If the city, in its analysis of a site for a new police station, does not include the value of the city-owned land, the city is conducting a flawed calculation. Just because a desired section of land for a police station in Rita Valentine Park already is owned by the city, that does not mean it is “free.”
For example, if you owned a farm, and there was a section of land on that farm on which you were considering building a barn as a stable for horses, you would consider the alternative uses of that land before proceeding with the barn. For instance, it would have some value to you from harvesting hay, doing sleigh rides in the winter and enjoying it for its scenic beauty.
Alternatively, that section of the farm could have another value according to the price someone would pay for it on which to build a home. The highest value of these two alternative uses would represent the “cost” of the land, which should be used in evaluating whether to proceed with the proposed barn and stable.
You might very well conclude the return from the proposed horse stable is not acceptable in light of the high cost of the land assigned to it based on its alternative use. Certainly the land is not free just because you already own it. It has a value and therefore a cost from an alternative use.
In the case of the Rita Valentine Park, imagine for a moment that the city could sell the proposed section of park to a developer — after all, the city is proposing to change its use anyway. The city very well could receive a considerable sum of money for the land if it was sold to a housing developer. The city could use those funds to buy less expensive land elsewhere for the police station and therefore, the city would spend less overall (net of the land sale) than if it had built the police station on the so-called “free” land at Rita Valentine.
Of course, nobody is considering a housing development on the Rita Valentine Park land. But if they did, interestingly, homeowners adjacent to the park might express a preference for a single-family housing development in their neighborhood rather than a police station.
In my view, it is likely that the residents of Steamboat consider the highest value of the city-owned land at Rita Valentine to be based on its use as a park. In which case, the way to think about the situation would be to imagine that the city was compelled to replace the proposed 3 acres at Rita Valentine with “comparable” parkland adjacent to the park. Therefore, the value of land to be used in the analysis of the Rita Valentine site should be the cost to replace the park. I suspect that this would make the proposed 3 acres for the police station very expensive, indeed!
There are many factors that go into situating a police station, and I have addressed but one of them. In my view, it is highly misleading for the city not to assign a cost to the land, which it owns, in evaluating a location for a new police station, a fire station or another city function. City-owned land is not “free.”