New Victory Highway work under way
Despite lawsuit, uncertain future of developments, road takes shape
November 10, 2009
Steamboat Springs — The ultimate fate of the three residential neighborhoods that could be served by New Victory Highway is unknown. But construction on the arterial road on Steamboat's west side is suddenly in full swing.
Track hoes were clawing at the point of a tall hill near Downhill Drive on Monday afternoon while large earthmovers rumbled along the north edge of West Acres Mobile Home Park. Neighbors there are suing to be compensated for the loss of a greenbelt that will be replaced by the road.
"It's just incredibly disappointing," West Acres resident and spokesman Tom Williams said. "It could create a potential legal mess. We were hoping to have all of that taken care of before they started building the road."
The New Victory Highway someday could serve Steamboat 700, 360 Village and Overlook Park. But none of the new subdivisions is a certainty.
The lawsuit is pending before the Colorado Court of Appeals and seeks to establish the standing of the mobile homeowners to be compensated for the loss of the greenbelt, even though they do not own the ground their homes sit on.
Neighbors say they really want to put a halt to the road. But city officials say they committed to the new arterial road a long time ago.
Steamboat Springs City Councilman Jon Quinn said he wishes the city had been more assertive in ascertaining whether West Acres ownership had kept its tenants informed of plans to build the road in the trailer park's greenbelt. However, Quinn said he doesn't think he would have changed the city's course on the construction plans.
"I'm sure there are some things we could have done better," Quinn said. "We were a little taken off guard back in February when this became an issue again, because we'd been working on it for so many years. I don't think we realized the residents had had zero communication on it. But clearly, we signed on the dotted line."
The New Victory Highway has long been anticipated by the West of Steamboat Springs Area Plan, which guides how well-defined areas west of the current city limits could be annexed into Steamboat to provide a mix of market rate and affordable housing.
An annexation for Steamboat 700, the largest of the three developments, with the potential for 2,000 homes throughout 30 years, was approved by City Council last month. However, a petition drive is under way to test the annexation with a public vote.
It is the much smaller Overlook Park, with perhaps 120 homes abutting the western edge of West Acres, that is driving the start of construction on the road.
Overlook Park's developers have yet to win final approval for the subdivision, but they say they need to get the first leg of the road completed in order to win city approval and get their lots built.
Steamboat Realtor Norbert Turek, who has taken the lead in bringing Overlook Park through the city planning process, confirmed that developer Jay Weinberg contracted with Duckels Construction to begin the road work.
"We've been working on this for six years," Turek said. "We need the road to get our final approval. We put it out to bid; Duckels (Construction) won the bid. We have a contract in place, and I don't know how long Duckels would have honored the contract."
During a Sept. 16 public hearing in which West Acres residents expressed their displeasure with how close the road comes to their neighborhood, the City Council promised to explore the possibility of freezing the road project. However, city staff attorney Dan Foote said Monday that in his opinion, the city was bound by a November 2008 cost-sharing agreement on the funding of the project to allow the construction to proceed and to reimburse the Overlook developers for the city's majority share of the $1.3 million first phase.
City Attorney "Tony Lettunich sent the developers a letter asking them to hold off because they don't have final approval," Foote said. "But the long and short of it is we signed a reimbursement agreement in November 2008 that gives them the right to build it and to be reimbursed. The cost-sharing agreement committed us to the project."
Turek said his company paid for all of the engineering for the first phase of the road and will pay one-eleventh of the cost of construction. The city, with $500,000 from Routt County, will pay the balance.
Turek said the original plan for Overlook was to gain access off U.S. Highway 40 and through West End Village, but it was the city that insisted on his development's participation in New Victory Highway.
City Councilwoman Cari Hermacinski said she learned of the commencement of construction in an e-mail from Lettunich.
"I'm surprised they started construction when they don't have an approved project yet," Hermacinski said. "But this has been in our budget year after year."
Senior City Planner Jonathan Spence confirmed Monday that the Planning Commission indefinitely tabled the approval of a preliminary plat for Overlook Village last month after it came to light that seven to 12 lots in the subdivision would not comply with city skyline regulations.
That tabling postponed a Nov. 17 date with City Council. Turek said the skyline issue affects only 10 percent of the subdivision's building sites, and he and Weinberg are deciding how to adapt their plans.
The most visible portion of the New Victory Highway road construction project is the tip of a pointed hilltop at the east end of the new road where it intersects with Downhill Drive.
City Public Works Director Philo Shelton said the track hoes working to tear down the hill will save the city money on a piece of the road that is its sole responsibility.
"It's a cost-saving measure to get around having to build very long and high retaining walls," Shelton said. "It's value engineering that will give us a better project in the end."
West Acres resident Ken Carpenter was in the midst of building a new gate for his back fence during the weekend when heavy equipment began to arrive on the greenbelt.
The fence was intended to allow him to ride directly from his backyard, across the greenbelt and onto a nearby hillside.
"I guess I'm going to have to find a new snowmobile route," Carpenter said Monday.
— To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org