Behind the headlines: Will county budge on courthouse?
April 17, 2004
Q. Is the downtown site a “practicable” site? How do you respond to arguments that the courts should stay downtown to keep government offices downtown and to support business and the downtown area?
A. The downtown is not “practicable” for several reasons:
n The downtown site is $3.5 million to $4 million more expensive to build on than the western site. The county was unsuccessful in obtaining voter approval to assist it in building the facility. To finance the building, the county will be using certificates of participation. The debt on the financed portion of the western site will be about $8 million. The additional cost of building on the downtown site would require an additional annual debt service of $280,000 for 20 years. We think we cannot fund the additional debt service without substantially and critically reducing service levels. We firmly believe that Routt County voters do not support the reduction in service levels to accommodate a downtown facility.
n Routt County is under a court order to complete the project by Sept. 1, 2006. We cannot re-engage the community, redesign, build and complete the downtown project within the court-ordered timeframe.
We have spent $1.2 million on the west of downtown Steamboat site. We think it is a site supported by a majority of county residents.
n The downtown location does not allow for further court expansion.
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n If the county puts the court downtown, we will have no room for future county office expansion. By 2005, the downtown county offices which now house 118 employees, will be 100 percent occupied. We will be forced to either acquire other downtown properties or start the systematic relocation of routinely visited county offices out of the downtown area.
n The downtown site does not provide the desired security setbacks from traveled roadways and would require continued vehicular transport of prisoners to and from the jail.
n The downtown project was not in compliance with the Steamboat Area Community Plan and the Mountain/Downtown plan. A 52,000-square-foot building plus parking structure that maintains the historic character of Old Town emphatically cannot be built on the downtown property. The noncompliance issues include lot coverage, setbacks, height, roof pitches and building design. Those issues are compromised to build a building that meets the required “Court Standards.” During our public hearings, it became apparent that the “big-box government office” did not belong downtown.
Q. Why did the county choose not to go through the city planning process after the City Planning Commission voted to deny the justice center?
A. Routt County did go through a hearing with the City Planning Commission and feel we got some very good feedback from the process. In fact, we contend the hearing provided evidence that even among city residents alone, the support and opposition is equally divided. Our analysis of the reasons for support of our application mirror the “big picture” reasons put forth by the county. The opposition argument seems to be based on one sentence in the community plan and “low quality” wetlands that the county contends were created largely by the construction of the city’s sewer lagoons and sewer lines.
The county decided not to appeal the Planning Commission denial to the City Council for several reasons. The county felt the appeal would be nonproductive. The county believes that City Council prejudged our application at its April 6 meeting. The county felt the pending application would not have been given a fair and impartial hearing. We further thought that appealing the decision would have created further fragmentation of the community.
The county is very interested in hearing from the city. We are interested in receiving comments related to the architectural design on the West site project. We are not interested in having further discussions related to the location.
Q. Is there any chance the county will reconsider building downtown?
A. While the 2002 ballot question did not refer to location, I believe that Routt County voters made the decision that they wanted the justice complex west of downtown.
I think the vote validated the concerns raised regarding the cost, security, parking and construction of a 52,000-square-foot building in historic downtown. To satisfy the court mandate, the county made firm its direction when it passed Resolution 2004-029, overruling the decision of the city of Steamboat Springs Planning Commission. The resolution documents the reasons for that overruling and is available for public review.
Q. Why did the county take out an ad in the name of “Friends of Responsible Government” in support of its decision to move the justice center west of downtown but keep the historic courthouse for county offices? How was it paid for, what was it meant to accomplish?
A. The county did not place or pay for the ads. They were paid for by a group of residents and businesses that did not think the opposition was being truthful. The intent of the advertisements is to provide the public with correct information regarding the facts of the decision and the implications for the future based on those facts. The intention of the ads is to refute the misleading information that has been put forth by the opposition with advertisements that depict “The Historic Courthouse is Moving.”
The courthouse is not going anywhere.
All of the monies spent by the Friends of Responsible Government (a properly registered political action committee) have been contributions made by businesses and individuals that support responsible government.