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  • Dylan Anderson

YVEA requests code change for child care center, as council balances industrial needs in Steamboat

Steamboat Springs City Council did not grant the electric co-op's request on Tuesday, but stressed they want to find a way to make a new center work.

Yampa Valley Electric Association is requesting a change to Steamboat Springs’ zoning code that would make it possible for them to set up a new child care facility, but City Council is concerned such a change would further erode Steamboat’s industrial zones.

The change requested would allow a child care facility to be a principal use in industrial zones, which is not allowed under current codes. The building in question is located adjacent to YVEA’s headquarters on Elk River Road, is roughly 6,000 square feet and includes a grassy outdoor area that could be used to build a playground.

“We feel this is a great space that would work well for this use,” said Emily Zvorak, manager of finance and accounting for YVEA. “The problem is it is zoned industrial.”

Child care facilities are not allowed in industrial zones, for the most part. Since Steamboat allows residential uses in the industrial zones in some cases, those residences are eligible to have an in-home child care provider, per recently updated state law. YVEA’s pitch would allow for child care uses in industrial zones, provided certain variance criteria set by city council is met.

YVEA says the code change is really the first step in this process and is needed to move forward the concept of a new childcare facility. There is no specific proposal for how many spaces would be available, who would have access to them or how a center would be staffed.

The Yampa Valley has been in a child care crisis that is estimated to have a $10 million annual negative impact on the local economy, but space in centers has not been the primary problem. Many child care operations across the valley have the space for more children but lack the staff required, so simply building another center may not improve the child care landscape. A center in South Routt called Little Lambs was forced to close abruptly in 2021 when it lost key staff members, forcing families to scramble to find care.

YVEA’s request comes about a year after a group of moms at Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. helped open a facility for resort employees in Steamboat Springs. UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center has run a child care operation for its employees for several decades. Routt County, the city of Steamboat Springs and the Colorado Department of Transportation have also been working on a proposal that would build housing for snowplow drivers and a child care facility in the same building.

City Council was both supportive of YVEA’s goal and skeptical of the way to achieve it on Tuesday, as they voted to approve the first reading of a code change that matches the new state law, but does not go as far as YVEA requested. The main concern by city staff and council members was that if child care were allowed in industrial zones, it would limit what industrial uses could be located in the zone designed to accommodate them.

“With the state mandate to allow daycare homes in the industrial areas, we will see increased impacts to our industrial businesses and this change will further erode the integrity of our industrial district,” said Toby Stauffer, a senior planner with the city.

Stauffer gave an example of this in regard to businesses that involve marijuana. While allowed in industrial zones, they need to be located a certain distance from a child care facility. While an existing business wouldn’t need to move, a new one would be prevented from opening up too close to a child care center, restricting which areas of the industrial zone they could locate.

Still, council members noted this particular spot was a good one for such a facility.

“This is an excellent location for a childcare facility,” said Council member Michael Buccino. “I’m all about doing it. I’m not going to support this because I do not think we should change the text amendment in the industrial zone for this when there are other options.”

Staff said another option for YVEA would be to request a zoning change. If this parcel was not zoned industrial, it could allow for a child care facility. The problem with that idea is that the future land use plan for the area says it is to be industrial, so there would need to be a change to that plan as well as to the zoning.

“If you were to tell me right now that without this (code) change, we couldn’t do it, I would approve it,” Buccino said.

Planning Director Rebecca Bessey said it was difficult to say if a zoning change would be successful, since that is not being applied for currently.

“I think this is a great example, if you take a step back, of a disconnect between our priorities and what people want,” said new council member Bryan Swintek, who reviewed this proposal when he was a member of the Planning Commission in October. “I agree, I think this is a perfect fit and a disconnect with the code. If anything, rather than us take the win and force the code to do what we want it to do where it really doesn’t make sense, I think we should sit with this.”

“There is a solution that needs to be found,” said new council member Steve Muntean. “I don’t think we have vetted out totally, every possible avenue for moving forward on this. I don’t think it’s ready now certainly, but I think this needs some more energy put against it and to see if we can figure this out in a way that can work.”

City council is set to consider this on second reading Tuesday. If the ordinance is approved as currently written, YVEA would need to pursue a zoning change to make a child care facility possible.

Top Photo Caption: YVEA is proposing a code change to allow for a child care center in its south building, pictured in the red circle. The yellow line dipicts a fense seperating the space from YVEA's yard area.


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