Plan to build police station at Rita Valentine Park faces barrage of criticism at 1st community meeting | SteamboatToday.com

Plan to build police station at Rita Valentine Park faces barrage of criticism at 1st community meeting

Public Safety Director Joel Rae addresses the audience Tuesday night about the idea to build a new police station at Rita Valentine Park.

— Members of a large crowd at the Steamboat Springs Community Center on Tuesday night made it crystal clear they are big fans of their police department, but they strongly oppose an idea to build a new station on a small corner of Rita Valentine Park.

The consensus came when a community member in the audience asked who would welcome the new police headquarters in the neighborhood near the park, and only one person raised his hand.

"We probably have the information we need at this point," City Manager Deb Hinsvark said after she was asked whether the city will continue pursuing the idea. "We hear you."

She said the city’s management team plans to make a decision about whether to proceed with the proposal at a Thursday morning planning meeting.

A second meeting to discuss the proposal will be held at 5 p.m. Sept. 5 in Centennial Hall.

Tuesday’s meeting started with a presentation from Hinsvark, Planning Director Tyler Gibbs and Public Safety Director Joel Rae about the idea to potentially rezone 3 acres of open space at Rita Valentine Park to accommodate a police station near Hilltop Parkway and Mill Run Court.

Rae said city staff zeroed in on the location because it would be the most efficient location to build from a law enforcement perspective.

Specifically, it would allow a circle with a 2-mile radius drawn around the headquarters to include about 78 percent of all police calls taken in the third quarter of last year.

That compares to 57 percent of calls that would be included in the same circle drawn around a new station at Stock Bridge Transit Center, and 50 percent of calls if the station were near U.S. Highway 40 and Routt County Road 129.

"This makes a lot of sense from a police officer perspective," Rae said about the centralized Rita Valentine location between downtown and Pine Grove Road.

City staff then showed how they would work to minimize the impact of the building by doing such things as using a sodded roof and shielding and down-casting lights to preserve the dark night sky.

Hinsvark also cited the history of the gifting of the park to the city in 1985 and how it originally was intended to be used for municipal purposes, not solely as a park.

In 1992, the parcel was designated to be used for park, open space and recreational purposes and renamed in 1996 in honor of former City Council member Rita Valentine.

Hinsvark took issue with claims from community members, including Don Valentine, the husband of Rita Valentine, that the land was donated to the city with the intention of always being used for open space.

But as speakers who were criticizing the idea of building a police station there got a large round of applause and other community members continued to ask about the potential of other building locations, it quickly became clear the vast majority of people in the audience never will embrace the idea.

They worried about noise and sirens in a residential area.

They questioned the station’s potential impact on property values.

They said they like the park just the way it is with dog walkers and migrating wildlife.

"We have something in the middle of this town that a lot of towns in this country would love to have, which is some open space," Don Valentine told the crowd. "It’s no place for a school. It’s no place for a skateboard park, and it’s sure as heck not a place for a police station. Put it somewhere else."

Valentine’s statement earned the strongest applause of the night.

Facing several questions about other site possibilities, Rae and Hinsvark also outlined the lengthy vetting process of other sites and gave reasons why other land purchases aren’t being pursued.

Hinsvark said the current TIC headquarters isn’t on the list because it was offered only as an entire campus to the city at an unattainable cost of $14 million and would require extensive renovations.

Rae said Stock Bridge isn’t the top site either because it significantly would impact what currently serves as a transportation hub and a park-and-ride.

And Rae said a parcel owned by the U.S. Forest Service above Yampa Valley Bank would "literally require an act of Congress" to be purchased or traded to the city and several years of waiting time.

City officials said they have known for several years that the city’s police force needs a larger headquarters with adequate evidence storage space and security.

The force currently operates out of an office building on Yampa Street, but a new station wasn’t realized in recent years because of limited capital funds.

While the Rita Valentine proposal faced a barrage of criticism, many audience members started their inquiries by thanking the police department and saying they do recognize the need for a new station.

"We’re very fortunate to have an excellent police chief and wonderful police officers, but we need to invest in this as a community without poaching from our parks and open space," Catherine Carson said.

Despite all the criticism, city staff kept the meeting cordial and maintained a sense of humor.

Hinsvark kicked off the evening by thanking the audience for keeping their pitchforks at home.

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