The View From Here

Growth, environment top issues in 2002 Community Survey

— Protecting the environment and managing growth should be the top priorities for the city, residents said in the 2002 Steamboat Springs Community Survey.

In a survey intended to help City Council members decide how to allocate funds, the community sent a clear message that preserving open space and building trails and bike paths is where it most wants tax dollars to go.

Results of the survey, which was sent to more than 4,000 residents in February, were presented to the council last week. There were 1,082 residents who responded to the survey, which was conducted by RRC Associates of Boulder.

While growth and the environment were primary issues throughout the survey results, residents also weighed in on everything from affordable housing to Triple Crown.

Overwhelmingly, residents said they were unhappy with the rate of growth in the city 62 percent said there had been too much residential development and 51 percent said there had been too much commercial development. Just 7 percent thought the city has managed Steamboat's growth well, while 74 percent would like to see more regulations on growth.

When residents were asked to rate the importance of community issues, protecting environmental resources, providing open space and managing growth received the strongest support.

Similarly, residents ranked protecting the environment, managing growth and providing open space among the top five priorities for the city in the future.

Residents want the city to manage growth, but they also said affordable housing is a problem that should be addressed. Growth management ranked as the second-highest priority while providing housing opportunities for a broad range of residents ranked third.

"I don't think that we can avoid that (contradiction between affordable housing and growth)," Councilman Steve Ivancie said. "We have to face up to that and make some hard choices. It has been put on the back burner for 12 to 15 years and it's time to make the choices."

More than 40 percent of the respondents said they would support affordable housing through density incentives for new developments, promoting accessory and secondary units, creating a housing authority and implementing inclusionary zoning. But only 27 percent said they would be willing to pay more in taxes to support funding broader housing opportunities.

The community's focus in preserving open space and protecting the environment did not come as a surprise to Councilwoman Arianthe Stettner. The 1999 community survey showed similar results.

"I thought it was really interesting. People in 1999 said essentially the same thing," Stettner said. "They love the environment, and protection of open spaces was a universal request."

In 1999, 79.8 percent of those surveyed said growth should be controlled, she said. In 2002, that number was 74 percent.

Council members said open space acquisition has been a priority for some time. Still, the survey indicated residents aren't sure the city has been effective.

Open space was rated as very important to 73 percent of the respondents, but only 35 percent said the city has been very effective in dealing with it. Eighty-two percent said protecting the environment is very important, but only 39 percent said the city has addressed that issue very effectively.

Now the challenge for the city is finding the money to commit to what the community seeks.

"It makes it tough. Open space is a large capital expenditure and we're under spending on capital," Councilman Paul Strong said. "To continue to fund open space it could either mean having a severe cutback in services the city provides or more revenue."

In general, city government received high marks for its services and facilities.

More than 80 percent of residents are very satisfied with services such as snow removal, sewer and drainage and fire and rescue. More than 70 percent said they are very satisfied with the city's drinking water, winter recreation programs, recreation facilities and bus service.

Conversely, residents said they are largely dissatisfied with the Stockbridge park-and-ride facility and Steamboat Springs Airport.

The city also tested the tax waters in the survey. "The message I see is that we got enough money. It is just how we spend it," Ivancie said.

Residents were divided on taxation with 44 percent wanting to hold the line on taxes even if it meant reducing or eliminating city services and 40 percent saying taxes should be increased to maintain or improve services.

More than 50 percent of respondents said they would support an increase in taxes for only two projects the acquisition and preservation of open space and the development of more trails and bike paths.

Although city officials were pleased with the 27-percent return rate of the surveys, they expressed concern that younger residents were not as well represented. Just 13 percent of the survey respondents were 34 or younger. The average age of survey respondents was 50.

"I would have liked to have heard more from that age group," Ivancie said. "I think they will be the ones raising families and creating new business. They in a sense are a part of our foundation."

Other information about the survey respondents:

Sixty-two percent were male and 38 percent were female.

Year-round Steamboat residents counted for 82 percent of those survey, and seasonal, second-home owners and temporary residents combined for 17 percent.

Respondents have lived in Steamboat for an average of 14.4 years.

And 87 percent own their homes, while 12 percent rent.

The findings that were presented to the City Council are just the preliminary results. Phone surveys will still be conducted to verify the findings.

The city has copies of the survey results and will post them on its Web site.

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