Big-box ordinance OK'd

Planning Commission gives first approval to law managing retail growth

— The City Planning Commission gave the first nod Thursday to a big-box ordinance that, if approved, would limit any commercial or retail store built south or east of 13th Street to 20,000 square feet.

In a 5-2 vote, the planning commissioners approved the ordinance, which Chairwoman Kathi Meyer called an interim fix between when the city's 90-day moratorium expires and the time it will take to develop a more complex ordinance to manage large retail stores.

The ordinance, which was developed using direction given at a joint council and planning commission meeting last month, would require any big-box store larger than 20,000 square feet to be built west of downtown. The ordinance also would require all commercial or retail buildings more than 12,000 square feet to go through a Planned-Unit Development process to gain city approval.

The PUD process is subjective, requiring developers to show public benefit to be gained from the variances they are requesting.

City planner Tim McHarg said the ordinance would not apply to movie theaters, bowling alleys, hospitals, schools, fitness centers or office buildings.

"It wasn't just the size of the building that was of concern and discussed. It was specifically retail," McHarg said.

McHarg said Thursday's vote was the first step in creating a more comprehensive big-box ordinance. During the earlier joint meeting, the council and Planning Commission discussed more stringent design standards and the possibility of requiring economic and community impact studies on larger big-box stores.

"There are a lot of ways we can improve on this," McHarg said last night. "This isn't the end all and be all. This isn't the solution."

Representing the Community Alliance of the Yampa Valley, Christi Ruppe said her group would like a more specific discussion on how large retail stores west of town could be and whether a size-cap is necessary.

The city imposed a 90-day moratorium March 16, putting a hold on any commercial or retail store larger than 12,000 square feet coming into the city's planning process.

Two planning commissioners, David Baldinger Jr. and Cari Hermacinski, voted against the ordinance Thursday night.

Hermacinski called the 20,000-square-foot prohibition on retail stores in the downtown and mountain area an arbitrary number and said she thought the PUD alone would give the city the control it sought.

On the same night that the Planning Commission approved the big-box ordinance, it gave the final approval to the development that could house Steamboat's newest big-box store, Gart Sports.

Although the question of regulating big-box stores has long been discussed by the city, developer's Whitney Ward's announcement that Gart Sports was in the final negotiations for being a tenant in his Wildhorse Marketplace brought the issue to the forefront.

Four buildings in the Wildhorse Marketplace shopping development received architectural approval, and with it the city's go-ahead to build, at Thursday's meeting.

Among those buildings was the 20,080-square-foot commercial building intended for Gart Sports. Ward told the group the first plan brought before the council two years ago called for the sporting goods store to be 50,000 to 60,000 square feet, but was downsized.

"I would like to think we exceeded all the (city's) requirements. I am excited for tonight. It is the culmination of a lot of effort," he said. "This project probably has had more public scrutiny than anything that has come through here in a while."

During the meeting, Peter Patten, representing the applicant, said the developers were on schedule to start construction this summer.

The Wildhorse Marketplace was mentioned specifically in the emergency ordinance the council passed March 16 as one of five developments that would not be impacted. Because the applicant already had submitted plans to the city and received approval for the development plan before the ordinance was enacted, it could not legally be subject to the ordinance.

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail

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