Jim Engelken: Council should take its time

Judging by the editorial page of last Sunday's Pilot & Today, the debate over the use of the Stock Bridge Transit Center for a new community center is not over. Nor should it be.

I completely agree with the position of the Pilot & Today editorial board, and I enjoyed Lyman Orton's (June 11) piece, but the letter from former city manager Paul Hughes is disturbing. The only purpose the letter served was to insult former City Council President Kevin Bennett.

Hughes referred to an editorial Bennett wrote and justified his response because "he included me on his long list of bad guys." Read Bennett's editorial -- there is no such list. What Bennett's editorial said is the "current and previous two city councils and past city manager have systematically excluded other key groups (from the community center debate) who are major stake holders in the transit center." The groups Bennett refers to are the Downtown Parking Committee and the Main Street organization.

Hughes responded that they reached out to "every conceivable group." Excuse me? In addition to the parking committee and Main Street, other excluded groups include the Downtown Business Association, The Restaurant Association and even the city's Planning Commission and Planning Department on an issue that is clearly related to planning.

A city planning document, the Mobility and Circulation plan, dictated the purchase of the land for the transit center. This planning document was written after months of public hearings where it was determined that because of the physical constraints of the valley, the long-term strategy should be to reduce the number of cars in the downtown core, not just accommodate more. It should be stressed that this is a long-term strategy being implemented in cities around the world to retain a sense of livability in downtown areas and not turn downtowns and adjoining residential communities into parking lots. The state Legislature's Transportation Committee gave the city a million dollars for the project. The committee cited high quality planning for its decision -- the proximity of the transit center to downtown, the core trail, and the railroad tracks -- and said the transit center was the best project they had seen. The Transportation Committee called the transit center "visionary."

The claim that because the parking lot is not full today, that it is OK to compromise future development of the site as a transit center is short-sighted. While it's true that the city envisioned an additional building at the transit center, this was to be used for a day care center or some other compatible use, not a community center or any use that would require additional parking.

The day is coming that we will need every available parking space at the transit center. Major development projects going through the city's planning process are requesting and receiving parking variances that reduce the total number of parking spaces required by city code for new residential and retail space. The city and the county are slated to make major changes to the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan later this month. These changes are intended to jump-start growth in the west of Steamboat area. Pay attention to this: The existing plan allows for a 1,000 percent increase in density for the area now zoned at 1 unit per 35 acres. Our governmental bodies are considering sweetening this deal by taking away the West of Steamboat Area Plan's original requirement that new growth pay its own way or benefit the existing city residents with a substantial amount of affordable housing.

The 2,700 new residential units planned for annexation to our city will dramatically impact traffic and parking downtown. Some members of the City Council seem oblivious to this obvious fact.

Here's the bottom line:

The city should take whatever time is necessary to find an appropriate site for a community center, even if it means breaking an ill-conceived political promise.

Everyone needs to realize that the way many of us move around the downtown area will change in the future.

Steamboat Springs residents who don't want to pay for the maintenance of new, annexed neighborhoods or believe that they there should be some benefit to the city for agreeing to annexation should contact their favorite City Council member and tell them so.

Paul Hughes should stick with issues and facts and stop attacking the messenger.

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