Routt County commissioners: County defends decision

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At a public hearing on April 1, 2003, the commissioners made the decision to locate the new Justice Center adjacent to the Detention Facility. This decision was not made lightly and, at the time, was not a unanimous vote of the board. We received extensive public comment and had considerable debate as a board before making our decision. In addition to a variety of other issues, we did consider the letter you sent to us expressing your desire for us to maintain government facilities downtown by constructing the Justice Center at the Sixth and Oak streets location. Unfortunately, we felt that the reasons for constructing the facility outside of the downtown area outweighed the reasons for keeping it downtown.

Since our April 1, 2003, hearing, no new information has been brought to our attention, including the waiver of parking requirements, that would cause us to reconsider our decision and now, as a board, we are unanimous in our commitment to a site that is adjacent to the Detention Facility. With this letter, we would like to outline for you why we feel so strongly about our decision and why we feel that further discussion regarding this issue is not warranted.

n Compliance with the Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan. We support the concept of maintaining government facilities downtown when it is appropriate to do so. However, to construct a Justice Center that meets current and future space needs and complies with judicial standards for safety, security and appropriate circulation patterns, the facility's size and configuration will not be consistent with the character and scale of the surrounding neighborhood on Oak Street. This issue is addressed in the current SSACP in many places including, but not limited to, Land Use Policy LU-3.1; Community Design and Image Policies CD-1.4 and CD-1.5; and Specific Planning Areas Policies SPA-1.1 and SPA-1.2.

This is not just any public building that can be sized, designed and configured to attain the appropriate character for Oak Street. It generally must meet the standards of the State Court Administrator and receive the approval of the Chief Justice of the Colorado Supreme Court. In your May 11, 2004, letter to us, you mention your award-winning Centennial Hall. Centennial Hall is an impressive building, but it has total square footage of less than 10,000 feet and did not have to meet any standards for circulation and security. Our Justice Center will be more than 50,000 square feet with a required footprint of about 16,000 square feet.

n Safe, secure prisoner transport. According to Routt County Sheriff John Warner, any time a prisoner is placed in a vehicle for transport, the risk of safety to the public and deputies and the opportunity for a security breach is substantially increased. Although the Detention Facility and the courts have the ability to conduct arraignment hearings via video conferencing, video conferencing can only be used for first arraignments and some bond hearings. Most hearings require prisoners to be transported to the Justice Center. Moving them through a secure tunnel or walkway to a secure elevator and holding area is the safest means of transport. Locating the Justice Center next to the Detention Center allows for this means of transport.

In the SSACP, Special Planning Areas Policy SPA-1.4 states "Courts ... should continue to be an integrated part of the community each located as close as feasible to the clientele served."

Generally, the clientele served by the courts are businesses, residents and nonresidents of Routt County, prisoners being held in the Routt County Detention Facility, attorneys representing the previously mentioned groups, and the Probation and District Attorney's offices. Businesses, residents and attorneys are across Routt County, so there is no one location that would be close to all of them. The Probation and District Attorney's offices will be located in the new Justice Center. Prisoners are located in one place -- the Detention Facility. They are the only group of "court clientele" housed in one location, and it is appropriate and feasible to locate the Justice Center close to them.

As an aside, placing the Justice Center next to the Detention Facility also allows a more efficient civil process service from the Sheriff's Office for attorneys performing court business.

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