Routt County Commissioners to vote on justice center plans

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— Conceptual plans for a new county justice center in downtown Steamboat Springs will be put before the Routt County Commissioners today for a vote.

The plan the commissioners will see proposes building a two-level parking garage and closing the northern portion of Sixth Street between Lincoln and Oak to vehicular access. The new justice center would provide expanded courtrooms and office space while improving security in the county and district courts. The conceptual plan the commissioners are being asked to consider would offset the building 45 degrees on the roughly square lot, enhancing visual interest.

The building would be directly across Sixth Street from the existing courthouse annex. The city has not made any formal decisions about how to finance construction of the justice facility, and there are no immediate plans to break ground.

County Manager Tom Sullivan said Monday the courthouse design committee has heard proposals from the city's downtown parking committee urging a third level on the parking garage. The intent is to utilize the structure to meet more of the city's parking needs.

However, the design committee chose to recommend the two-level structure that provides adequate parking based on the size of the building and its intended uses, Sullivan said.

Sullivan pointed out that in either case, the first level of the structure would be partially below grade level, reducing its visual impact.

The county's conceptual plan will be presented to Steamboat Springs City Council in early December, Sullivan said.

Although the county needs the city's approval to close a portion of Sixth Street, it does not, by law, need approval for its building plans.

However, Commission Chairwoman Nancy Stahoviak said the county wants to take the justice facility through the city planning process.

The county's proposal to close a short segment of Sixth Street would preserve vehicular access to an alley that runs east/west between Oak and Lincoln. The plan is being advanced less than two years after the city itself rejected a similar option for 10th Street when it built Centennial Hall. But Commissioner Dan Ellison said a traffic study conducted specifically for the justice center shows the potential impacts of a street closure at Sixth are different from those at Tenth.

Neither Sixth Street nor 10th Street is controlled by a traffic light at Lincoln. Ellison pointed out that unlike 10th Street, Sixth is bracketed by side streets that are "signalized."

Tenth Street gathers traffic from eastbound commuters seeking to bypass the stoplights on Lincoln by driving down Oak Street.

The study shows that Fifth and Seventh streets are more critical in the role of feeding traffic onto Lincoln.

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