Thunderhead redevelopment proposal draws large crowd
Centennial Hall packed for review of base area development
By Brandon Gee (Contact)
Friday, January 23, 2009
Steamboat Springs — People packed Centennial Hall on Thursday night for the Steamboat Springs Planning Commission’s review of the proposed Thunderhead project at the base of Steamboat Ski Area.
As of press time, Planning Commission still was in the thick of debating the project and had not taken a vote. Height variances, aesthetic issues, economic impacts and more were among the items that drew the large crowd of supporters and critics.
The Atira Group is redeveloping the former Ski Time Square and Thunderhead Lodge properties that it demolished last year. Atira has decided to submit separate development applications for the projects, with the 390,000-square-foot Thunderhead site coming first. The application anticipates 100 residential units averaging about 2,300 square feet, along with two restaurants and shops.
Atira requested several variances for the project including overall heights about 30 feet higher than the 73-foot maximum prescribed in the Community Development Code for the gondola two zone district. Atira also is requesting a five-year grace period instead of the standard three years before it must pull a building permit and plans to build a turnaround driveway in the city’s Ski Time Square Drive right of way.
City planners recommended approval of the project, saying the project’s public benefits correspond with its requested variances. Proposed benefits include a commitment to earn a silver certification from Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for green building practices in the construction of the two eight-story buildings; public amenities such as seating areas, restrooms and outdoor fireplaces; the gifting of space to Yampa Valley Medical Center to relocate its injured skier transport center; and economic sustainability in the form of short-term rentals.
Several in the audience and others who wrote letters, however, disagreed with city staff’s recommendation.
“I haven’t heard anything about why this height is necessary to achieve these goals,” said local attorney Ron Smith, who is representing homeowners in the Bronze Tree condominium building north of the proposed project. “Where is the public benefit that large?”
Bill Jameson was strongly opposed to allowing Atira to construct a driveway in the public right of way.
“Scale the building appropriately, and it doesn’t have to be in the public right of way. Move it back,” he said. “Don’t just give away public property. This is valuable property up there.”
City planner Jonathan Spence said the width of the city’s right of way on Ski Time Square Drive is excessive.
“The idea was that we were going to vacate portions of that right of way to allow for more interesting streetscapes,” Spence said.
While most residents who own condominiums near the proposed project wrote or spoke out against it, others were supportive. Thunderhead also received endorsements from business owners, other developers, a Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. executive and others.
“The project is a critical component for the overall plan for a renaissance at the base area,” said Chuck Porter, former general manager at the Sheraton Steamboat Resort. “It’s important to remember that high density was desired at the base.”
Planning Commission postponed a review of Thunderhead’s community housing plan to Feb. 8 because of the late hour.
Earlier Thursday, the Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval of a request from Trappeur’s Crossing to allow payment in lieu for six deed-restricted affordable housing units the development is finding difficult to sell, partly because of financing limitations the development faces as a “condo-tel.”
“We’ve hit a wall,” developer Michael Hurley said, “and we’re asking for a change.”
Hurley also asked that he be allowed to pay the fees — currently valued at $117,624 per unit — at the time of closing for each of the units rather than up-front. Interim Finance Director Bob Litzau prepared a memo raising concerns about the request, writing it would lead to more costs and risks for the city. Planning Commission unanimously voted to approve the request contingent on the developer and the Steamboat Springs City Council working out an acceptable plan.
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