Woodland Park Dirt Feud Reaches a Conclusion – Bob Volpe and Rick Langenberg

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The Woodland Park City Council chambers gushed with virtual hugs and kisses last week, as a long-awaited dirt truce was reached among the Downtown Development Authority, the WP City Council and a variety of local business operators.

The agreement was announced at the regular city council meeting and at a special DDA meeting, the following day. It could allow the DDA board to continue its efforts into making a prime area of Woodland Station into an events hub, while satisfying the concerns of other business operators who are involved in this property. More importantly, it may remove the possibility of a legal trench war that most officials wanted to avoid.

After months of animosity and bickering over the future of Woodland Station and several huge piles of dirt and topsoil, major progress occurred with an apparent pact between various parties, who haven’t seen eye-to-eye in the last few months. And the real heroes of the deal are the Keep Woodland Park Beautiful group, which snagged a major $20,000 grant, for downtown improvements; and the city of Woodland Park, which played a role in filling up a dangerous hole on the property with extra material it had accumulated from the aquatic center construction project. It also removed a major dirt pile located at Woodland Station to a nearby private property owner.

Reconciliation began with the DDA requesting to withdraw a letter sent by their attorney asking council to revoke the permit of Steve Randolph, who was the excavator responsible for the storage of a dirt pile at Woodland Station, on behalf of the Baker Site Development company.

Under this deal, the city played a key role in filling up a dangerous hole and moving a huge pile of topsoil over to the dirt owner’s property, owned by developer Arden Weatherford. Weatherford previously wanted to use the Woodland Station area for an expansion of BeirWerks and for a multi-use housing project. Most DDA members, however, want to use this anchor site for a new events hub.

Still, there is another significant dirt area that must be removed by Jul 31, 2017. This belongs to the Baker Site Development group, and their interests are being represented by Randolph, the former mayor of Woodland Park, who has worked with Weatherford.

During a special DDA meeting, chairperson Merry Jo Larsen lauded the cooperation from the various parties, and especially praised the leaders of Keep Woodland Park Beautiful. The group snagged a major grant for downtown improvements, which would allow the DDA to use $10,000 for site grading and enhancements in the Woodland Station area. This provided an extra incentive for a final compromise to get crafted and to resolve its ongoing “dirt-gate” predicament, as the money has to be used by the end of this year.

The DDA board then applied for a new permit with the city, following its regular meeting early last week.

For the first time in several months, the DDA board took a more low-key approach in addressing conflicts it had with Randolph and Weatherford during a Oct. 7 special meeting. They also supported the approach taken by DDA Secretary Al Born, who handled the negotiations on behalf of the DDA with Randolph.

Earlier last week, DDA board member Jerry Good requested that Born get axed as the DDA’s negotiator and be replaced with DDA chairperson Merry Jo Larsen. “The property is being squatted on,” blasted Good, in complaining about the continual impasse over dirt on property owned by the DDA and the continual delays it experienced He contended that the DDA wasn’t getting the best results with the current negotiations.

However, Born’s role in representing the DDA board was supported by other members. They said he was doing the best job possible under the current circumstances. “Al is negotiating with one hand tied behind his back,” stated Councilman Noel Sawyer, who serves on the DDA board..

But at Friday’s meeting, Good, along with other DDA members, appeared to support a proposed memorandum of understanding unveiled by Born. DDA members are still upset that they must wait until July 31 next year to see all of the dirt removed from the Woodland Station site. But under this plan, no dirt can be removed or excavation work can occur on the Woodland Station property during the weekend and when Woodland Station is hosting special events.

Plus, the main major dirt pile that created much controversy and served as an eyesore has been removed, and enhancement work is being done on the property by the city. “This has been tremendous,” said Larsen, in outlining the compromise.

City elected leaders and officials also were ecstatic about the turn of developments and didn’t hesitate in making their opinions known at last week’s council meeting.

Mayor Neil Levy stated, “The reason for this is because, in my opinion, we’ve had some great leadership, not only from our city manager, but also from the board of the DDA, and I think we have a great resolution.”

Woodland Park City Manager David Buttery explained the city and the DDA came to an agreement on how to deal with the dirt and hole on the Woodland Station property. After reaching the agreement, the city went about what Buttery called, “Taking a bite out of the elephant that’s been in our community for some time.” He stated that the hole was filled and an arrangement to move the dirt pile to another site, with the approval of the site’s owner, has moved forward.

Buttery said, “I appreciate the DDA board giving the city permission to do that.”

DDA Treasurer Tanner Coy responded to the remarks of several council members, saying, “I would like to express my gratitude on behalf of the DDA board for the actions being taking by the city manager and city staff to help our community to move toward a solution on Woodland Station.”

These sentiments were echoed by a variety of DDA members and elected leaders at last week’s regular meeting. they marked a big change from past meetings between the two groups.

In other positive developments between the city and DDA, the mystery over thousands of missing e-mails may also have gotten resolved, according to city officials.

E-mail-gate was spawned by a gap in the email record of former city economic development director Brian Fleer.
Those looking into the emails noticed there were a number of emails missing from the record.

The city’s attorney, Erin Smith, reported last week that the third party computer forensic investigator hired to retrieve the lost emails, found that there were no more missing e-mails to be recovered. This is another issue that has sparked much tension between DDA members and city officials.