Steamboat's new downtown plan sets goals for housing, parking, zoning |

Steamboat’s new downtown plan sets goals for housing, parking, zoning

Sleeping Giant makes the perfect backdrop for a busy downtown Steamboat Springs. (File photo by John F. Russell)
John F. Russell

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — The city’s new downtown plan aims to guide development and improvements to Steamboat Spring’s downtown core while maintaining its character.

Steamboat Springs City Council unanimously approved the plan by resolution at its Tuesday night meeting. 

“The common theme that you’ll see throughout the plan is the preservation of our downtown character,” city Planning and Community Development Director Rebecca Bessey told City Council on Tuesday. “When we talk about character, we’re talking about both historic fabric of our downtown, the build environment, as well as the opportunities for our locals to live, work and play in our downtown. I think it’s really important that people influence character just as much as our built environment.”

Tyler Gibbs, former city planning director, stayed on the project as a consultant for the city. He explained that character includes the historic buildings, views and connections to open space and the Yampa River, but it also includes the businesses downtown, the bulk of which are locally owned and operated. That’s why some strategies outlined in the plan address human elements of downtown.

The downtown plan will be used to guide decision-making and ensure city zoning code reflects what the community values, Gibbs said. It identifies more than 70 specific strategies to meet goals in four categories: land use and zoning; connectivity, parking and mobility; art, culture and heritage; and the character of built environment.

Bessey said in the council meeting that recent developments have sparked debate over building heights, pedestrian and cyclist safety, open space and affordable housing. With new partners emerging as possible advocates for Steamboat’s downtown and the implementation of a downtown improvement plan, the time was ripe to complete a new plan, she told City Council.

The city’s development codes outline the rules of how land is used and built on, and Gibbs said the downtown plan can help guide code changes to match what the community values.

For example, City Council’s recent decision on a Marriott Residence Inn on Pine Grove Road was based on a zoning code that was put in place in 1989, if not before then, Gibbs said. Though the area was zoned for a building of that size and use, it resulted in public outcry.

“That was probably based on some planning that was done at the time,” he said. “That’s why it’s important to update plans on a regular basis. We hadn’t done a plan since 1999, and we found some places where our code is probably not in sync with the community’s vision.”

Keeping up this character will also require new developments downtown to blend in with historic structures. One of the goals hopes to integrate redevelopment to adjacent historic structures through architecture and design that blends in with Steamboat’s historic downtown district. Gibbs said many wanted to see a strong preservation ethic and development code in the community.

“By my rough estimate, I think about 40% of the properties downtown might be considered historic buildings, but there’s also a significant part of downtown — and I think this is something that a lot of people don’t realize — there’s a significant amount of development or redevelopment potential downtown,” Gibbs said. “Making sure that we have strong guidance for how those properties redevelop and that they will redevelop in a way that reinforces that character — that’s so important to everybody.”

Many of the older buildings in downtown Steamboat don’t have parking adjacent to them — the oldest buildings are built to the edge of their lots. Any new development in the downtown area is required to provide parking sufficient for their needs, Gibbs said.

The working group and consultants that developed the plan explored several options for parking in downtown Steamboat, Gibbs said. A parking garage isn’t feasible due to a cost of nearly $45,000 for a space.

The plan does recommend a few other options, including expanding time-limited parking to seven days a week, adding more 2- and 4-hour time-limited spaces in the core area and increasing enforcement of that time limit. The plan also suggests exploring metered parking on Lincoln Avenue and Yampa and Oak streets and adjusting the Steamboat Springs Transit schedule to carry service industry employees working the late-night shift.

To learn more about the downtown plan, visit To watch City Council’s discussion on the plan, visit

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

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