The Steamboat Springs City Council on Tuesday night voted to cancel the proposed sale of the downtown public safety building and postpone any further consideration of plans to build new police and fire stations.

Photo by John F. Russell

The Steamboat Springs City Council on Tuesday night voted to cancel the proposed sale of the downtown public safety building and postpone any further consideration of plans to build new police and fire stations.

Steamboat Springs City Council cancels proposed sale of downtown public safety building

Council also votes to delay any consideration of new police and fire stations until summer

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Reader poll

Do you agree with the Steamboat Springs City Council’s decision to pull the downtown public safety building off the market?

  • No, emergency services don’t fit within the Yampa Street revitalization plan. 7%
  • Yes, the emergency services should remain on Yampa Street. 22%
  • Yes, the building should not be sold until the city knows where the police and fire stations will move. 70%
  • I’m not sure 2%

115 total votes.

— The city's downtown public safety building no longer is for sale.

And the plans to build new, more efficient headquarters for the police officers and firefighters who work inside the building at 840 Yampa St. aren't scheduled to be heard again in Centennial Hall until May.

In a meeting Tuesday night marked by council President Bart Kounovsky's absence because of a potential conflict of interest, some tense exchanges and much debate about how much of a priority new police and fire stations are today for Steamboat, five members of the Steamboat Springs City Council voted unanimously to cancel the proposed sale of 840 Yampa St. to BAP, Big Agnes and Honey Stinger for $2.1 million.

The council also quickly passed over a competing offer for the building from a local developer who sought to raze the property and replace it with office and retail space.

“Kicking the can is a horrifying thing, and that's what governments do, but I think we heard the public loud and clear that we need to take the time ... to make the right decision,” council member Kevin Kaminski said after council voted to return the $30,000 earnest checks to the two bidders for the building.

The sale to BAP, Big Agnes and Honey Stinger was approved by the council on first reading in December.

BAP owner Bill Gamber could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday night.

The scrapping of the sales contract came after city staff told the council they no longer have a feasible plan to temporarily house the city's police force while a new station is built.

City officials originally thought they could retrofit the vacant Iron Horse Inn into a temporary police station for $113,000, but the costs of that renovation jumped to $1 million Friday and caused officials to shelve their plans to move out of 840 Yampa St. for at least 20 months.

After she requested to postpone the sale, Interim City Manager Deb Hinsvark told the council there still are many loose ends in the city's quest to build new police and firefighting headquarters, but staff is starting to tie a lot of them up.

“This is a project we've gone in a lot of different directions on, and it seems like we've always been trying to fit a square peg into a round hole on this,” Public Safety Director Joel Rae said as he presented a proposal to still build a combined public safety campus at the Stock Bridge Transit Center.

An evolving proposal

What started as a plan to seek a property tax increase from voters to fund an $18 million public safety campus in west Steamboat evolved greatly between its public introduction in March and when the sale of the existing public safety campus was canceled Tuesday night.

After the original proposal was rejected by the council, city staff proposed razing the aging Iron Horse and replacing it with a new police station.

That proposal also was rejected, and the city then started pursuing multiple options for the relocation of its emergency services even as the second reading of the sale of 840 Yampa St. to the triumvirate of outdoor retailers appeared on multiple council agendas.

The proposed sale drew strong support, especially from downtown business owners who see the emergency services departure from Yampa Street as a big boost to the revitalization efforts under way on the pedestrian-heavy roadway.

But the sale also was opposed strongly by community members who said now wasn't the right time and the city was on track to make a mistake by selling its current police and fire stations before it had solid plans to build new ones.

The leaders of an opposition group were in the audience Tuesday night ready to put the sale to a public referendum if it proceeded any further.

But a majority of council members who were at the meeting agreed the city should take more time before it moves forward with any relocation proposal.

Still a need

Before the sale of the downtown emergency services building was terminated, Rae again outlined why the city needs a new police station.

“The current building lacks functionality,” he said, adding the space limitations of the current station make it difficult to operate a crime lab in a room that is about 10 feet by 7 feet, among many other complications.

He said the department needs nearly three times the amount of space it currently has to function more effectively.

Council member Cari Hermacinski, who long has been an opponent of the city's plan to use as much as $10 million in reserves to build new police and fire stations, told Rae he provided “the most compelling reasons to date” to consider a new police station as a priority in the city's capital budget.

But she and a majority of other council members present Tuesday want to weigh the proposed expenditure of reserves on new emergency services buildings with other city projects, including deferred maintenance and the recent realization the city may need to invest millions in stormwater infrastructure.

The council then voted unanimously to instruct Rae to come back to the council in May with more detailed plans to build a new police station.

“Two months ago, we didn't see (a new police station) as a need,” Hermacinski said, referring to council's approval of the six-year capital improvement program during the budget process. “I am not convinced it's the city's top priority. ... The sale of the building triggered all of this. Maybe we do need a new police and fire station, but we're rushing it, and our core business is public safety and water and roads, so we should get this right.”

Seeking more time

Tuesday's meeting was scheduled to start with an executive session to discuss the recent competing offer for the building from developer Steve Shelesky, but council member Walter Magill said he preferred the discussion to happen in public.

The council agreed.

After Hermacinski said she thought council President Kounovsky's role as chief operating officer of Colorado Group Realty, which is involved both with Shelesky's real estate offer and with the Paoli property the city is considering purchasing to construct a new police station, could be perceived as a conflict of interest, Kounovsky stepped down from all conversations about the proposed sale of the downtown public safety building and the relocation of the fire and police stations.

Before Hermacinski expressed the concern, Kounovsky acknowledged his potential conflict of interest but he said he planned to remain in the discussion until any formal votes were considered.

The remaining council members then said they didn't need to see a presentation on the competing bid that was prepared by realtor Jon Wade.

Later in the meeting, the council also voted to postpone any construction of a new fire station until the city reaches a resolution with the Steamboat Springs Area Fire Protection District about revisions to the intergovernmental agreement between them.

Hermacinski also wanted to learn what impact a bill moving through the state Legislature seeking collective bargaining rights for firefighters would have on Steamboat.

"I think there is enough uncertainty about the fire (department) that no decision about it should be made in 2013," she said.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com

Comments

Scott Wedel 1 year, 10 months ago

Glad to see that City Council finally recognized the obvious. Though, public still has strong reasons to doubt the judgement of most city council members and city staff because they were willing to assume that plans to build new police and fire stations would proceed without issues. They came dangerously close to making a final decision to sell the existing building without having solid plans for replacements. We are lucky that a problem was found with their plans for an interim police station because city staff and city council were willing to assume there couldn't be similar problems encountered in the building of replacement stations.

BTW, what is stopping the police dept from renting space for a crime lab and other needs?

1

cindy constantine 1 year, 10 months ago

Even though it took awhile, at least sanity prevailed!!

1

Fred Duckels 1 year, 10 months ago

Unionzing the fireman will mean the Camel's nose inder the tent, and be followed by more loss of local control. Across the nation we have examples of failing government entities that followed this path.

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Scott Ford 1 year, 10 months ago

Scott Wedel is correct when he states that City Council, "came dangerously close to making a final decision to sell the existing building without having solid plans for replacements. "

This has been a rough couple of months for many of us that were publicly opposed to the sale. Thanks to everyone for their support and words of encouragement.

In the end City Council made the right decision for the citizens of Steamboat Springs and that is what really counts.

2

Scott Wedel 1 year, 10 months ago

Scott Ford,

I think your group had an important impact that caused the City to pause and attempt to shore up their plans only to discover they were in a bog and it wasn't going to work. Which is exactly what the critics of their plan were concerned would happen at some point in the City's complicated grand plan.

I think you and the anti-sale group can take at least some credit for stopping what would have been a fiasco costing the city millions of dollars. I hope some of your group runs for city council in the future focused on issues of proper financial management. Note that the city backed out only when their plans for an interim police station fell apart. They were still willing to wipe out the city's financial reserves for projects that weren't even a priority six months ago. And city was willing to commit huge sums for Yampa St redevelopment with no analysis on the expected impact.

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bill schurman 1 year, 10 months ago

All of this not speak well of the city staff and the acting city manager in particular.

1

Steve Lewis 1 year, 10 months ago

Scott Ford,

Your concern for the well-being of your community cost you a lot personally. That was hardball, but you handled it with the same gentle nature that you bring to all your endeavors. Good on you.

The deficiencies that you and Rodger Good listed in your letter were proven correct. Your combined efforts created a network of similar-minded community concern. Hold on to that list. It stands out in my mind as a very diverse group of citizens who came together for the right reasons. We should find ways to do that more often.

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john bailey 1 year, 10 months ago

well, well , look who blinked. stand up mr. ford we all wanna give you an atta boy.

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Bret Marx 1 year, 10 months ago

Thank you council! You made a smart choice AND you listened to the townspeople.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 10 months ago

I am not sure why city council should be given much credit for this decision. They had run out of options and even city staff had given up claiming that they had plan..

What else could the city council have done? Approve the sale and have no police station for a few years? Have the police dept operate out of trailers in a city parking lot?

Look at all of the loose ends they ignored when they passed the first reading of the sale. They ignored that they didn't have an interim site for a police station, that they didn't have a site for the new police station, and that they didn't know if they had enough money to pay for it all. They passed the first reading of the sale with nothing more than vague hopes that it would work out. That was financially irresponsible and that is what the voters should remember, not that they stopped the folly after having no options for an interim police station.

If they had proceeded with the sale then everyone including the police dept would have supported Ford's and Good's petition to stop the sale.

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