STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A hotel proposed for the western corner of 10th and Yampa streets received unanimous approval Tuesday night with one hefty condition of approval — the developer has to return to the Steamboat Springs City Council with more community benefits from the project.
Owner Scott Marr said he was extremely happy the project earned council’s OK.
“They want us to provide some kind of community benefit,” Marr said. “I’m going to work with the planning department to try to figure something out that makes sense, and there’s no discouragement because of that.”
Marr is seeking approval for a planned unit development to build a 55-room, boutique hotel. The three-story hotel would have an underground parking garage as well as some spots in a surface lot.
The Planning Commission approved the development application 4-3 on Sept. 26.
At around 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, five council members voted to approve the development after nearly an hour of presentations and discussion and 45 minutes of public comment. Three of those members expressed concern that as it stands, the development application didn’t meet criteria for approval as a planned unit development.
Council member Jason Lacy recused himself from the discussion, explaining Marr donated to his campaign for re-election. Council member Heather Sloop was absent from the meeting.
Many members of the community turned out for public comment. Nine commented in support of the project, and six commented against the project. Many of those in favor of the project said that an upscale hotel would fill an unmet lodging need in downtown. They also lauded Marr’s management of the Holiday Inn and said the proposed hotel would provide economic benefits to the downtown area.
Those opposed to the project worried approving the project as a planned unit development was allowing the development team to work around the code. There were also concerns raised that a planned unit development would set a bad precedent and the proposed building didn’t fit in with the character of Yampa Street.
In considering development applications, council acts as a quasi-judicial body, meaning it essentially acts as a judge, determining whether a project meets the specific criteria outlined in Steamboat’s Community Development Code.
Planned unit developments create a new zone district custom to the project being built. Planned unit developments can be used to build a project that is “superior in terms of community enhancement” to what the code allows on a specific property.
At first, it appeared the council might reject the application as one by one, council members Lisel Petis, Sonja Macys and Robin Crossan expressed concern that the project did not bring about enough community enhancement to meet the criteria for a planned unit development.
Marr, project architect Eric Smith and some public commenters argued in the meeting that the new hotel would bring economic benefit and drive pedestrian traffic as guests shop and eat downtown.
“This is something that’s going to be good for the city, and it’s going to be good for downtown,” Marr told Steamboat Pilot & Today. “It’s going to generate foot traffic on Yampa and Lincoln streets, and not only create business for the hotel itself, but create business for the restaurants and retail shops that are in the area. I just think it’s going to have an overall very positive impact on downtown.”
Macys questioned the benefit, asking rhetorically about parking and housing for employees.
“Those are the types of things that when I think about a (planned unit development) as sort of a custom zoning for a situation that is unique, that the flexibility that we give within that (planned unit development) usually comes in exchange for actual community benefit beyond just economics and people spending. That’s where I’m at,” Macys said. “I’d like to see us sharpening the pencil a little bit to see if we can make this project a little more consistent with the community character that we’re trying to accomplish.”
Scott Ford voiced support for the application, pointing to the fact that the recently adopted Steamboat Springs Downtown Plan calls for changes to the code to allow for the construction of new lodging properties downtown.
“We could wait for months for the code to get updated, and I think when it’s all said and done, we make all the changes that we’re going to make to the code, we would find ourselves at the exact same spot that we find ourselves today,” he said. “I think a (planned unit development) helps bridge that gap.”
Meyer said the reason the city invested so much in improving Yampa Street was to increase economic vitality, “not to benefit any one particular developer or any one project.”
“For me, that’s producing, I think, exactly what the council wanted, and that’s a return on the community’s investment, so I’m going to be supporting the project,” she said.
Macys suggested tabling a decision on the application and asking Marr and his associates to return with a proposal for community enhancement. That motion failed 3-2 with Petis and Macys voting in favor of the motion.
The discussion turned to the idea of approving the measure with the condition that the development team must return with community benefit, and that motion eventually passed.
Council members listed some ideas of community benefit projects including lighting at the Howelsen Bridge on the Yampa River Core Trail, a contribution to the Yampa River Fund, public parking, workforce housing or alleyway improvements.
The project is scheduled to come before council again Tuesday, Nov. 19.
To view the City Council’s discussion on this topic and documents presented at the meeting, visit steamboatsprings.net/agendas.