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  • Dylan Anderson

Steamboat Council approved loose snowmelt restrictions in energy code update

The decision falls short of the city’s climate goals by placing limits on size of residential systems and location of commercial systems, but not on the energy source. Could the next council change it?

Steamboat Springs City Council approved some loose restrictions on new snowmelt systems on Tuesday, confirming an earlier vote that falls short of a direct goal of the adopted Routt County Climate Action Plan.


Under the language council adopted Tuesday, new residential snowmelt systems would be limited to 450 square feet and new commercial systems would only be allowed in zone districts near Steamboat Resort's base and downtown. There is no limitation on how these systems are powered in the code update.


The 6-1 vote saw just Council member Dakotah McGinlay oppose the update. That was a change from the first reading of the updated codes, which saw Council President Robin Crossan, and members Heather Sloop, Joella West and Michael Buccino supporting the lesser restrictions. Council members Gail Garey, Ed Briones and McGinlay had voted against first reading.


Part of the consideration was the upcoming Gondola Transit Center project, which could have well over 100,000 square feet of snowmelt. A geothermal system is being explored for the GTC, but the design for the project is still in the early stages.


Sloop said she couldn’t support a ban on gas-powered snowmelt systems because she worried it would compromise the city’s current Ski Time Square project. To get easements for this project, the city agreed to allow gas-powered snowmelt systems for neighboring developments. The project has started, but most of the work will be completed next year. If permits are pulled before the end of the year as expected, the updated code would have no impact on the Ski Time Square project.


Steamboat’s decision does not go as far as the recommended language from the Routt County Building Department. After a year of outreach with contractors and sustainability experts, the building department recommended banning snowmelt systems in all areas unless powered by 100% renewable energy.


Routt County and the town of Yampa have each approved updated energy codes that align with recommendations in the climate action plan. Hayden and Oak Creek are also considering the language that bans snowmelt unless powered 100% by renewables.


The key difference between jurisdictions is that Steamboat sees far more projects including snowmelt systems than Routt County’s smaller municipalities and outlying areas.


The energy code decision is part of a complete building code update, which happens every three years. The code update will take effect on Jan. 1.


That leaves time for the energy code decision to be revisited by a new city council, which will be sat on Nov. 14, a week after the election. Council will have three new members, with at least one of those expressing disagreement with the snowmelt decision.


“If I have the ability to put in snowmelt, I have the ability to pay more,” said District 1 Candidate Bryan Swintek during Wednesday’s candidate forum put on by the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council. “We should not be heating the outdoors.”


Swintek is the only candidate in his district, so he will replace Crossan on council. Other candidates for District Three and the At-Large seat have also expressed support for the city’s climate goals. Buccino, who voted for the lesser restrictions, said his vote was primarily because he didn’t want to put a mandate on builders, especially if there were very limited ways to meet the mandate. At the sustainability council forum, Buccino said he has been impressed by some potential alternatives to installing gas-powered systems, specifically pointing to Yampa Valley Electric Association’s Green Choice Program.


“I looked at my own house and looked at what it would cost to be 100% renewable, … I think it was like $1.16. That seemed low,” said Buccino, who is also running for reelection unopposed. “As we go and investigate what this is all about, I want to know what impact that dollar is actually making.”


When asked by the Yampa Valley Bugle, City Attorney Dan Foote said it is possible for a new council to revisit Tuesday’s decision.


“The building code can be amended by City Council at any time by adoption of ordinance,” Foote said. “As for process, it could be an ordinance repealing and re-enacting if there is to be a broad revision or an amending ordinance for simpler revisions. Reconsideration is also a possibility.”


Top Photo Caption: Part of the snowmelt discussion has been the upcoming Gondola Transit Center development, which could seem more than 100,000 square feet of snowmelt. (Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp./ Courtesy)

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