Rob Douglas: City was ‘hoist with its own petard’ |

Rob Douglas: City was ‘hoist with its own petard’

Rob Douglas

For any resident who ever had a frustrating run-in with government bureaucracy, the collapse of the city of Steamboat Springs' controversial plan to house the police department temporarily at the Iron Horse Inn, so the city could sell the downtown public safety building before finalizing a plan to construct a new police facility, is a delicious tale sweetened with irony.

As Shakespeare's Hamlet would say, the city was "hoist with its own petard."

After thousands of man-hours spent by city staff and the Steamboat Springs City Council "trying to fit a square peg into a round hole," as Public Safety Director Joel Rae aptly put it at Tuesday's council meeting, the seed that became the weed that strangled the city's plan to use the Iron Horse Inn as a temporary home for the police department was planted just moments after the council initially approved the sale of the emergency services building to local outdoor product manufacturers Big Agnes, BAP and Honey Stinger last December.

At the Dec. 18 council meeting, despite a petition containing 70 signatures opposing the sale of the building and a lengthy period of public comment consisting mostly of statements in opposition, a majority of the council approved the first of two required readings of an ordinance to sell the building to Big Agnes, BAP and Honey Stinger. The vote was 5-2 with council members Cari Hermacinski and Walter Magill opposing the sale.

Less than 10 minutes later, in a blissful moment following the verbal jousting about the pending sale of the building, the council unanimously approved new building codes "regulating the erection, construction, enlargement, alteration, repair, moving, removal, demolition, conversion, occupancy, equipment, use, height, area and maintenance of all buildings and structures." This was a routine approval of a change to regulations that local, state and federal officials do all the time with little understanding of the real-world consequences of their vote.

But in this case, the first victim caught in the snare of the new building codes was, irony of ironies, the city itself.

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At the Dec. 18 meeting, city staff told the council that it would cost $113,000 to transform the Iron Horse Inn into a temporary police facility. But in a memorandum prepared for this week's meeting, Rae informed the council that the cost had skyrocketed because of the new building code.

"The maintenance costs and remodel costs for repurposing the Iron Horse Inn for temporary police quarters encountered unanticipated obstacles. In order to move anywhere we would have to bring any building up to an 'Essential Building' standard per the recently adopted 2009 building code, floor loads would have to be increased from 40 lbs/sf to 75 lbs/sf. In order to accomplish this at the Iron Horse, it would be necessary to place (12) helical piers throughout the crawl space and also add floor joists to the second floor. Costs to bring the Iron Horse building up to code and remodel are estimated at nearly $1,000,000."

At this point, anyone who has watched their dream project become a nightmare after going through the government regulatory meat grinder will be forgiven if they smirk and utter a "serves 'em right" under their breath.

Faced with the reality that the new building code had closed out any viable option for selling the emergency services building before constructing a new police headquarters, the council unanimously killed the sale to Big Agnes, BAP and Honey Stinger — or anyone else — for the foreseeable future. But there finally may be a silver lining in the cloud of controversy that has been hanging over Citizens Hall.

Instead of trying to push through a deal favoring Big Agnes, BAP and Honey Stinger while pretending the sale of the emergency services building will "revitalize" Yampa Street, the focus can return to the public safety infrastructure needs of the city. The city now can determine the best location and schedule for the construction of those facilities in the context of other core city requirements and the limitations of a still challenging economy.

In so doing, the horse finally will be in front of the cart.

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