Judge’s order spurs Steamboat Springs City Council to revisit approval of controversial apartments | SteamboatToday.com

Judge’s order spurs Steamboat Springs City Council to revisit approval of controversial apartments

A rendering shows what the 1125 Lincoln Avenue project would look like downtown.

— A judge has taken issue with the Steamboat Springs City Council's approval of a controversial downtown apartment project, saying the city's elected officials did not follow city rules when they endorsed the development.

District Court Judge Shelley Hill thinks the council failed to lay out the facts and findings that supported its approval of the 60-unit development, which required several variances to city code and was criticized by some community members for its large size and scale.

Hill was also critical of the council's decision not to swear in witnesses at the planning hearing despite rules that require witnesses to take an oath before giving testimony.

Hill recently issued an order remanding the case back to the council to give it a chance to present the facts and findings she found to be lacking.

She did not find statements included in a city staff report to be sufficient.

Hill’s order stems from an ongoing lawsuit against the city and the council over the council's approval of the 1125 Lincoln Avenue project.

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Old Town resident Ken Manley filed the lawsuit in May to try and halt the apartment project he thinks will stick out like a sore thumb and ding the city’s western character.

He claimed the council did not follow proper procedures and broke rules when it approved the variances for the project.

The council plans to respond to Judge Hill's order next month by considering the adoption of a new resolution that will outline the facts and findings that led to the approval of the apartment project.

For example, the council will need to provide facts that support the case that the developer faced unnecessary hardships from the city codes and was deserving of variances.

City Attorney Dan Foote cautioned the council on Tuesday night that the purpose of the new hearing is not to reconsider the decision to approve the apartment project.

But if the council doesn't approve the resolution at the Feb. 4 meeting, Foote suggested the approval of the apartment project could ultimately be overturned by the judge.

Public comment will be accepted on the proposed resolution.

Foote also addressed Hill's criticism about witnesses not being sworn in.

He said the city has not been swearing in witnesses during planning hearings unless an interested party requested it.

Foote said the practice helps to not make meetings too formal and invites more public participation.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit did not raise the swearing in as an issue, but Hill raised it in her order.

"The court does wonder why the provision exists in the procedural rules, however, if it is simply ignored," she wrote.

The lawsuit against the city and the council over the approval of the apartment project is still ongoing.

Eric Rogers, the developer of the project, could not immediately be reached to discuss his plans on Wednesday afternoon.

Rogers did not return a previous phone call from Steamboat Today to discuss the impact the litigation is having on his project.

The council voted, 4-1, to approve the project in April.

Councilwoman Kathi Meyer, the lone no vote, agreed with community members who felt the building was too tall and dense for the area.

Council members who supported the project and the variances said the need for the residential and mixed-use building outweighed concerns about its size and appearance.

Council members Scott Ford and Jason Lacy recused themselves from the vote because they have business connections to the project.

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