Our View: A case of reckless driving | SteamboatToday.com

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Our View: A case of reckless driving

At Issue

The city of Steamboat Springs’ urgency in pursuing a new police station

Our View

After a series of missteps, it’s time to engage a broader slice of community leaders in the process.

A significant number of the people attending this week's public hearing about the city of Steamboat Springs' proposal to build a new police station in Rita Valentine Park professed their love for the police department despite their strong opposition to the plan.

We think it's time for the city to take them at their word.

After a series of setbacks in its bid to find a location for a new police building, it's time for the Steamboat Springs City Council to convene a panel of residents to study the need and urgency for undertaking such an expensive project.

We suggest that the panel include a cross section of community leaders from the private business, government, education and nonprofit communities as well as private residents. We'd also like to hear from the city planning staff and from the planning commission.

Together, the panel members could build the case for or against a new multimillion-dollar police station and advocate for the most practical location, leading to public buy-in. We've concluded, after reading and writing about this subject for 17 months, that the residents of Steamboat no longer have confidence in the process that brought us to this point.

When the proposal to relocate the Steamboat police and fire stations to new locations first surfaced in March 2012, we had the impression the driving motivation was to free up the building for commercial uses in order to foster a renaissance on Yampa Street.

The city was proposing to sell the police and fire buildings to a local businessman and build new facilities elsewhere. It was in early January 2013 that council member Cari Hermacinski astutely pointed out that in its most recent round of budget hearings, City Council had not ranked new police and fire facilities among its top six priorities for new capital projects.

When City Council abandoned the prearranged sale of the buildings last spring, the drive to modernize our police facilities continued with the city studying the feasibility of temporarily relocating the department into the Iron Horse Inn while it developed the new facility. Thankfully, city officials realized that would be piling a second bad idea on top of a previous boondoggle.

Finally, after contemplating the situation during the summer, the city produced a new plan in late August to locate the police headquarters in a corner of Rita Valentine Park, which has been serving as dedicated open space for many years. That plan was promptly slapped down by public opposition.

The current front-runner seems to be a plan to build a new police station on a parking lot adjacent to the current police station. That plan would leave the facility in downtown, and that might be wise. But wasn't the city intent on removing it from downtown just a year ago?

We call a timeout.

We don't think the city has paused long enough to clarify the urgency behind spending a big chunk of our treasure on a new police station at a time when the city thinks it cannot afford to keep its offices open five days per week.

We suspect there is a lingering public hangover from the city's attempt earlier this year to sell its downtown emergency services building without first seeking the highest bidder. Too much of the public debate has been about the real estate on which a new police station would be built, and not enough of it has been about the facility's specific needs.

It's time to go back to square one and allow a task force comprising nonprofit leaders, bankers, educators, attorneys and commercial real estate experts to drive the process.

That has been a successful strategy for developing public buildings such as schools and a library in the past.