Stretching the map
Durango extends city limits for high-density development
By Brandon Gee (Contact) - Reporter Steamboat Pilot & Today
Sunday, April 20, 2008
Steamboat Springs — Tim Zink will be the first to tell you: If you moved to Colorado for a five-acre lawn, Three Springs is not for you.
Zink is general manager of the 681-acre Durango development, which is being built under urban design principles commonly referred to as new urbanism, traditional neighborhood design or transit-oriented development. As a response to suburban sprawl, new urbanist neighborhoods are designed to be dense and pedestrian-friendly. They typically contain commercial districts, parks and other features that reduce the need for off-site automobile trips.
Traditional neighborhood design was a condition of Durango’s annexation of the Three Springs parcel southeast of the city. The city of Steamboat Springs expects the same design principles out of Steamboat 700, a 700-acre parcel west of city limits that has been planned for future growth but must first be annexed into city limits.
As Steamboat city officials address the challenges and opportunities presented by the potential annexation, municipalities across Colorado are tackling very similar issues. Minturn residents will vote May 20 on a proposed, 5,300-acre project on Battle Mountain. Smaller communities such as Hayden and Granby also are facing annexation issues.
The Three Springs development, which is nearly identical to Steamboat 700 in size and proposed uses, was annexed into Durango in 2004 and is beginning to take shape.
Urban design “It provides a character that this community finds attractive,” Steamboat Springs Planning Services Manager John Eastman said of traditional neighborhood design, comparing it to Old Town. “It’s a human-based character rather than an automobile-based character. … It incorporates the needs of a human without forcing them to get into an automobile. You can address a large portion of your daily needs as a pedestrian or a cyclist.”
Danny Mulcahy said if you accept two principles — one, that Steamboat is going to generate the need for 2,000 or 3,000 more homes in coming years, and two, that residents don’t like traffic — “then the best option is to plan west Steamboat as densely as possible so we’re not having this same conversation in 10 years.” “Transit goals won’t be met until there’s a critical mass of people out there to make it happen,” said Mulcahy, project manager for Steamboat 700.
Durango senior planner Tim McHarg, a former assistant planning director in
Steamboat, said Three Springs is unique because it is delivering many of the benefits of traditional neighborhood design up front. The annexation was tied to the construction of a new hospital, which is already open and providing an enormous employment base for the development. Additionally, the development’s main commercial district has already been built because the development’s owner, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, needed office space for itself and subsidiary companies.
“It’s good for the city, in the sense that it creates some critical mass out there,” McHarg said. “There’s some ‘there’ there. … Most traditional neighborhood developments really struggle to get that component up front.”
Eastman said Steamboat 700 likely will be built in the traditional manner, which he said is fine with the city since it is encouraging residential development to address its need for affordable housing. “That’s OK because our transportation issues really kick in to high gear when there’s a couple hundred homes out there, not a couple dozen,” Eastman said. “That’s not to say we’re not worried about the fiscal impacts of the proposal. We are looking at ways to at least be revenue-neutral. We’re not looking at it to be a revenue generator.”
Keen on green
Another customary component of traditional neighborhood design is sustainability.
Three Springs already has two commercial buildings that are certified by the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program, or LEED, and its homes are being built to Green Built Colorado standards.
“We want a sustainable urban fabric,” McHarg said. “Sustainability is a major, major component of what everyone is doing. If you don’t get that piece right, you’re completely throwing the baby out with the bath water.”
Eastman said Steamboat 700 has committed to sustainability efforts. A Steamboat 700 planning document shows compliance with a LEED pilot program for neighborhood development. Mulcahy has said a sustainability master plan is forthcoming.
Money under the dirt
From a conference room in Three Springs’ commercial core, the Mercado District, Zink looked out a window at graded but undeveloped land and described the past six-plus years.
“We basically had to prove our case that this was going to be a good thing for the city of Durango,” Zink said April 10. But that part of the process only takes Three Springs to 2004, when the Durango City Council approved its annexation and conceptual development plan. In the four years since, a lot of work has taken place, but it has only been in the last few months that Three Springs’ first residents have moved in.
“It took us a long time to get gas, water and other improvements installed,” Zink said, motioning toward the window. “You don’t understand the amount of money that’s underneath this dirt.”
Durango planning officials said the infrastructure process could have taken longer.
“In retrospect, I would have liked to lengthen the process out further,” said Greg Hoch, Durango’s planning director. “If I had the opportunity to do it again, I would.”
Hoch said he was under heavy political pressure from the Durango City Council and others to get the annexation done, primarily because of the hospital.
“It probably wouldn’t have gone as smoothly as it appeared to have been if not for the fact that it had a hospital,” Hoch said. “There was political pressure to recognize the importance of health care in our community and to help make this annexation happen. It was pretty clear to me that City Council wanted us to make this happen. I think the council certainly thought it was in the city’s best interests to effect this annexation.”
Other public benefits brought by Three Springs include the dedication of land for city parks and two schools, fire and police stations, a child care center and affordable housing.
Affordable housing has been cited as the primary reason for Steamboat Springs to annex Steamboat 700. Mulcahy has said he also will provide about 200 acres of open space and more than 10 miles of trails.
Mulcahy and Eastman said they have been in discussions with the Steamboat Springs School District about the project’s possible incorporation of a school. The district currently owns 35 acres adjacent to Steamboat 700. Eastman said the city would not its need for affordable housing be a pressure to approve the annexation quickly. “The city’s position has been, while we recognize the need for affordable housing, we have to take the time necessary to make sure the existing residents of Steamboat Springs are not inappropriately burdened,” he said.
Hoch’s advice to Steamboat officials is to “pay a lot of attention, slow it down, make sure you know all of your answers.” Once a city approves an annexation, it loses the biggest bargaining chip there is in negotiating with developers, Hoch and McHarg said. “What an annexation does is it allows a municipality to say ‘no’ for whatever reason,” Hoch said. “You can say ‘no’ to an annexation and not be subject to any lawsuit. A city can deny an annexation for any reason whatsoever.” In Durango, Hoch, the director of public works, the city attorney and a contracted consultant attorney were responsible for negotiating the Three Springs annexation.
“In retrospect, it definitely would have benefited the project as well as the process to have the city manager sit in,” Hoch said. “But our City Manager didn’t want to do it, and we let him know how often he should have been there after that meeting.”
Steamboat also has retained a consultant attorney who specializes in annexation. City Manager Alan Lanning scoffed at the notion that he wouldn’t be a part of the negotiation team.
Eastman said the ultimate decision about whether to annex Steamboat 700 will come down to one sentence in the city’s Community Development Code: “Taken as a whole, the advantages of the proposed annexation substantially outweigh the disadvantages to the community and neighboring land occasioned by the annexation.”
“We’ll accommodate growth if it’s done appropriately and it achieves the goatl of the community,” Eastman said. “It has to pass the test.”
END OF STEAMBOAT TODAY AND/OR STEAMBOAT PILOT ARTICLE (STEAMBOAT'S DAILY NEWSPAPER)
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