Talk about a change in attitude within a five month-period and a “Tale of Two Cities” scenario.
With only a few minor complaints, plans for a new Best Western hotel in downtown Woodland Park have hit the jackpot from a regulatory standpoint. Pending the obstacles of securing financing and getting the approval of corporate officials, the proposed 62-room, 52,000-square-foot, 46-foot-tall project that could dominate a key shopping corridor, may begin construction in 2017. Some planners also see this as the kick-off for a new trend in Woodland Park and a marketing brand for the city.
“This won’t be the last hotel we are going to (see built) in Woodland Park,” said Jon DeVaux, chairman of the Woodland Park Planning Commission, following a hearing on Jan. 14.
Last Thursday, the Woodland Park Planning Commission gave the near unanimous thumbs-up verdict for the Best Western hotel plans, proposed by Gold Hill Square Shopping Center developer Bill Page. The commission, following a several hour hearing, agreed to give Page the green light for an amendment to the planned unit development for the Gold Hill Square South Shopping Center and the dimension and footprint details for his new three-story hotel.
The city council will grapple with the proposed project in early February, but elected leader can only address the dimension details of the hotel project. The commission’s okay of the overall development plan is final.
The jovial atmosphere at last week’s planning commission meeting couldn’t have been much different from late August, when the proposed development raised the ire of many residents. Even city officials were skeptical about the project, with Planning Director Sally Riley describing the original design as one that “changes the footprint and character of Woodland Park.” The staff and the planning commission previously told Page to go back to the drawing board with his hotel plans.
But after a number of adjustments and delays, including a reduction of one story and more architectural features that blended with other buildings in downtown Woodland Park, Riley recommended approval with a number of conditions. “It is in harmony with the community,” said Riley, who cited the nearly 20 percent reductions made in the project height and mass. “We believe this application is in compliance (with city standards).” Originally, Page had proposed a nearly 70 foot- tall hotel from the highest point and one that could feature 80 rooms.
Riley also cited the need for quality lodging in Woodland Park, with less than 100 rooms, and mentioned the extra tax revenue it would generate, including a projected $167,000 in sales tax revenue on an annual basis.
Page touted the advantages of the project, viewing the hotel as a good way to market Woodland Park with the first major brand-name hotel in the city. And with an estimated 12,000 hotel guests a year, Paged cited the hotel project as win/win for the area and its many assets. “They are going to see that view (of Pikes Peak from the hotel). This is how we are going to improve our marketing,” said Page.
Similar to his previous presentation, he mentioned the glowing reports he has received regarding this potential project from Best Western corporate officials and from a Ft. Collins firm that did a marketing study.
Throughout his presentation, the developer also tried to downplay previous concerns about the height of the hotel by demonstrating the typography layout of many buildings in the downtown core along Hwy. 24.
A Favorable Response
Public comment regarding the Best Western also was mostly complimentary, with several speakers lauding the compromise crafted between Page and the city. “Mr. Page truly listened to the public comment,” said Tony Perry, president of Park State Bank & Trust, in describing the previous plans submitted last summer and comments made by local residents.
Moreover, he complimented city officials and Page in working together in “trying to find a balance.”
“I want to applaud the project,” said Ed Shirk, who owns Gold Hill Theatres in the Gold Hill North Shopping Center. “I think it’s fantastic that people are working this stuff out.”
Resident Rodney Goodlette described the lack of lodging in Woodland Park. “We need a place to stay,” said Goodlette, who mentioned problems his family discovered during a visit to the area. At the same time, he urged town leaders to take steps to “make sure that everything is adhered to” with the hotel project. He also wanted to see Page to hire local contractors during the construction of the hotel.
But not everyone was thrilled with the entire project. Commission member Ken Hartsfield, who cast the dissenting tally for the development plan changes, wanted to see more adjustments made in providing additional landscaping and in developing pedestrian access between the hotel and local restaurants.
In fact, the Gold Hill Square Shopping Center received some criticism. “It is looking somewhat dated,” said Commissioner Pat Hyslop. “It really is congested and somewhat chaotic.”
The commissioner was referring to concerns about access to and from the proposed hotel. “A busy parking lot is not a bad thing,” replied Page, who stated that his center must deal with as many five access points into the development.
The biggest criticism against the project was voiced through a letter by resident Kerry Ahlstrom, read at the meeting.
“The town doesn’t need to look like a city,” stated Ahlstrom, in her letter “The Milky Way has disappeared due to light pollution.” She stated that the hotel project would further worsen this trend and would clash with the character of the town.
The commissioners raised a bevy of technical questions, such as height of the elevator hoist and parking details.
But in the final vote, the project was approved with flying colors.
Following a review by the city council, the developer must get his plans finalized by Best Western officials and try to obtain financing for the hotel. He also will try to obtain a Tax Increment Financing agreement with the WP Downtown Development Authority. Page said he hopes to start construction on the project in 2017.
Besides featuring 60 to 62 rooms, the project will include an enclosed parking garage, a lobby, breakfast room, an indoor pool, a meeting room and support services.