Developer of blocked Steamboat apartment project says ruling could negatively impact other housing projects
September 1, 2017
The Steamboat Springs developer whose 60-unit apartment project has been blocked by a Routt County judge thinks if the judge's order is left unchallenged, it could have a chilling effect on developers and prevent housing projects here in the future.
"If the city can't defend its approvals, you will be hard pressed to find anyone willing to risk capital to bring in housing to this community," developer Eric Rogers said Friday.
Rogers this week called the lawsuit that is holding up his apartment project "frivolous" and said he hoped the city will appeal the judge’s ruling.
Rogers' downtown apartment and commercial project was approved by the Steamboat Springs City Council in April, 2016.
The developer said Friday his development team invested hundreds of thousands of dollars on engineering, architectural and consulting costs to get the approval at 1125 Lincoln Avenue.
Then, the lawsuit aiming to stop the project was filed by an Old Town resident who thought the building would have stuck out like a sore thumb.
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Ken Manley also thought the city didn’t follow proper procedures when it approved the development and granted variances from city codes.
Earlier this week, Judge Shelley Hill ended up reversing the three variances the city council granted for the project to have extra height, density and upper floor setbacks.
City Council justified the variances by stating the city’s height and density codes presented an “unnecessary hardship” to the developer, and the developer needed the variances to make the project profitable.
But Hill found the city’s rationale for approving the variances at 1125 Lincoln Ave. was a “misapplication of the law” and an “abuse of discretion by the city.”
“The profitability of a development is not a factor … that may properly be considered when determining whether there exists unnecessary hardship,” Hill wrote in her 32-page opinion.
Even before Hill's ruling, the project was put on hold for more than a year while the legal process took its course.
The developer was among those named in the lawsuit and he, too, has the power to appeal.
But Rogers said he doesn't think he's the appropriate party to challenge the judge’s order.
He noted the lawsuit didn't accuse the developers of any wrongdoing but, instead, challenged the city's approval of the project.
"I don’t see how spending more money on attorneys, in a community where full development approval doesn’t actually allow us to develop a project, would recover any of the money we have already invested," Rogers said.
City Council on Tuesday could huddle behind closed doors with City Attorney Dan Foote to discuss the prospects of the city filing an appeal.
But the chance of the council voting in favor of one appears questionable heading into the meeting.
Council President Walter Magill, one of the four council members who voted to approve the project, said earlier this week he doesn't think the city should appeal.
"I don't think we have a real strong case," Magill said.
Adding to the uncertainty of an appeal is the fact that the council just barely approved — with three “yes” votes — a February resolution that laid out the council's rationale for why the variances were approved last year.
The purpose of that resolution was essentially to strengthen the city's legal case that the council properly approved the apartment project.
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