The Steamboat Springs City Council will write a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers stating a downtown justice center is a practicable alternative to the proposed site west of town.
But it cannot legally ask the Corps of Engineers to deny Routt County's wetland permit.
Council members said they wanted to work with Routt County commissioners on building a justice center in downtown Steamboat, and they said they would support the county's appeal to delay a judge's order to have a new justice facility built by 2006.
"It is important that we write a letter but also try to create open dialogue (with the county)," Councilman Loui Antonucci said. "I don't want this to turn into a wedge and create animosity and stop other dialogue that we've got going on."
The council members said they wanted to invite commissioners to come back to the table to talk about a downtown location and discuss what the city could do to encourage that location.
"This is a 100-year decision," Councilman Steve Ivancie said. "I would rather take a little extra time to make a good decision."
The unanimous decision came after more than two hours of public comment and in a Centennial Hall filled with more than 50 people.
The Friends of the Justice Center Inc. had come before the council asking it send a letter to the Corps of Engineers requesting the county's permit be denied and saying that a downtown "practicable alternative" existed.
The Corps of Engineers is reviewing Routt County's plans to build a 51,000-square-foot justice center west of town and near the Routt County Jail. It has to grant the county a wetlands permit before it can build.
Before any discussion started, Council President Paul Strong said the council could not legally comment on the county's application for the west of town site, but it could state whether it felt downtown was a practicable alternative.
On Thursday, the City Planning Commission is expected to hear the plans for the justice center proposed along Shield Drive. On April 27, the council is scheduled to hear the county's application.
Even if the council denied the application, the county would have the authority to build the justice center.
In his pleadings to council, Friends of the Justice Center member John de Wardt said the Corps of Engineers were the only ones who could stop the county from building west of town.
"The only card you can play is a letter to the Corps," de Wardt said. "The only way to get them to stop is by sending a letter."
On Monday, County Commissioner Doug Monger said the council's decision had the potential to drive a "wedge" between the city and the county. If the city had signed the Friends of the Justice Center letter requesting the permit be denied, the county said it would reconsider moving forward with the city's planning process.
None of the commissioners was present at Tuesday's meeting, but county attorney John Merrill said the discussion had deviated from the Corps of Engineers' decision on wetlands to the site of the courthouse. Merrill asked the council not to sign the letter from the Friends of the Justice Center because it did not address the wetlands issue.
"It is clear to me, having listened to the discussions, we are not talking about wetlands," Merrill said.
The Friends of the Justice Center spoke to the benefits of having the courthouse in downtown Steamboat, saying it would keep Lincoln Avenue economically viable and retain its unique character.
Downtown business owner Ty Lockhart spoke to the other establishments that have moved out of town: grocery stores, the forest service building, the hospital and hardware stores.
"The downtown can take only so many blows to the head before it dies," he said.
Other members of the organization spoke to the city's power to convince the Corps of Engineers to deny the permit and to give the county concessions to encourage them to build downtown.
"I know you have a desire to cooperate with the county, but I know that doesn't mean you have to roll over to what is a bad decision," Friends of the Justice Center member Lyman Orson said.
Those supporting the west of Steamboat location also came before council Tuesday night. Jim Stanko said the surveys taken after voters turned down a bond issue in 2002 indicated location was the second highest reason voters did not support the justice center. The top reason, Stanko said, was the cost of the center.
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