Steamboat Springs City Council cancels proposed sale of downtown public safety building
Council also votes to delay any consideration of new police and fire stations until summer
February 5, 2013
Steamboat Springs — The city’s downtown public safety building no longer is for sale.
And the plans to build new, more efficient headquarters for the police officers and firefighters who work inside the building at 840 Yampa St. aren’t scheduled to be heard again in Centennial Hall until May.
In a meeting Tuesday night marked by council President Bart Kounovsky’s absence because of a potential conflict of interest, some tense exchanges and much debate about how much of a priority new police and fire stations are today for Steamboat, five members of the Steamboat Springs City Council voted unanimously to cancel the proposed sale of 840 Yampa St. to BAP, Big Agnes and Honey Stinger for $2.1 million.
The council also quickly passed over a competing offer for the building from a local developer who sought to raze the property and replace it with office and retail space.
"Kicking the can is a horrifying thing, and that’s what governments do, but I think we heard the public loud and clear that we need to take the time … to make the right decision," council member Kevin Kaminski said after council voted to return the $30,000 earnest checks to the two bidders for the building.
The sale to BAP, Big Agnes and Honey Stinger was approved by the council on first reading in December.
BAP owner Bill Gamber could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday night.
The scrapping of the sales contract came after city staff told the council they no longer have a feasible plan to temporarily house the city’s police force while a new station is built.
City officials originally thought they could retrofit the vacant Iron Horse Inn into a temporary police station for $113,000, but the costs of that renovation jumped to $1 million Friday and caused officials to shelve their plans to move out of 840 Yampa St. for at least 20 months.
After she requested to postpone the sale, Interim City Manager Deb Hinsvark told the council there still are many loose ends in the city’s quest to build new police and firefighting headquarters, but staff is starting to tie a lot of them up.
"This is a project we’ve gone in a lot of different directions on, and it seems like we’ve always been trying to fit a square peg into a round hole on this," Public Safety Director Joel Rae said as he presented a proposal to still build a combined public safety campus at the Stock Bridge Transit Center.
An evolving proposal
What started as a plan to seek a property tax increase from voters to fund an $18 million public safety campus in west Steamboat evolved greatly between its public introduction in March and when the sale of the existing public safety campus was canceled Tuesday night.
After the original proposal was rejected by the council, city staff proposed razing the aging Iron Horse and replacing it with a new police station.
That proposal also was rejected, and the city then started pursuing multiple options for the relocation of its emergency services even as the second reading of the sale of 840 Yampa St. to the triumvirate of outdoor retailers appeared on multiple council agendas.
The proposed sale drew strong support, especially from downtown business owners who see the emergency services departure from Yampa Street as a big boost to the revitalization efforts under way on the pedestrian-heavy roadway.
But the sale also was opposed strongly by community members who said now wasn’t the right time and the city was on track to make a mistake by selling its current police and fire stations before it had solid plans to build new ones.
The leaders of an opposition group were in the audience Tuesday night ready to put the sale to a public referendum if it proceeded any further.
But a majority of council members who were at the meeting agreed the city should take more time before it moves forward with any relocation proposal.
Still a need
Before the sale of the downtown emergency services building was terminated, Rae again outlined why the city needs a new police station.
"The current building lacks functionality," he said, adding the space limitations of the current station make it difficult to operate a crime lab in a room that is about 10 feet by 7 feet, among many other complications.
He said the department needs nearly three times the amount of space it currently has to function more effectively.
Council member Cari Hermacinski, who long has been an opponent of the city’s plan to use as much as $10 million in reserves to build new police and fire stations, told Rae he provided "the most compelling reasons to date" to consider a new police station as a priority in the city’s capital budget.
But she and a majority of other council members present Tuesday want to weigh the proposed expenditure of reserves on new emergency services buildings with other city projects, including deferred maintenance and the recent realization the city may need to invest millions in stormwater infrastructure.
The council then voted unanimously to instruct Rae to come back to the council in May with more detailed plans to build a new police station.
"Two months ago, we didn’t see (a new police station) as a need," Hermacinski said, referring to council’s approval of the six-year capital improvement program during the budget process. "I am not convinced it’s the city’s top priority. … The sale of the building triggered all of this. Maybe we do need a new police and fire station, but we’re rushing it, and our core business is public safety and water and roads, so we should get this right."
Seeking more time
Tuesday’s meeting was scheduled to start with an executive session to discuss the recent competing offer for the building from developer Steve Shelesky, but council member Walter Magill said he preferred the discussion to happen in public.
The council agreed.
After Hermacinski said she thought council President Kounovsky’s role as chief operating officer of Colorado Group Realty, which is involved both with Shelesky’s real estate offer and with the Paoli property the city is considering purchasing to construct a new police station, could be perceived as a conflict of interest, Kounovsky stepped down from all conversations about the proposed sale of the downtown public safety building and the relocation of the fire and police stations.
Before Hermacinski expressed the concern, Kounovsky acknowledged his potential conflict of interest but he said he planned to remain in the discussion until any formal votes were considered.
The remaining council members then said they didn’t need to see a presentation on the competing bid that was prepared by realtor Jon Wade.
Later in the meeting, the council also voted to postpone any construction of a new fire station until the city reaches a resolution with the Steamboat Springs Area Fire Protection District about revisions to the intergovernmental agreement between them.
Hermacinski also wanted to learn what impact a bill moving through the state Legislature seeking collective bargaining rights for firefighters would have on Steamboat.
“I think there is enough uncertainty about the fire (department) that no decision about it should be made in 2013,” she said.
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com