Steamboat Springs City Council sued over downtown apartment decision
May 31, 2016
An Old Town resident is suing the Steamboat Springs City Council to try to halt a controversial downtown apartment building that the petitioner thinks would stick out like a sore thumb and ding the city’s western character.
In a lawsuit filed last week, Ken Manley claims the council did not follow proper procedure and broke rules when it approved several variances for the 60-unit 1125 Lincoln Ave. project, which will be taller and more dense than what is allowed by the city’s Community Development Code.
Manley claims the council is allowing the five-story building to be constructed in a zoning district it doesn’t belong in.
The lawsuit was filed against the council, the city and the developer in District Court by local law firm Klauzer & Tremaine.
"The fact is, (the council) has a series of rules related to things like the height and density of these buildings, and all of this stuff got varied (for this project) in a way that just allows for a monster of a building," Manley’s attorney Rich Tremaine said Tuesday.
The suit claims the council improperly approved the variances despite the council not making any findings that the city’s code was an “unnecessary hardship” for the development.
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City Attorney Dan Foote said he did not have any comment on the merits of the lawsuit.
The council approved the project in a 4-1 vote.
Council members Jason Lacy and Scott Ford recused themselves because they had business connections to the project.
At 51-feet tall, the apartment building will be 13 feet higher than the 38 feet that is allowed by code in the commercial Old Town district. The developers also got a variance to not set back the upper portion of the building that rises above 28 feet.
But it is not unprecedented for the City Council to approve height and density variances for mixed-use projects that front Lincoln Avenue downtown.
Howelsen Place, a mixed-use project on the other end of downtown, stands only three feet shorter than the proposed 1125 Lincoln Ave. project.
The Alpenglow development also was granted a variance to go seven feet above the height restriction.
Previous councils also approved variances to allow Alpenglow and The Victoria to be more dense than the code allows.
If the proposed apartment project goes forward, the building will be the largest apartment development ever constructed downtown.
Units will be marketed to renters making $50,000 to $100,000 a year, and it will not be labeled as affordable housing.
The development will feature three retail bays at street level.
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 were supportive of the project and the variances said the need for the residential and mixed-use building outweighed concerns about its size and appearance.
“This fits (for) nurses and hospital workers and the young couple who have good jobs but can’t get a home here,” Councilman Tony Connell said of the apartments at the hearing.
Developer Eric Rogers said Tuesday morning he had not yet been served with the complaint to read and had no comment at this time other than to say it was "extremely frustrating."
In the lawsuit, Manley says he has no legal claims against the developer but included the party as a defendant because it is required by Colorado law.
Rogers had previously told the council the building needed to be taller and more dense than the city’s code allowed to make it economically viable.
Manley owns property at Waterside Village, an apartment complex next door to the site of the proposed building.
At the public hearing held in April before the council approved the project, Manley laid out his concerns.
He criticized the Steamboat Springs Planning Commission for narrowly approving the project and questioned whether the new commissioners who voted in favor of it understood the city’s code.
He also read through the intent of the zoning guidelines in commercial Old Town and said the new apartment project did not meet any of the criteria.
"This project violates everything stated in our code for the commercial Old Town District," he said. "We have hundreds of thousands of people who come to our unique and eclectic western town, and we cannot allow ourselves to forget how appealing and exciting it is for our visitors to walk our streets and look at our buildings. They don’t come here to view a contemporary, five-story oversize building that I would call a college dorm that is in violation of our city codes."
Manley added the building would ding Steamboat’s western character.
"We cannot allow Steamboat to become another Western town that has lost its way," Manley said.
He suggested the developers pursue the project in another zoning district.
The building design was endorsed by Main Street Steamboat Springs’ design committee.
The immediate effect of the lawsuit is unclear.
Foote said the developer would have some decisions to make in response to the legal action.
Tremaine said the suit would not have an immediate effect but he expects the legal action to be resolved quickly in a matter of months.
He equated the legal proceedings as an appeal of a council decision.
Manley could not be reached to discuss his lawsuit on Tuesday.