UNDER THE SUN
The view from here
September 1, 2001
Steamboat Springs — Boil the county’s skyline regulation proposal down and you have a decision between putting faith in future property owners to make the right choice or taking a right away to make a choice. Unfortunately, if the past can teach us anything, every person won’t do the “right thing” if there isn’t a law to force them to do it. Not choosing to implement some sort of control will result in skyline building and too much of that will be a liability to the community. That’s not worth protecting a property right principle that already has been lost in the county.
The county, responding to public comment in community development plans, is proposing a regulation to stop property owners from building in the skyline, as seen from some of the most driven roads in the county.
If you’ve ever made a trip to the I-70 corridor, especially the Vail Valley, you’ll know why the issue came up. Despite the fact that it affects the visual beauty, houses in the skyline are annoying and are a sign that growth has had a negative impact on an area.
In the hours of public meetings I’ve sat through on this subject, no one has stood up to explain the virtues of building in the skyline.
The primary argument by property owners who spoke against skyline regulations Thursday night in the joint County Commission/County Planning Commission meeting, is that the county has no right to tell people what they can and can’t do on their land.
That is a noble and correct take on the issue, but the argument to protect that private property principle already is lost. The door between the government and private property rights is wide open; skyline regulations are just blowing in with the wind.
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The door opened the ’70s, when the county listened to similar public concern about government control on land and then implemented zoning laws.
After researching some of the history of that time, I believe a reason the county wanted to implement those laws was because out-of-state “white-shoed” land developers were buying land in the county and not making decisions that would benefit the community in the long run.
It protected the community against the negative effects of growth, such as bad developments that impact property value. Opening that proverbial door was the price for protection because property rights only go so far when protecting the community and the land it owns.
Our situation is unique in Routt County. Thanks to a resort economy, we experience growth all the time.
Even in the recession in the ’80s, when most communities in Colorado were shrinking, portions of the county in and around Steamboat Springs grew, according to the census data. Today, much of our growth comes from second and third home owners who won’t live in our community more than a few months out of the year and aren’t aware of the possible impacts their homes may have.
The fact is, some people are going to build in the skyline if the Routt County Commissioners don’t put responsible regulations in place to stop it. Too many skyline buildings will be a liability to the community.
Bad developments in Steamboat’s past and skyline building on I-70 is proof it will happen.
Reaffirming the importance of private property rights is important, but the decision to sacrifice that for protection against growth already has been made. Implementing skyline regulations is a benefit of that sacrifice.