Steamboat City Council lacks votes to appeal judge’s ruling on apartments but that could change Sept. 19 | SteamboatToday.com

Steamboat City Council lacks votes to appeal judge’s ruling on apartments but that could change Sept. 19

A rendering shows what the apartment project would look like in downtown Steamboat Springs.

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — A Steamboat Springs City Council member who wasn't serving when the council approved a controversial downtown apartment project could end up becoming the deciding vote on whether the city should appeal a judge's ruling that has blocked the project.

The council Tuesday night lacked the votes to mount an appeal of Judge Shelley Hill's recent ruling in a lawsuit that reversed the three variances the council approved last year for the project at 1125 Lincoln Ave.

But the prospects of an appeal were still alive and hanging by a thread after the council agreed to table the decision until later this month when another council member would be in attendance.

Two council members are against appealing Hill’s ruling, one wants to move ahead and another said she is torn.

The four council members who were able to vote Tuesday voted, 3-1, to table the appeal decision until Sept. 19 when councilwoman Lisel Petis is expected to be back on the dais and could serve as a tie-breaking vote.

Petis was appointed to the council after the lawsuit against the city over the apartment project had already been filed.

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Despite some criticism from community members about the building being too big and tall, the council granted the variances last year to allow the apartment building to be taller, more dense and closer to the street than city codes allow.

But after the city was sued over the project, Hill ruled the council’s rationale for approving the variances was a "misapplication of the law" and an "abuse of discretion by the city."

Reversing his previous position against an appeal of Hill’s ruling, Council President Walter Magill said Tuesday the council needs to appeal the judge's order to protect variances the council grants developers in the future.

"If we don't appeal this, I think we are giving an across-the-board message there are no variances," Magill said.

Council members Heather Sloop and Kathi Meyer said they don't want the city to appeal.

Instead, they think the city should focus on reworking city codes if the council wants to see taller and more dense buildings downtown than current city codes allow.

"We have to always base our decisions on the code," Meyer said. "If we don't like our rules, we change the rules."

Meyer was the lone council member to oppose the development last year.

Councilwoman Robin Crossan said she has been going back and forth over the decision to appeal.

"I'm totally torn," Crossan said. "I keep going back and forth because I understand … we need to do the appeal so we can show members of our community that we are the elected officials and when we make a decision we make a decision.

"I also understand the other side of it," Crossan continued. "If it's not the way it should be, why aren't we fixing the code?”

Petis did not return a phone message Wednesday to discuss her thoughts on an appeal.

Council members Jason Lacy and Scott Ford have recused themselves from the conversations about 1125 Lincoln Ave. because of their business connections to the project.

City Attorney Dan Foote is urging the council to appeal the judge's ruling.

He thinks the city has a strong case to overturn the decision.

He added it would take about 9 to 12 months to get a decision from the court of appeals, and the appeal could be handled internally with minimal out-of-pocket costs to the city.

Asked Wednesday if Petis can vote on the appeal despite not serving on council when the apartment project in question was approved, Foote said he saw no issues with it.

"This is different," he said. "This is a vote about how do we respond to a court ruling."

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10.

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