Justice center options

County to consider whether to move ahead with planned location

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When the City Planning Commission voted 4-3 to deny the Routt County justice center Thursday, the county was left with two options: appeal the decision to the City Council, or ignore the decision and move forward as planned, Routt County Manager Tom Sullivan said.

Routt County commissioners will discuss those options today.

Building the $15 million justice center downtown, instead of the west of town site that has sparked controversy with the City Council, is not an option, commissioners have said.

After they decide what direction to take, they will listen to an hourlong presentation from architect HLM Design and then choose what materials, furnishings and colors to use inside the judicial facility.

The county has spent about $1.2 million on the west of town site, including costs for land, architectural designs, permits and engineering, County Commissioner Doug Monger said.

"We're being asked to walk away from that ($1.2 million) on a decision that was made April 1, 2003," Monger said. "I get emotional about this."

County commissioners are elected to make tough decisions, he said. In this case, the county held public meetings and quickly found that no consensus would be reached, he said, and commissioners had to make a choice about where to build the center.

Routt County Manager Tom Sullivan said that even if building the center downtown cost only 5 percent to 10 percent more than the west of town site, that would be an increase of $1.5 million, money that the county does not have to spare.

Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said she was not surprised that three city planning commissioners voted to approve the 52,000-square-foot building, for reasons such as its proximity to the jail.

"All along, we have said this is not a cut-and-dried issue," Stahoviak said. "To me, the split Planning Commission vote is indicative of that fact."

When county commissioners discuss their options today, they will be open to "new and enlightening" public comments, Stahoviak said, but will not take the same public comments they have heard for the past year.

The county has 10 days to appeal the City Planning Commission's decision to the City Council. The City Council agreed, 7-0, to write a letter stating that the downtown location was a "practicable alternative" to the west of town site, which county commissioners said means the city has "prejudged" the application.

Meanwhile, the county is waiting to hear from the court of appeals after filing to appeal the court order in December 2002 that required the county build the justice center by September 2006.

The county is not disputing the need for a justice center, Routt County Attorney John Merrill said, but rather is disputing the quick process the judge used to file the order and the judge's specific requirements for the building.

"It's not as if, if we prevail, we won't have to build a court facility; we will," Merrill said.

Routt County commissioners will discuss what action to take at 2:30 p.m. and then will discuss the justice center's interior look at 3 p.m. today in the Commissioners' hearing room of the courthouse annex.

-- To reach Susan Bacon, call 871-4203

or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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