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  • Dylan Anderson

Luxury development wants waiver to build a gas-powered snowmelt system banned in codes

A shorthanded Council delayed a decision on whether to allow the project to proceed as is until April 16.

Later this month, Steamboat Springs City Council will consider whether to waive newly imposed building codes to allow a 64-unit luxury condo building to construct 20,000 square feet of natural gas-powered snowmelt.

The development plan for The Astrid — a project billing itself as the “most luxurious ski-in, ski-out residential community” in Steamboat — was approved in November. But developers failed to obtain building permits for the project before Jan. 1 when new building codes went into place.

Those new codes require snowmelt systems to be powered 100% by renewable energy. This is more restrictive than an iteration of the new codes approved by Council in October, but aligns with what the Routt County Building Department had been recommending for the new codes since the start of 2023. In December, Council reversed its earlier decision to align with the recommendation from the building department.

The Astrid’s developers are now asking for a waiver from the city to get building permits without redesigning the snowmelt system, which they say will cost them well over a $1 million in additional costs.

“The difference between a gas-powered snowmelt system for us on The Astrid is going to be to the tune of $1.2 to $1.7 million if we have to switch to electric,” said Jeremy MacGray, president of JSM Builders and an owner of the project. “It’s a significant number to have basically just pop up out of nowhere when we have been planning for 18 months.”

A shorthanded five-member council essentially punted on making a decision Tuesday, wanting to wait until missing members Dakotah McGinlay and Steve Muntean were present to decide whether to grant the waiver.

It wasn’t entirely clear how the five votes would have fallen, though some council members did indicate how they intended to vote on a potential waiver. Council President Gail Garey said she would not support a waiver, while Council members Joella West and Michael Buccino said they would.

“I have a very hard time with us changing the rules of the game,” Buccino said. “I don’t have a problem with the code being changed — it’s fine moving forward. But this is unfair.”

Council Member Brian Swintek indicated he likely wouldn’t support a waiver either, noting that marketing on The Astrid’s website saying they “work hard to keep our carbon footprint in check” seemed disingenuous with the plan being presented.

“This is marketing saying we will do something and then the design of snowmelt of all things using oil and gas does not fit,” Swintek said. “The one thing that is a clear don’t do is don’t heat the outdoors.”

MacGray said they have made other choices on the project that consider the environmental impact, but that the snowmelt was not one of those areas.

Paul Bony, the energy and transportation director with the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council, estimated the snowmelt system alone would have an annual carbon footprint equal to that of what 21 to 25 new single-family homes would produce each year.

“Snowmelt is a luxury, not a necessity,” Bony said in public comment. “Since it is about 60 units, the carbon footprint [with snowmelt] is 50% more than those units would have been without snowmelt.”

In October, Council approved a set of building codes that would have limited the size of residential snowmelt systems and the location of commercial systems, but put no limits on the energy source. The Astrid would have met that iteration of the codes.

The Astrid was then approved by Council on Nov. 14. That review did not consider or approve the energy source of the snowmelt, as that is something reviewed when applying for building permits.

Then on Dec. 6, the newly elected council reversed that earlier decision to add restrictions that require all snowmelt systems be powered by 100% renewable energy sources. While a change from the earlier council’s decision, the change aligned Steamboat Springs with what codes Routt County had already approved. These building codes then went into place on Jan 1.

While The Astrid had received development approval from the city, developers failed to obtain building permits for the project before the new codes went into place. Under the new building codes, the project cannot obtain a building permit because they do not allow for a gas-powered snowmelt system.  

City Attorney Dan Foote said he believes The Astrid is the only development that would be in this particular situation, as other projects were able to obtain building permits before Jan. 1. Since it was only approved on Nov. 14, MacGray said they did not have enough time to apply for building permits before the new codes went into place.

Council member Amy Dickson said she was struggling with the decision because granting the waiver because while she understood it was a difficult situation for the developer, it would also have “long-term consequences” for the community.

“The waiver is not about building height or the glazing,” Dickson said. “This is about something that will impact our environment and our community forever.”


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