our local businesses and the fact that the businesses are our businesses,” Gibbs continued. “They serve locals as well as visitors, so that was very important to people that we maintain local businesses downtown.”

Courtesy of the city of Steamboat Springs

Land use and zoning

Among the recommendations are several that would impact the architecture and use of structures downtown.

One would recommend more non-retail uses of ground floor space outside of the downtown core. On Lincoln Avenue and Yampa Street, the plan recommends keeping current codes that require ground floor spaces be dedicated to retail stores, restaurants and institutional uses between Fifth and 10th Streets.

Outside of these spaces, the plan recommends broadening the code to allow offices and residential use.

“Our market is not large enough or strong enough to fill every storefront from one end of downtown to the other with retail,” Gibbs said. “So, I think we’ll probably look at our zoning requirements again and decide whether we should allow a greater variety of ground floor uses in some areas of downtown.”

One of these uses could be additional diverse housing for locals, which could provide a consistent stream of customers to downtown businesses and year-round “lights on” in residential units. Gibbs said this type of development would have to be a product that made sense to locals.

Oak Street was identified as another possible location for diversified locals housing.

As for shape of buildings, the plan recommends changing a requirement that the third floor of downtown buildings is set back. Gibbs said the city doesn’t want to “inadvertently mandate buildings that have a wedding cake shape,” as community input revealed concerns that the current code would create buildings that look too similar when buildings downtown are redeveloped.

The plan recommended maintaining current building height codes. Most buildings downtown are already shorter than what the code allows, according to the draft plan.

Art, culture and heritage

“The character of the historic buildings is hugely important to folks,” Gibbs said.

From approximately Fifth to 11th streets, Lincoln Avenue is a historic district designated on the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places. These blocks contain several historic buildings, including buildings that have been standing since the late 1800s, such as the Cantina at 818 Lincoln, Allen’s at 828 Lincoln and the Springs Drug Store building at 911 Lincoln.

To preserve these buildings, the draft plan recommends requiring developers, property owners and building occupants to comply with the Park Service’s historic preservation guidelines. Currently, these groups are advised to work within preservation guidelines intended to maintain a building’s historic form and features.

“One of the things that the plan recommends is actually strengthening the protection of those historic buildings, at the same time recognizing that we will have new development, and that new development should be complementary to the historic character of our downtown,” Gibbs said.

This means the buildings should complement the scale, height and building materials of Steamboat’s historic buildings, Gibbs said. New development, according to the plan, should also preserve downtown access to the Yampa River and views of Howelsen Hill, the Sleeping Giant and Mount Werner.

The plan also recommends beautifying more alleys and other spaces downtown with murals and other public art on both public and private property.

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

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