County overrules city on justice center

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Routt County commissioners passed a resolution Tuesday to overrule the City Planning Commission's 4-3 decision denying the county's justice center. The county will not appeal the Planning Commission decision to the City Council.

Routt County Commissioner Doug Monger said he thinks that appealing the decision would cause further aggravation and is not necessary because the City Council has "prejudge(d)" the county's application.

"I think that we are looking out for the interests of Steamboat Springs as well as for the citizens of Routt County," Monger said about the county's resolve to build the justice center west of downtown next to the county jail.

The county's plans for the $15 million court-ordered justice center have fueled continuing controversy from residents who say it is important for the courts to stay downtown.

On April 6, the City Council voted 7-0 to write a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers saying the downtown location is a "practicable alternative." Although the county does not have to receive approval from the city, the county needs a permit from the Army Corps to fill wetlands at the site.

Then, on April 8, the City Planning Commission voted to deny the project.

Routt County Commissioner Nancy Stahoviak said at Tuesday's meeting that she felt some of the reasons city planning commissioners gave for denying the project did not hold up, such as the idea the project should not be approved until the city and county agreed.

The county asked voters in 2002 to approve funding for a downtown justice center. That request failed, and after several months of public meetings, county commissioners approved a year ago the west-of-downtown site to save on costs, make parking easier, give room for the county offices to expand and enhance safety.

The original downtown building was estimated to be 30,000 square feet, and plans for the west-of-downtown building allow for about 52,000 square feet and save about $5 million. Routt County Commissioner Dan Ellison, who voted in April to build the justice center downtown, said he now thinks the downtown site would have been too small and would have been "shortsighted."

Monger said building downtown could have resulted in a "downtown mall" of county and court offices.

"I think we are actually preserving the downtown by facilitating the move of this big box governmental office," Monger said.

About 20 people, many of whom were court officials, listened to the commissioners' discussion. Three spoke, giving support for the commissioners' decision.

"I think the city should be chastised for their actions of late," said resident and business owner Patrick Arnone. He then said the county should "respectfully ignore" the City Planning Commission.

Resident Jim Stanko also gave support for the county.

"This is the Routt County justice center, not the Steamboat Springs justice center," Stanko said. "County residents do not owe downtown Steamboat Springs a success or a failure in business."

After the decision, county commissioners heard an initial presentation about carpet, wood, flooring and other materials that could be used for the justice center's interior.

-- To reach Susan Bacon, call 871-4203

or e-mail sbacon@steamboatpilot.com

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