Justice center denied | SteamboatToday.com

Justice center denied

Christine Metz

The City Planning Commission voted 4-3 to deny the Routt County Judicial Center, turning down plans to build a 51,200-square-foot building west of town and next to the jail.

The Planning Commission’s close vote reflected the audience that spoke Thursday night, alternating between support of the west of town site and those who think it should be built downtown.

The Planning Commission’s decision followed the recommendation of the city staff, which stated the county’s plans were not in compliance with the Steamboat Springs Area Community Plan and the zoned industrial use and had too great an impact on the wetlands.

After more than two hours of plan presentation, planning commissioners’ questions and public comment, a brief silence fell over the room when Chairwoman Kathi Meyer asked the board for a motion on the application.

After a second request for a motion, Planning Commissioner Cari Hermacinski moved to deny the project, which was seconded by Dana Stopher. Hermacinski said public buildings should set the standard for the community and that she was concerned about the impact on the wetlands.

“I believe the (judicial system) is so central to the community that it should remain in the center of the community,” Hermacinski said.

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Planning commissioners Dick Curtis and Scott Myller joined Hermacinski and Stopher in voting to deny the project.

Curtis voted to deny so the city, county and residents could come together to rework the plans for the new justice center. Myller said the facility should be downtown to prevent sprawl.

Meyer and Planning Commissioners Randall Hannaway and Tracey Barnett voted not to deny the project.

Pointing to the noncompliance issues the planning staff raised, Meyer said she could not think of anything more compatible to go next to the Routt County Jail than a justice center. She also said the chapter in the community plan referring to keeping government offices in the downtown area is titled “Community Character and Preferred Direction.”

“It doesn’t say mandated direction, or this is the way it is absolutely going to be,” she said.

During public comment, residents said the proposed justice center’s proximity to the Routt County Jail made it safer to transport prisoners than the current courthouse’s downtown location. Plans for the justice center call for a tunnel to take prisoners from the Routt Count Jail to the justice center.

“When you start talking about safety, what other alternative is there?” Undersheriff Dan Taylor asked.

Those in opposition to the site raised questions about the wetlands being disturbed, the noise from the nearby airport and the vitality that would be lost by taking jobs and those who use the court away from downtown.

Thursday’s Planning Commission meeting was the latest action on the weeklong flurry of decisions surrounding the proposed justice center. On Monday, county commissioners passed a resolution supporting their decision to keep the justice center west of town.

On Tuesday, the City Council voted to write a letter to the Army Corps of Engineers stating they viewed a downtown location as a practicable alternative to the west of town site. The next day, the city wrote a letter to the county asking that the two entities meet to discuss a downtown site.

— To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229

or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com