New Building Era Arrives for Woodland Park

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by Rick Langenberg:

 

Ready or not, D-Day has arrived for the official changing of the guard, when it comes to the transferring of building services between Teller County and Woodland Park.

The county commissioners recently set the wheels in motion for the beginning of a new building era for Woodland Park by approving an intergovernmental agreement and a detailed list of all pending projects. And for the first time in decades, the city is now in charge of handling its own plan reviews, building permits and inspections, and establishing an appeals process.

For its part, the WP City Council last week put the final touches on the deal by okaying fees and other contractual arrangements with the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department, which will be handling the work for Woodland Park

The city-county agreement outlines the transferring of responsibilities for building services, and also gives several more weeks to finalize and wrap up a certain amount of permits handled by Teller County. These mostly deal with big commercial projects, such as the Woodland Hardware store expansion, the Gold Hill Square movie theater development, the Charis Bible College and Andrew Womack venture. County officials believe it makes sense for Teller to finish the work it started on these projects, but sets Dec. 31 as the deadline for concluding its reviews and inspections. Altogether, Teller officials are trying to finalize close to 40 permits, a number of which are related.

But for the most part, the bulk of what once represented nearly 1,000 open permits, is now under the reign of the city of Woodland Park, which has finalized its agreement with the Pikes Peak Regional Building Department.

“The city is ready to move forward,” said Teller County Administrator Sheryl Decker, who lauded the staff of both Teller County and Woodland Park for making the deal work, at a county commissioners meeting in late November. Several months ago, Teller County decided to sever its building services contract with the city mainly due to financial reasons.

Decker noted that through a joint effort, a laundry list of more than 900 open permits has been reduced to about 110. These permits, which involve mostly residential projects, have been turned over to the city.

Although some civic leaders have viewed the split as part of growing friction between the two entities, the commissioners and the county’s head administrator described the new agreement as a win/win deal. “It will be good for everybody,” said Decker. She cautioned that the goal of the transfer is to make it as smooth as possible for applicants, property owners, the building community and the two governments.

“The agreement makes good sense,” said Commissioner Marc Dettenrieder. “It has been very complex,” added Commission Vice-Chairman Norm Steen. Steen quipped that relations between Teller and Woodland Park are much better than what is sometimes portrayed in the media. He noted that the entities just disagree on a few issues.

Both Teller and Woodland Park are currently involved in a court battle over an annexation agreement for Teller County Waste (TCW), with associated plans for a TCW business expansion and a community-wide recycling center. This proposed project has featured heated exchanges between government officials over infrastructure improvements, comprehensive plans for the area and neighborhood rights.

By contrast, the building services arrangement has involved much cooperation between the governments, capped by multiple meetings among the Teller and Woodland Park staff. Decker was especially complimentary towards the Woodland planning staff and the county’s community development services, which has been in charge of the building permits for Woodland Park for at least 15 years.

The Woodland Park City Council last week tightened up a few loose ends in the arrangement, such as finalizing permit fees and approving a resolution that allows Woodland to join forces with Regional Building and outlining the responsibilities for each entity.
And the new set of fees, which represents a big reduction for residential projects, is turning a few heads, with some builders and property owners wondering why the city didn’t sever ties earlier. Based on a hand-out presented at last week’s meeting, officials noted that a typical residential project, under the county’s umbrella, would cost about $2,000 in fees. Under the new arrangement with Regional Building, these fees would be reduced to $700.

Pikes Peak Regional Building Department officials have indicated that the fees they are proposing are very similar to the ones assessed in El Paso County. The only difference they cited, compared to previous arrangements, is that they impose a slightly different fee structure regarding commercial projects. They have stressed that the fees for many residential projects are lower than what builders and property owners currently pay.

Besides lower fees, city officials and builders have lauded the streamlining of the process as a big benefit. Permit requests are already starting to increase substantially under the new arrangement. ..