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Fall 2002
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Ski Resort GIS Challenge: Creating Affordable Housing for Local Residents

The champagne powder skiing and a genuine western heritage make Steamboat Springs a popular destination resort. The residents are proud and supportive of their community and its residents, whether one manages a ski resort, waits tables, drives a snowplow, or competes in the Olympics (15 local athletes participated in the 2002 Winter Games). However, many workers are unable to afford the high cost of living that is a result of the strong tourism industry. The local residents who work to create the experience treasured by tourists must compete for housing with visitors who can often pay more for short-term rentals and second homes.

To work through these challenging housing issues, planners and leaders used CommunityViz software from The Orton Family Foundation, an Esri Business Partner (see "In Steamboat Springs, Colorado, School Children Provide Demonstrable and Lasting Value to the Community"), to evaluate the potential benefits and impacts of various affordable housing strategies. The software is a planning decision support system combining scenario analysis, 3D visualization, and forecasting models. It provides three integrated extensions to ArcView 3.x technology. These extensions support land use planning and natural resource management applications.

The city of Steamboat Springs and Routt County then jointly adopted the West of Steamboat Area Plan (WSAP) to guide development projects on 1,500 acres of land west of the city. Affordable housing is a key component of the plan, and CommunityViz allowed the WSAP planners to estimate the potential supply and costs of the new housing.

"We learned efficient use of land is the most significant factor in reducing the cost of housing," says Rob Dick, director of Regional Affordable Living Foundation (RALF). "Our goal now is to reduce asphalt and increase open space, thereby making neighborhoods more livable."

In 2001, RALF proposed an affordable housing project in the area west of Steamboat Springs called Westend Village. During the approval process, the Steamboat Springs City Council questioned the visual impact of the proposed homes and requested additional analysis. RALF used CommunityViz to build a three-dimensional model of the project and its surroundings using a grading plan and aerial photography.

Decision makers conducted a virtual 3D "fly-through" to assess the visibility of the proposed housing project. As a condition of approval, the City Council then required additional vegetation to screen homes on a highly visible ridgeline.

"The interactive 3D presentation helped us make critical decisions before, rather than after, the fact," says Dick.

For more information, contact Charles Donley, senior associate, CommunityViz (tel.: 303-442-8800 or toll-free at 866-953-1400) or visit and

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