Friday, March 14, 2008

Opinion - Paul Hughes: A managing vote

Sunday, February 24, 2008 - Steambaot Pilot & TODAY

Steamboat Springs — Last week, I listened by phone to the City Council discussion of a growth management tool called concurrency management. At the end of that discussion, a surprisingly timid council decided not to pursue concurrency management. I wish council would reconsider, and here’s why.

Concurrency management means that adopted level-of-service standards must not be degraded by the impacts of a proposed development. Put another way, concurrency management says “if your proposed development is going to hurt our services, facilities or infrastructure, then you have to fix them.” Some facilities and services that a community might designate as requiring concurrency are streets, water, sewer, drainage, parks and recreation, schools, police, fire, etc. The city must calculate the existing levels of service based on data and analysis. It can’t make the developer raise a level of service, but it can require that the developer not make the level of service any worse. And — most importantly — the analysis of a development’s impacts must be scientific, not arbitrary.

Right now, Steamboat Springs does not have in place any system or program for accurately assessing the probable impacts of growth or for calculating the fair costs of mitigating those impacts — the all-important “rational nexus.” A few years ago, we tried impact fees, but a couple of Realtors threatened to sue the city, so council caved in and repealed the impact fees in favor of an excise tax on construction. But any resemblance between those excise tax revenues and the actual costs of serving development is purely coincidental. The fact is, Steamboat is currently defenseless against growth that could cost all of us a lot of money down the road.

Much attention is being paid to the development of Steamboat 700, and that’s good. But Steamboat 700 will be easy to manage compared with the growth that is taking place now inside city limits. The annexation agreement that the city will negotiate with that developer should provide good information about its impacts, as well as the funds or measures needed to accommodate it. But we don’t have that same ability to deal with all of the other growth that’s already happening and which will have a cumulative effect that could turn out to be a very unpleasant surprise. Concurrency management is a tool that can help keep our quality of life from eroding, one house, duplex or business at a time.

The council discussion that I heard concluded that concurrency management is too expensive, too complicated and that there are other tools that could do the job just as well. Yes, concurrency management costs money to put in place, but it will cost us much more to continue doing nothing. Yes, it takes time and attention to update the levels of service from time to time, but shouldn’t we be doing that anyway? I know for a fact that we already track our water and sewer capacity, the condition of our streets, the number and type of police and fire calls and so on. As to the “other tools” that we can use, I repeat: We do not now have any adequate system or program in place. What other tools?

Concurrency management is not new. Several states and many cities and counties have required it for years. It works, it’s fair, and it’s easily understandable by all. If City Council and city staff have alternatives that will work just as well, I’m all for that. But I have to ask: If not concurrency management, what? If not now, when?

Paul Hughes

Steamboat Springs