Unity needed for future planning

Infrastructure expansion stymied without cooperation from county, city officials say

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Anyone who wants to build a house, develop a subdivision or start a business outside of Craig won't have access to city water or sewer service unless city and county officials are able to cooperate.

And city officials say that cooperation has been sadly lacking.

Craig City Council members met Tuesday night in a workshop on future infrastructure expansion -- particularly how to expand water and sewer services to best serve growth.

The discussion was spurred by cases of residents or developers outside the city limits wanting to tap into the city's water or sewer lines. City ordinance puts specific limits on how long a water line can be and what elevation a home must be at to get optimal water pressure.

The city addressed three requests to waive those standards in 2003 and each time council members were torn.

"We're looking for ways to address these issues long-term," City Manager Jim Ferree said.

Mike Rothberg, engineer with Rothberg, Tamburini and Winsor, Inc., out of Steamboat Springs facilitated the discussion.

He recommended the city begin planning for growth now by analyzing current zoning issues and future needs. He specifically referred to the urban development boundary, a state required zone that lies outside the city limits, but has potential for future growth and could potentially be served by city water and sewer facilities. The city's urban development boundary extends mostly to the west and a little to the east and north. The Yampa River prevents expansion to the south.

"From an economic development perspective, if you're looking at this for long-range planning, it provides a good base for growth and development," Rothberg said.

Rothberg recommended the city consider how it would like to see that area developed and then come up with a plan to pay for it using development density as a guideline.

For example, the city could informally zone an area high-density residential, bank tap fees until growth hits half the desired rate, and then use the money raised from the tap fees to install the services to accommodate the remaining growth.

"In reality, you're not in a position financially to put in the infrastructure before the growth is there to pay for it," Rothberg said.

Rothberg said the city could also subsidize the cost of infrastructure with several different types of loan programs.

The problem, city officials said, is that the city doesn't have any control over development outside the city limits. It cannot zone areas or force people to meet building regulations.

The city doesn't want to subsidize services to an area that won't eventually be part of the city and benefit the city in terms of property tax or sales tax revenue. And, the city doesn't want to annex areas that were developed not meeting city standards -- or any standards at all.

The city has been burned in the past by having to pay to correct problems in areas that weren't regulated as they were developed. The most recent, improving water pressure in the Craig East/Glen Erie subdivision cost the city $300,000 because homes weren't placed far enough below the water tank to receive adequate gravity-fed pressure.

"Every place we have a problem with now was developed in the county," Mayor Dave DeRose said.

The recently completed Craig-Moffat County Master Plan was the key to forging cooperation between the city and county but Councilor Don Jones said the county has taken no action on it.

An intergovernmental agreement between the city and county was signed by the city in April, but has not been signed by the county, he said.

The agreement calls for joint development standards to be implemented in the urban development boundary and for a joint planning commission to be established to create those standards and oversee development.

Until those standards can be developed, the city will focus its energy on zoning within the city and planning utility extensions that will benefit that.

In the case of out-of-city residents applying for city services, Council members will have to learn to say "no," Rothberg said.

"There may be times when lots are undevelopable," he said. "There may be sometimes when you just have to say 'no' because the net negatives may not be worth it. There are areas where you have to take a good, hard look at the economics. Does it make sense to run a $90,000 pipeline to serve six people? Probably not."

When county officials approve development in the county, the city also has the option of withholding water service.

"We've got the utilities as a hammer," Ferree said.

The council asked Ferree to plot a course for implementing Rothberg's recommendations within the city and to include a high level of public participation, particularly from real estate agents.

He'll report back to the council at a later date.

Christina M. Currie can be reached at 824-7031, Ext. 210 or by e-mail at ccurrie@craigdailypress.com.

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