Friday, January 25, 2008

Our View: City, 700 Taking Right Approach

Our View: City, 700 taking right approach
Sunday, January 20, 2008

Editorial Board, Steamboat Pilot/TODAY
September 2007 through January 2008
Bryna Larsen, publisher
Brent Boyer, editor
Mike Lawrence, city editor
Tom Ross, reporter
Chan Coyle, community representative
Lynn Abbott, community representative

Steamboat Springs — It’s hard not to be encouraged by the early stages of the proposed Steamboat 700 development, and if last week’s Steamboat Springs City Council meeting is any indication, we think there is a strong possibility for the development to proceed in an expeditious manner that proves beneficial to the community and the developers.

Steamboat 700 project manager Danny Mulcahy and some of his consultants appeared before the council Tuesday for their first major public presentation of a development that could bring 2,000 homes to Steamboat Springs during the next 20 years.

We, like many community members, are pleased with what we see so far. But a potentially contentious annexation process stands in the way. We hope that process is one that results in substantial community benefit while also allowing the developers to carry out plans that include construction of a variety of attainable homes for Steamboat residents.

Plans for Steamboat 700 were born in March, when developers closed on the 540-acre Brown parcel for $25 million. The land represents about 85 percent of the property in the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan, or WSSAP. The development group, led by Mulcahy, also closed on an adjoining 160-acre parcel.

For years, the Brown property had been considered by city and county officials the ideal site for large-scale residential development. The WSSAP was written precisely to guide that development. When the sale was completed last spring, it brought cautious optimism that Steamboat would soon see the type of housing it needs the most — a mix of attainable single-family homes, condominiums and apartments.

Those homes are still several years from fruition, if not longer. Steamboat 700’s draft proposal calls for the construction of more than 2,000 homes throughout a 20-year period. Included in the detailed plans are 221 acres of open space, more than 10 miles of trails and enhancements to wetlands and riparian corridors. It’s likely Steamboat 700 would include a commercial core that, ideally, could house a grocery store, post office and other essential businesses and services.

But none of it will move forward until the Steamboat Springs City Council annexes the massive development. Mulcahy hopes the annexation process is completed this year so site grading and infrastructure work can begin in 2009, and home construction can commence in 2010.

We got our first glimpse of how the annexation process may proceed during last week’s City Council meeting, and we were encouraged by the responses from both sides. While Mulcahy and his team have been fine-tuning their message and development plans, city officials are preparing for an annexation process that will be critical to the future of the entire city, not just development west of town.

As city planning services manager John Eastman said, “There’s parts of this annexation that are new to all of us. We need to bring some people in to educate us.”

The city has only one shot to do it right. The annexation agreement must be beneficial to the community and also mitigate the impact the development will have on city services and budgets. Transportation issues along the U.S. Highway 40 corridor into downtown also are a primary concern.

Mulcahy has exhibited a commitment to openness and public input from the beginning, and that should be commended. This, of course, ultimately is a money-making venture for Mulcahy and his partners, but their vision for Steamboat 700 is one that closely matches what the community has said it wants from development west of the city.

If the annexation process is executed responsibly, that’s exactly what the community will get.