The Woodland Park dirt feud is back, with downtown development leaders issuing a stern warning to owners and operators of piles of topsoil on their prime anchor site: Get your material off our land or face the consequences.
Combating growing frustration, the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) board last week outlined an ultimatum to Steve Randolph, the former mayor of Woodland Park, who has been representing several development interests on this property.
With this move, dirt talk will again take center stage in determining the future of the prized development site in the downtown corridor that has mostly sat idle for 10-plus years.
During their regular monthly meeting, DDA member Jerry Good, who co-owns the Williams Log Cabin furniture store, maintained that the dirt impasse is impacting the DDA in its pursuit of a major events hub at Woodland Station. He stated that the situation is creating a hardship on the DDA, impacting the group’s ability to “perform properly” and to develop the area into a quality events hub.
At last week’s meeting, a few DDA members were considering allowing DDA Secretary Al Born more time to negotiate a final deal. But Good maintained that enough is enough. He offered to have the DDA buy the dirt for $2,000, if a solution couldn’t be reached. In any case, he wants the material to be removed within two weeks. “It has to happen now,” blasted Good. He sought to have the situation rectified within the next few weeks, or else the DDA would take action to have the dire removed.
Other DDA members echoed similar concerns. Board member Elijah Murphy, the co-owner of the Historic Ute Inn, even offered to pay for the excavation required to get rid of the material in question. “This has gone on long enough,” stated Murphy.
Other DDA members expressed frustration, but didn’t know if an ultimatum would work. Most members also weren’t too thrilled about the $2,000 payment option.
Their attorney, David Neville, argued that legally it hasn’t been determined who owns or controls the dirt in question. He believes the DDA needs to assert their rights as land owners and issue a letter, demanding the dirt to be removed, or else the material would be considered as abandoned topsoil. “Who owns the dirt? That has been the point of contention,” said the attorney.
Further complicating the fight are allegations by Randolph, according to Born, maintaining they own additional dirt material residing in an open hole area at Woodland Station that was recently filled in by the city, as part of a plan to help rectify the situation. This dangerous hole was located in a noticeable area, near the public restrooms and mini-park area off Hwy. 24, with a massive amount of dirt transferred to property owned by Arden Weatherford, owner of BierWerks.
Born said he advised Randolph to give up their claims to this section of the property, and to concentrate on their remaining dirt, located on Lot#2. Under a previous proposed agreement, Randolph’s group would have until the end of July 2017 to have this removed and to not interfere with any special events.
Born admitted that his role as a DDA negotiator has been tested to the limits. At the same time, he wanted more time to work with Randolph, who is representing the Baker Site Development Company and has done additional work with Weatherford. Randolph has an ownership interest with BierWerks.
Born also raised questions regarding the violations of property rights and “takings” legislation, if the DDA pursues the proposed course of action recommended by Neville. “Do we get into that swamp?” questioned Born.
Finally, the board agreed to let Neville craft a letter to the dirt owners/operators requesting that they get rid of their material from DDA property within several weeks, or that the material would be considered abandoned.
Both Born and Councilman Noel Sawyer opposed this plan.
City repayment in question?
In other DDA news, the board also discussed their annual budget and agreed that it should take a conservative funding approach. Born warned of several dark economic clouds on the horizon and urged the board to keep an adequate reserve fund. He also questioned if the DDA could continue as a “working board,” without any personnel costs. Since last summer, the DDA board has severed ties with city officials.
In addition, state legislation is brewing that could impact the DDA’s revenue stream.
And in a significant funding decision, the board agreed not to pursue a bond arrangement in trying to arrange a payback of its $1 million loan to the city. Instead, the board wanted to do a regular payment plan.
This loan was originally granted to help foot the bill for design and planning costs for a previous development project at Woodland Station that never materialized.
However, some city leaders want to see the DDA get a little more aggressive in paying back its loan.
Also last week, DDA Chairperson Merry Jo Larsen announced that the group’s events committee is making major progress. She said the group would soon hear about a detailed lineup of events at Woodland Station. According to Larsen, many of these are rustic and community-oriented. “It is exploding,” said Larsen, in describing the future events activity at this property.
To help get the site ready and to take advantage of a grant, the DDA did approve a grading bid from Mallet Excavating for a little more than $22,000. Close to half of this price will be funded by a grant snagged by the Keep Woodland Park Beautiful group.