Woodland Park DDA Bid Hits The Preliminary Jackpot

by Rick Langenberg:

 

 

Woodland Park’s growing reputation as a discount retail and service hub has taken another leap forward, with a little helping hand from city hall. Last week, following another lengthy discussion, the Woodland Park City Council signaled the green light for a complex Downtown Development Authority (DDA) deal, clearing the way for a new Family Dollar store and O’Reilly Auto Parts outlet off Hwy. 24, near the County Lodge facility.

The discussion was somewhat complicated by the addition of several new elected leaders, who questioned certain aspects of the DDA arrangement, and especially the authority’s agreement to foot the bill for an estimated $500,000 in infrastructure costs. With these approvals, the stage is now set for an important phase of a DDA-sponsored project that collectively would give the downtown core an additional 40,000 square-feet of new retail space and provide the city with a projected $200,000 in additional annual sales tax revenue.

The council still has to approve the final plans for a new Woodland Hardware store, proposed in the heart of the former Saddle Club site. These new facilities are scheduled to be completed by the end of the year. And in an unrelated matter, the council also last week approved a conditional use permit for a 4,200-square-foot auto repair facility for the Vahsholtz Automotive company at their North Pine Street site. The Vahsholtz’ facility, calling for three new repair bays with three separate garage doors, an office, break room and more, didn’t generate much discussion and was approved fairly quickly. However, the council toiled extensively over the proposed Family Dollar and O’Reilly Auto Parts developments. Combined, these new facilities would give the city another 14,000 square feet of retail space. Several new leaders, such as Councilman Bob Carlsen, raised a red light about the traffic impacts and the city’s infrastructure plans and costs. Part of the problem dealt with a land area, owned by Skip Howes and the BHS Partnership, that posed a number of key drainage issues. These parcels, located adjacent to the Country Lodge, were originally slated for development in the early 1990s, but never materialized. City officials cited the plan as a good potential economic and service boon for the town and an ideal way to use this property. Plus, they noted that it would allow officials to grapple with a drainage problem area, known as “The Hole.” But the project plans generated much criticism from Gold Hill Square Shopping Center Owner Bill Page, who worried about Family Dollar and O’Reilly customers saturating his parking lot. Page contended that the Gold Hill parking lot is already filled to the max and often features tie-ups during the weekend. He wanted the city to take stronger action to prevent these customers from accessing the Gold Hill parking lot as a possible short cut. “We don’t want the traffic coming through our center,” said Page. Also, an adjacent property owner complained about future access to his land.

The council, though, appeared more concerned about the DDA commitment to pick up the tab for the infrastructure costs. This infrastructure would be paid through an expanded DDA loan, financed by Vectra Bank. Money to pay back an additional $1 million in extra infrastructure (for the projects near Country Lodge and at the former Saddle Club) costs would be paid back through a tax increment financing system, which amounts to the extra property tax revenue generated at these sites from land improvements and new construction. Several new council members, though, questioned what happens if these new projects don’t generate enough money to pay back the money. However, City Manager David Buttery indicated that this probability is next to impossible, based on the financial formula used by the DDA and the city. But if such a situation does occur, then the project developers of Family Dollar and the auto parts store would make up the difference, noted Buttery. Carlsen, however, continued to grill the city staff about its drainage plans for this site. The council agreed to unanimously approve the deal, based on a number of staff conditions. However, the city and DDA is still not out of the woods regarding their first major downtown development in nearly 10 years.

The final plans have to be approved for Woodland Hardware. And already, a number of current business owners are complaining about the impacts this development would have on their properties. New Council Appointment In other action, the council picked John Schafer, a resident of the Woodland Park since 2002, to fulfill the remainder of the term of Dave Turley, who was recently elected as mayor. Schafer beat out Neil Levy, the owner of the Swiss Chalet restaurant, for this spot. They were the only two contenders for the appointed position for a two-year term. Schafer, who hails from West Virginia, has been heavily involved with Habitat for Humanity group, serving as chairman of their construction committee. He also has been heavily involved with the Homeowners Association for Tamarac and the Mountain View Methodist Church. Prior to moving to Woodland Park, Schafer served on the faculty for the U.S. Air Force.