Thinking inside the box
City Council revising requirements for new 'big-box' retail stores
December 10, 2006
Steamboat Springs — City officials are divided about how to revise building requirements for large commercial developments, including “big-box” retail stores.
The Steamboat Springs City Council is in the middle of a lively, multi-week discussion about the potential merits and dangers of revisions to the city’s Planned Unit Development regulations. The regulations apply to development projects that seek variances to city building codes, and currently, to any commercial development of more than 12,000 square feet.
City planning staff say PUD regulations are intended to “encourage innovative site planning and : achieve a more desirable environment,” but that innovation comes with a price. The PUD process involves tighter regulations and higher standards for developers, which can lead to higher building costs and, some council members say, disincentives to build in Steamboat Springs.
“The reason we have PUDs is to supply flexibility and encourage innovation. But if you’re going to charge people for this, you’re going to discourage creative buildings,” council member Loui Antonucci said at a meeting Tuesday night. “There could be financial impacts where we hurt the people we’re trying to help.”
Other council members, such as City Council President Ken Brenner, say PUD regulations are vital to ensuring developers construct aesthetically pleasing, environmentally efficient buildings while also providing ample public benefits such as affordable housing contributions, land preservations, or local infrastructure improvements.
“You’re coming at this like PUD is a bad thing to do,” Brenner told Antonucci.
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“Well, you’re penalizing businesses,” Antonucci retorted. “Ask anybody downtown – local businesses are having a hard time. And we’re putting more of a financial burden on them.”
The revised regulations would apply only to new construction in Steamboat. Brian Berndt, assistant director of city planning, presented proposed revisions to the City Council.
“This gives us a negotiation tool to work with developers and require some public benefit,” Berndt said.
The Steamboat Springs Plan-ning Commission approved the revisions with a 6-0 vote Nov. 9.
The council approved a first reading of the revisions Tuesday with a 6-1 vote. Antonucci was the lone dissenter, and council member Paul Strong clarified that his ‘yes’ vote was primarily to move the process forward to a second and potentially final reading, scheduled for Dec. 19.
Between now and then, the council is wrestling with several issues that drew split votes Tuesday night.
By deciding how to amend the PUD regulations, and to which projects they should apply, the City Council is determining the future building environment for new commercial construction in Steamboat.
One or more?
Antonucci said his vote against the PUD revisions was based on a regulation applying the PUD process to any commercial building of more than 12,000 square feet, regardless of how many different tenants the building contains.
In other words, if a developer proposes a building for multiple commercial tenants that, combined, occupy more than 12,000 square feet of commercial space, PUD regulations would apply to the building.
Antonucci said only single-tenant buildings should be subject to PUD regulations, which he said are primarily intended to mitigate the impact of large, big box retail stores, rather than local businesses that could be housed in a new or proposed development in downtown Steamboat.
Brenner and cou-ncil members Susan Dellinger, Karen Post, Steve Ivancie and Towny Anderson voted in favor of a multi-tenant PUD application.
Strong voted against the multi-tenant regulation. Ander-son clarified his vote by saying a multi-tenant PUD regulation would make the most sense for buildings much larger than 12,000 square feet, and that in most cases, 12,000-square-foot, multi-tenant buildings should not be required to meet PUD regulations.
Antonucci agreed, saying 12,000 square feet “is not a big box by any stretch of the imagination.”
“Do we penalize people for being successful?” he asked.
The council also debated how to measure the size of a commercial development – by its “footprint” (square footage on the ground level) or by the total floor space in a multi-story building.
Berndt said the Sports Authority building in Wildhorse Marketplace, for example, has a footprint of about 10,000 square feet but a total floor space of about 20,000 square feet.
The council voted 4-3 in favor of measuring by total square footage. The vote was cast with the same split as the multi-tenant vote, except with Anderson voting ‘no.’
Development consultant Peter Patten of Patten Assoc-iates, the clients of which are building Steamboat projects including One Steamboat Place and Wildhorse Meadows, disagreed with a multi-tenant policy and said 20,000 square feet is a more appropriate size for PUD requirements.
“With the way the ordinance is now, you would have a lot of unintended consequences,” Patten said. “You guys want to encourage me to be creative. Don’t tie my hands, and don’t make my clients look at this (regulation) and say, ‘We want no part of this.'”
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