Kevin Bennett: Council planning poorly for future

The Steamboat Springs City Council has made the worst planning decision in the history of Steamboat Springs. The City Council has voted to replace a critical transit center with a community center.

Why should it concern you? If you work, own property, own a business, shop or travel in downtown and Old Town, this affects you. This is the big stuff. This is the future stuff. With four new large development projects coming online downtown, each one bigger than the next, the growth many of us planned for when we created the transit center is beginning to hit. Couple this with the city now agreeing to pick up 100 percent of the maintenance on 2,000 new units west of town and add in commuter traffic and "We Got Cars, Lots of Cars!"

Enter the Stock Bridge Transit Center -- The only long-range tool ever provided for downtown and Old Town to deal with this growth. When the city of Steamboat Springs originally planned the transit center, it undertook a series of research studies that anticipated major parking issues in downtown and Old Town. The transit center was a big part of the solution. The transit center offers employees all-day parking serviced by buses similar to the remote parking lot for the Steamboat Ski Area.

With proper organization and different work shifts, the city's research indicated about 400 cars in a 24 hour period -- more than 1,000 workers -- could be safely, conveniently, and efficiently parked at the transit center, thereby opening 400 parking spaces in downtown for customers. This plan has the dual effect of treating our workers with dignity by anticipating their needs (there is almost no employee parking in downtown today) and preventing the residential area north of downtown (Pine, Aspen, etc.) from being turned into an employee parking lot, something the city's research indicated unequivocally was going to happen.

Without the transit center, Old Town will suffer the same dynamic of other neighborhoods adjacent to vibrant downtowns -- parking permits and conflict. Put simply, these neighborhoods become the employee parking lot for downtown and a storage center for cars. The transit center reverses this and puts people downtown and stores the cars close-in yet outside of downtown. All of this planning and research is being destroyed by the City Council without a public hearing about the merits of the transit center. Somehow, the transit center does not deserve its own public process and was simply a trailer on another matter, the need for a new community center.

While courting special interest groups during the past five years that are connected with the community center, the current and previous two City Councils and past city manager have systematically excluded other key groups who are major stakeholders in the transit center. An official search of the city's records indicates there has been no communication with the business organizations, property owners or residents of Old Town concerning the destruction of the transit center and the ramifications to the downtown parking plan. To date, City Council has never consulted or even contacted the Downtown Parking Committee or the Main Street Steamboat Springs organization about the effects of eliminating the transit center.

In the late 1990s, the City Council invested only $200,000 to purchase the land for the transit center. Our partners who believed in our vision paid more than $1 million, more than 80 percent of the cost, to buy this land. To replace this parking capacity, the City Council will spend $12 million to $15 million based on $50,000 per parking structure space, and $1 million per acre in current downtown prices.

To put a major new community building on top of the transit center and claim it will all work is absurd and has no basis in fact. By eliminating the parking spaces of the transit center and bringing in major new competitive uses, the effectiveness of the transit center will be eliminated. This incredible tool to be used by the community for special events and long-term employee parking, and to help mitigate the enormous effects of growth to come will be lost forever, make no mistake about it.

The City Council is destroying the best long-range planning tool ever provided to the original town of Steamboat Springs.

Kevin Bennett served on the Steamboat Springs City Council from 1993 to 2001. He was council president for the last seven years of his term.

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