by Rick Langenberg:
County and city at odds over road improvements (Related Front Page Story)
Teller County Waste last week won a series of key political battles and overcame much neighborhood opposition in its bid to become part of Woodland Park, expand its operations and launch a community-wide recycling center.
However, TCW is getting a cold response by a group of nearby residents and Teller County government officials, who are viewing the company’s pursuit with much skepticism and are questioning the motives of the TCW operators.
In addition, a big legal and financial showdown is looming over infrastructure improvements along a 2,500-foot section of Teller 231, just outside the TCW site at the southwest corner of Woodland Park. Teller officials want TCW to pay at least $70,000 for necessary road enhancements while the city is willing to accept a chip and seal overlay, estimated at only $17,500. “We have agreed to disagree,” said Woodland Park City Manager David Buttery, in describing the pending road fight with the county. “It is our road,” replied Teller County Administrator Sheryl Decker, who along with other county officials isn’t satisfied with the recommendations by the city for addressing the impacts from the proposed TCW operation, now part of Woodland Park. According to Decker, the county has objective road standards, and the new plan, okayed Thursday evening by the city council, falls well short of meeting these requirements.
Buttery late last week declined to speculate on whether the road fight will land in court, or force Woodland to pay additional monies to make up the difference. He said consultants plan to take a second look at the demands of the county in making more substantial improvements on the roadway than what the city believes is necessary.
But at least for now, TCW is waving a big victory flag and has cleared the path to obtain conditional use and special use permits for the project, the last steps before construction can begin on a new single—stream recycling center. The center, which would feature about 10 containers and occupy a 2,000-square-foot area, would be free of charge for drop-off recyclables, but would have limited hours and be heavily monitored and screened. “This is a big victory for the community,” said marketing consultant Mike Perini, a spokesman for TCW, in regards to a slew of key pro-TCW decisions rendered on Aug 15. “We are very excited to move to the next step and eager to get started,” added Perini, who noted that more than 60 percent of the company’s customer are from Woodland Park. And while acknowledging that some significant concerns have been raised by nearby residents, Perini believes that these issues will be addressed and mitigated during the next round of hearings. He cited the new annexation agreement as quite stringent and stressed that TCW had to abide by many tough conditions. “We have to look at the big picture. We are moving forward and are looking forward to working with the community and addressing the concerns of the neighbors,” added Perini.
Opponents, though, aren’t ready to throw in the towel. “This isn’t over yet,” said Diane Allen, one of the adjacent residents, who has filed a number of complaints against Teller County Waste in the last 10 years. “We are disappointed but we are not surprised,” said Allen, in commenting on the council action. She and other critics, including some county officials, maintain that TCW is using the Woodland annexation process as a way to avoid complying with Teller regulations under the guise of starting a recycling center.
The Teller County government is suing TCW over reported land use violations, with a final court showdown slated for this November. The critics of TCW also contend that Woodland Park officials are so obsessed with their push for a recycling center that they are wearing blinders regarding the shoddy track record of TCW. But proponents disagree and say TCW has supported many local groups and nonprofits and has been a big advocate of recycling programs.
Council renders a pro-TCW verdict
Despite another marathon hearing last Thursday, TCW had little trouble clearing a pivotal city regulatory hurdle. The city council by a 6-1 vote approved the new annexation agreement and the company’s annexation petition, encompassing a nearly 2-acre site off West Street. Mayor Dave Turley, who described the TCW bid as stretching the rules for annexing property, cast the sole dissenting tally. “It seems we are pushing the envelope,” said the mayor. However, Turley joined his peers in supporting the company’s new zoning designation as a community commercial area.
After hearing several hours of testimony and various reports, most city leaders were supportive of the company’s bid and viewed the plan as a property enhancement and benefit to the city. “I don’t care what anyone says, it looks like crap,” said Councilwoman Carrol Murray, in explaining the current site area. She believes the annexation and rezoning bid will create needed improvements in this part of town and provide a needed service. Most council members cited the TCW plan, including a recycling center, main office and more equipment storage area, as a win/win for the city. Plus, they believe that competition is good for the trash business. “It keeps the costs down,” said Councilman Bob Carlsen.
Road fight looming
But considerable discussion ensued last week over infrastructure improvements demanded by the county. “There are some interpretation differences,” said Woodland Park Public Works Director Bill Alspach. According to the company’s consultants, impacts from the company’s expansion and new recycling center would generate an increase in traffic at the proposed site area by 5.2 to 8.9 percent, with added vehicle trips of 79 to 133 per day. As a result, this could pose many road impacts for a nearby county residential area and for a roadway that is not part of the city.
City officials, based on the recommendations of geotechnical engineering consultants, concluded that TCW needed to add a chip and seal paving overlay on a portion of Teller 231 from its site to Hwy. 24. County officials, though, maintained that more extensive roadway improvements are needed, according to a report released at last week’s meeting. County officials referred to the assessment by the engineering consultants, Entech, as incorrect. Moreover, Teller officials unveiled the possible option of asphalting this section of roadway and making other substantial improvements, with material costs alone roughly estimated at $70,000-plus. Other problems were mentioned with the width of the road, according to county officials. “It is a county road. It is there decision,” stated Turley. “We are not annexing the road.” But with last week’s decision, TCW has officially signed off on the city’s requirements, with a cost of $17,500, considerably less than what the county is requesting.
The disagreement was further complicated by the failure of any county representatives to appear at last week’s hearing to explain their stand. However, county officials say they were not invited. And even if they were asked to attend, they couldn’t have commented anyway due to a pending lawsuit against TCW, according to Teller officials. But with no county representatives present, the city leaders took this as meaning no real objections. “I wish they were here,” said Turley, who appeared concerned about the different interpretations in what is needed to mitigate the extra road impacts.
But Buttery cautioned the council that the city frequently uses consultants to evaluate infrastructure requirements and urged the leaders to stand by its chip and seal stand, part of the annexation agreement with TCW. Plus, Councilman Eric Smith commented that the business applicant needs some type of surety regarding what he has to do as far as necessary improvements. He believes it would be unfair to hold up the project over the road issue. “There is no county representation (at this hearing),” he said.
County officials, though, say they made their stand quite clear in previous correspondence sent to the city and during face-to-face meetings with Woodland Park staff members.
Plenty of public comments
Similar to previous TCW hearings, the proposed project once again generated many public comments, both pro and con. Opponents, led by attorney Tony Rossi, expressed concerns that the city was opening up a Pandora’s box by annexing a new business operation that amounts to a trash station being disguised as a recycling center. “They did not choose to live next to a trash facility,” said Rossi, in explaining the impact of the city’s decision on the adjacent county residents.
He referred to a pro-TCW action as a violation of the “takings” property rights, and hinted that more legal battles would ensue. “You are jeopardizing their homes and families,” said the attorney. Rossi explained that the city’s proposed annexation pursuit represented an extremely liberal view of annexation proceedings with a proposed property that wasn’t connected to any Woodland Park lands or city boundaries. Other residents also outlined concerns they had over their property rights, water wells and quality of life, with the proposed operation. They also described the past problems they had with TCW and mentioned the ongoing legal claims against TCW by the county. The group also outlined a laundry list of 10 major demands, if the annexation plans move forward, such as no trash being stored in trucks overnight, not reducing property values and handling all violations in a timey manner.
However, some residents heavily lauded TCW and company president Jay Baker for their commitment to the community. Long-time resident Dick Lass said he couldn’t understand what the big furor is about, since this area has always had an industrial zoning designation, with previous trash transfer stations in the area. “They are all newcomers,” blasted Lass, in commenting on the opponents. “You have to live with growth.” And William Louis, an attorney for TCW, came out verbally swinging throughout last week’s hearing. He accused the county of trying to shut down TCW, with its legal actions. He also referred to Rossi’s legal claims of “takings” as ridiculous. “I am outraged that someone from my profession would try to bully you like that,” said Louis.
With last week’s verdict, TCW must now submit proposals for its conditional use and special use permits within the next month. Under a best case scenario, residents won’t be hauling their recyclables to the new site until next year.