After Central Park Drive snafu, city changes policy | SteamboatToday.com

After Central Park Drive snafu, city changes policy

City changes easement policy after recent Central Park Drive project snafu

Scott Franz

Construction crews with Connell Resources work on the reconstruction of Central Park Drive on Monday afternoon. The project was held up for nearly three weeks because the city failed to secure critical easements for the project.

— The city of Steamboat Springs says it will stop relying on the types of handshake deals regarding construction easements that recently held up the major Central Park Drive project for two-and-a-half weeks and threatened to nix a roundabout.

Interim City Manager Gary Suiter said he recently learned the city’s public works department had been using a "neighborly approach" to securing easements, often receiving only verbal assurances the city would be granted permission to work in certain areas prior to construction.

After the projects had gone out to bid, and sometimes even when work was already underway, staff would then secure the easements with the necessary signatures and paperwork.

"It was kind of a folksy way of doing business," Suiter said. "It’s important to note, our engineers did not invent this process. They inherited it. But we’re giving up leverage when we do this."

Suiter said this tactic gives private property owners leverage to make demands of the city after construction projects have already been bid.

The community recently saw the risks and negative impacts of the city’s former practice when construction crews had to delay the start date on the major Central Park Drive project three seperate times because the city was still working to secure easements from private property owners that were critical to the project.

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City Engineer Ben Beall ultimately had to travel to City Market’s corporate offices in Denver to meet with that tenant and the largest property owner at Central Park Plaza to secure the easements.

City officials said City Market had some concerns about the work, including the impact on its parking lot.

Suiter told the City Council on Tuesday the city was so determined to get the project started, it took a "hard line" and drafted a letter saying it would drop the plans for a new roundabout if the easements weren’t secured.

The city was able to secure the easements and keep the roundabout, but crews were set back two and a half weeks.

The delay could push some construction into a period of the summer in which Central Park Plaza businesses see some of their highest traffic and greatest revenue.

Immediately after the bureaucratic tangle over the Central Park project was resolved, Suiter said, the city’s public works staff decided on its own to change the easement policy.

Had they not, he added, he would have mandated the change himself.

"We have to change the way we’re doing business," Suiter said. "We’ve matured, and now we’re dealing with multi-billion corporations like Kroger out of Cincinnati and Kroenke Group out of Columbia, Missouri. These firms are big and sophisticated, and they have lots of lawyers."

He said the city will no longer bid a critical project until all necessary easements have been secured.

As a result of the new policy, the city yanked the reconstruction of the intersection of Après Ski Way and Village Drive from the bidding process last week.

The city had not yet secured all the easements.

The council learned Tuesday the city also is still working to secure easements on a major improvement project on Yampa Street.

That project has already gone out to bid.

"The previous way of doing business was no longer relevant to this community." Suiter said.

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