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  • Dylan Anderson

Steamboat Council to reopen building code decision eyeing broader restrictions on snowmelt systems

The previous city council put few limitations on new gas-powered snowmelt systems in updated building codes approved last month.


After putting few limitations on new gas-powered snowmelt systems last month, the new Steamboat Springs City Council agreed to revisit that decision in its first meeting on Tuesday.


Shortly after being elected the new City Council President, Gail Garey asked to add an item to the Nov. 21 agenda to discuss the codes again, with the intention of amending them to align with what the Routt County Commissioners adopted.


“It’s an important issue for our community, it’s a course-setting decision,” Garey said. “There was absolutely the opportunity with the new council coming in, and a council that really is responsible for decisions that are going to impact our future.”


“I think absolutely that there is community support behind looking at the issue of snowmelt,” Garey said.


The building codes are updated every three years, but this year’s update came with a new set of codes regarding the use of fossil fuels outside the home. The recommendation from the Routt County Building Department (which doubles as the Steamboat Springs Building Department) suggested largely banning snowmelt systems unless powered by renewable energy sources.


Routt County and neighboring municipalities either have or intend to adopt the building department’s recommendation, though there are few snowmelt systems beyond Steamboat’s city limits governed by those codes.


The previous council opted to take a different path, allowing snowmelt systems without restrictions in commercial zones downtown and near the base of Steamboat Resort and setting a square-footage limit on residential systems. That decision put no limits on how these systems are powered. The snowmelt decision is seen by some as particularly important now, as the city and Steamboat Resort gear up for a significant overhaul of Gondola Transit Center in the coming years, a project that could feature a lot of new snowmelt.


Garey and council member Dakotah McGinlay were on the losing side of the initial debate, but the addition of new council members has appeared to flip the script. New council members Amy Dickson and Bryan Swintek joined Garey and McGinlay on Tuesday to add the item to the next meeting’s agenda.


“It seems really silly that the entire county has adopted one building code and we somehow now are cherry-picking that we don’t want to do that specific one and I think that complicates things,” Swintek said.


Swintek added that putting stronger limitations on snowmelt systems also aligns with community priorities in his mind.


“If you are doing snowmelt, you are not having issues with housing, you are not having issues with sales tax on groceries, you are not having issues with any of this stuff — you don’t want to shovel,” Swintek said. “We live in a snow town … go hire somebody to shovel your driveway or you shovel your driveway. I don’t see why snowmelt is a need. Steamboat has existed for a very long time without heating the outdoors.”


Council Pro-Tem Joella West declined to comment on the decision to reopen the building codes, saying simply: “That’s (Garey’s) agenda item.”


Council member Michael Buccino voted to adopt the less restrictive codes last month and expressed some concern about council leadership pushing a certain agenda. Still, Buccino noted that reopening the codes could be what the community is asking for and his vote last month may have been out of step.


“In that sense, I’m going to start looking more at what am I missing on sustainability that I haven’t gathered,” Buccino said. “I’m going to dig deep on, am I missing something on this part. I don’t see it from the same filter, but I need to.”


Building codes need to be adopted before the first of the year. Council has opted to consider a new ordinance next week that would amend the previous ordinance adopting building codes. First reading is scheduled for Nov. 21, with second reading likely coming at the next council meeting on Dec. 5.


Top Photo Caption: The snowmelt decision Council lands on could have a significant impact on the Gondola Transit Center overhaul, a project that expects to contain a lot of snowmelt. (Steamboat Ski & Resort Corp./ Courtesy)

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