Steamboat Springs Two days after a bruising public hearing in Centennial Hall last week, Colorado Mountain College President Stan Jensen was uncertain about the future of a massive project proposed for CMC’s Steamboat Springs campus.
Jensen, who administers CMC’s 11 campuses across the Western Slope, said the Steamboat Springs City Council’s “somewhat lukewarm” response to the presentation of initial roadway plans Tuesday night has, at least, significantly delayed progress on the college’s proposed new building and access road for its Alpine Campus on a hilltop above downtown Steamboat.
CMC is proposing a 50,000-
square-foot administrative and classroom building, along with a new access road that would wind up the hillside on the north side of Lincoln Avenue at 13th Street. Jensen said the project would be “by far” the largest CMC has undertaken. Cost estimates vary, but the price tag could reach $23 million. Jensen said the road alone could cost as much as $8 million. The building’s cost is estimated at $15 million.
Members of the public and City Council raised concerns Tuesday about the viability of building a road to access a site already constrained by limited space and the road’s impact on the hillside at the western entrance to downtown. Also at issue were the road’s effect on the much-debated 13th Street intersection and its encroachment on Iron Springs and West Lincoln parks, which lie on the northeastern and southwestern side of the intersection, respectively.
Jensen said plans for the project now are very much up in the air.
“We now have to look at other alternatives,” Jensen said Thursday. “I think what I took away (from the hearing) is this real hesitancy with us and to really be a true, full-fledged partner. We still want to be a partner, but I think our next move … is to try to come up with other thoughts.”
Tuesday’s hearing was a pre-application for CMC’s proposed access road. Pre-application hearings are a precursor to the formal city planning and approval process. Jensen said plans for the project resulted from 16 months of preparatory work with city planning staff and fire officials, at a cost to CMC of about $500,000.
Renderings of the proposed new intersection show cuts into the corners of Iron Springs and West Lincoln parks, in order to align the road into a straight intersection across Lincoln Avenue.
“This is going to so negatively impact the historic hot springs and the park,” Councilwoman Meg Bentley said. “I love the college, I love what it does for our community … but this road is not right. I want to look at alternatives.”
Councilman Jon Quinn questioned whether the hilltop site could handle the college’s future growth.
“There are huge challenges to this particular site and this particular project,” Quinn said. “If you’re going to outgrow this site in 20 years, then maybe this isn’t the right project.”
Sarah Catherman said she
and her husband, Robert Ellsworth, live at 1238 Crawford Ave. in a house dating to 1897. She said the new access road would place cars at a level with their bedroom window and create impacts — to the hillside, as well as her home — without adequate plans for mitigation. She said retaining structures on the road would turn the hillside “into a huge concrete wall” at the west entrance to downtown.
“Please try to find an alternative,” Catherman said to the City Council. “Just because it’s possible to put a road up that hillside doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.”
Councilman Kenny Reisman noted that the 13th Street intersection, commonly referred to as a “bottleneck” for traffic entering downtown from the west, was “in many ways at the heart of Steamboat 700,” referring to the debate about a proposed annexation city voters rejected this year.
Reisman said the city would get “one crack” at preparing that intersection for future growth.
“If this is the one crack, this isn’t it,” he said about CMC’s proposal.
Jensen said the next discussion of plans for the new facility and road at the Alpine Campus would occur at a CMC board of directors meeting Sept. 20.
The college tentatively had planned to start grading the access road Oct. 1, pending city approval, with construction of the building planned for June 2011. Occupation was anticipated for fall 2012. Jensen gave a quick answer Thursday when asked whether that timetable still was realistic.
“I don’t think so. I think know it’s certainly delayed,” he said. “We have to be very frugal and very careful and responsible with taxpayer money and tuition money that we receive. … We’re clearly moving to some other Plan B type of thing, as far as timetables.”
The City Council did express general support, through five separate votes on issues related to the project, for CMC’s moving forward into the formal planning process. But disagreement arose as to how much the city and CMC should contribute to costs for improvements to the 13th Street intersection.
Jensen said as a result of Tuesday’s discussion, it’s unlikely CMC will move forward in the planning process.
“I don’t have plans right now to resume that work,” Jensen said. “It doesn’t make much sense to keep pouring money into a plan that seems lukewarm.”
Some council members suggested alternate routes, such as via 12th Street, for the secondary access road that’s needed for fire and safety concerns with development of the new building. But City Planner Seth Lorson said staff has “looked at all these alternative accesses” and deemed the 13th Street intersection the most viable.
“It’s not like we haven’t considered everything the city has asked us to consider,” Jensen said. “We’re not going to spend another half-million dollars looking at it again.”
Another issue with access through that intersection is the need for CMC to acquire 1.49 acres there, owned by Harry and Mary Dike. Those negotiations stalled in late July.
Mary Dike said Thursday that the Dikes “haven’t heard a word” from CMC in recent weeks.
Jensen said conversations with the Dike family are “on hold” and also will be discussed Sept. 20.
He emphasized that the discussions with the City Council were not at all antagonistic and stressed that CMC is not considering a departure from Routt County.
“We’re very committed to Routt County and Steamboat Springs and the surrounding area,” Jensen said.
He acknowledged that CMC’s wide-ranging, speculative conversations now could include a split CMC campus in Steamboat Springs or moving the entire campus outside the city to land available elsewhere in Routt County.
Tuesday night, City Council President Cari Hermacinski echoed the council’s widespread appreciation of CMC’s contributions to the city’s economic vitality, job market, educational opportunities and more.
“This probably isn’t the resounding ‘yes’ across the board that you were probably looking for,” Hermacinski said to Jensen and other CMC representatives. “The benefit you provide to the community … is recognized by the entire council.”
Jensen said he would like to see recognition of those benefits translate into more collaboration with the city.
“I would like to see the city become a fuller partner in what the future is. … I don’t think that’s unreasonable,” he said. “We’ll proceed forward in a positive manner and see where it leads us.”