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  • Dylan Anderson

Steamboat Council rejects waiver for gas-powered snowmelt in move backing climate goals

$190 million Astrid Development near base of Steamboat Resort wanted waiver to allow system currently banned in new building codes.

A luxury condo development near the base of Steamboat Resort will not get a waiver to build a gas-powered snowmelt system after Steamboat Springs City Council denied the request in a 4-3 vote on Tuesday.

Jeremy MacGray, president of JSM Builders and an owner of the 64-unit Astrid complex project, argued they had based project planning on an earlier version of the building codes passed in October and were caught off guard by Council’s decision to change the codes a month later. The second change aligned Steamboat’s new codes with the rest of Routt County in banning non-renewable snowmelt systems.

Council President Gail Garey and Council members Dakotah McGinlay, Amy Dickson and Brian Swintek voted to deny the waiver, while Council members Joella West, Michael Buccino and Steve Muntean were in the minority.

“People were upset that council was going to allow for commercial outdoor snowmelt powered by fossil fuel with no restrictions,” Dickson said, reflecting on her time campaigning for council last fall. “We do have a social responsibility. It’s not all about money; it’s not all about business.”

The denial upholds one of the first key decisions made by the new city council and signals a shift that has council putting more of an emphasis on the city’s climate goals. It is also the latest in a series of decisions council has made in regard to snowmelt — an area of infrastructure that has repeatedly become the focal point of climate action discussions in Ski Town, U.S.A.

MacGray said the 64-unit Astrid is expected to cost roughly $190 million and changing the project would lead to significant additional costs. He also noted that the project had already received development approval from the city, though that process does not review aspects like snowmelt.

Building codes are reviewed when a projects apply for building permits, a step the Astrid did not complete by Jan. 1 when the new building codes went into effect. MacGray said Tuesday they likely wouldn’t be ready to apply for building permits for several months even if granted a waiver.

“There was no way for us to plan of be educated or know about this,” MacGray said.

In his presentation, MacGray presented a timeline of how planning for the Astrid corresponded with the development of the building code to illustrate how it impacted his project.

In December 2022 the Routt County Building Department started communicating to developers that it was considering a recommendation to ban snowmelt systems unless powered by fully renewable resources. Meetings that spring sought feedback from developers and culminated in the recommendations that were first presented to Council in July 2023, according to previous reporting from The Yampa Valley Bugle.

The July recommendation from the Building Department was to ban snowmelt systems entirely unless powered by renewable energy. At that meeting, council members signaled they may not want to go that far and asked for Building Official Todd Carr to return with a series of alternative options that limited snowmelt to a certain size or zone.

Carr then returned to Council in September with several different options for council to pick from. The ordinance that ultimately passed on Oct. 17 came from that list of options and put no restrictions on commercial snowmelt systems.

After a new council was elected in November, Garey immediately suggested revisiting the building code decision from a month prior with the idea of imposing the ban that had initially been recommended. On Nov. 21 Council approved the first reading of the new code that would ban fossil fuel-powered snowmelt.

But MacGray recalled the timeline differently to council, saying they had been planning the project for most of 2023 based on the recommendations council would approve Oct. 17 that placed no limit on snowmelt systems for a project like the Astrid. He also pointed to the city’s decision to use a gas-powered snowmelt system for a project in Ski Time Square last year as to why they should grant the waiver.

Additionally, MacGray said his estimates show switching the snowmelt system to be electric would emit more greenhouse gasses in the long run because it would be a less efficient system. He argued building a new gas-powered snowmelt system would help meet climate goals.

“To meet a 35% reduction by 2030, which is the climate action goals, you can’t do that by putting electric in our project, you have to put in gas,” MacGray said. “If you are really going to try to meet that 35% reduction we need to be gas.”

Codes don’t require an electric system though, just that it is powered by renewable energy. Presumably, if a new system were to meet the code requiring 100% renewable energy, it wouldn’t have any greenhouse gas emissions.

“We’re asking you to go all renewable, which is way different,” McGinlay said. “We wouldn’t support a project that is just electric.”

Council members West, Buccino and Muntean all said they felt council could have handled the building code change better and favored granting the waiver for The Astrid. Still, the majority of council opted to stand by the building code. Dickson and Swintek said they didn’t feel the narrative that the code change came at the eleventh hour was accurate.

“I think there is spin going on here,” Swintek said. “Ultimately I am lost on why a business miscalculation is a municipal problem to solve.”

Top Photo Caption: The $190 million Astrid development will not get a waiver to build 20,000 square feet of natural gas-powered snowmelt. (The Astrid/Courtesy)


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