Leslie Stempel: Sad parallels

Sad parallels

Sadly, on my recent visit to Steamboat Springs, I noticed parallels between this beautiful place and where I currently live, South Florida.

Having lived in Steamboat for nine years until 1998 and visiting every year or so, the increase in traffic is amazing. This year, however, as I was driving slowly on Oak Street looking for a parking space close to my destination so my mobility-challenged passenger wouldn't have to walk far, I got a real dose of what I come to Steamboat to escape -- an unpleasant young man in a white jeep, gesturing wildly and yelling at me to go faster and ending the conversation with an obscenity.

Road rage is everywhere, it seems.

A second parallel between south Florida and Steamboat is the new Behemoth construction downtown. In south Florida, small bungalows are being torn down and replaced with monstrous structures. While the Harbor Hotel isn't exactly a bungalow, it is being replaced with a structure almost twice its size. According to the city planning department, the building on Yampa Street will be four stories high, even though "the fourth story will be set back far enough that it won't be visible."

The most unappealing aspect might be that there's only one parking space planned per unit. Considering that some units are two and three bedrooms, the parking may be inadequate. The reason given for building high-density residential projects downtown is "if people live downtown, they will shop downtown" and somehow, there will be more than T-shirt and souvenir shops again. You'll probably have to get rid of Wal-Mart, City Market, Safeway and Ace for that to happen.

The planning department assured me that allowing a small building to be replaced with a large building doesn't set a bad precedent. However, in Florida, if one developer gets approval for increased density, all the subsequent similar requests must be approved.

While at the Clark Store eating ice cream and reading an article about south Florida in the Smithsonian magazine, I came across a Michael Grunwald quote that could apply to Steamboat in some ways. "The regional economy was a kind of ecological Ponzi scheme, dominated by low-wage tourism and construction jobs that relied on the constant pursuit of more people and more development that put more stress on nature."

It's still a nice place to visit.

Leslie Stempel

Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

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