New Woodland Hotel Project Receives Green light

Photos by Cindy Valade

Plans overcome opposition from emergency service officials

~ by Bob Volpe ~

The Woodland Park City Council last week approved a request by Mark Rabaut, owner of the Country
Lodge, to construct a new 62-room hotel. 

The decision, though, followed  a lively debate, capped by much scrutiny from local emergency service officials.

The hotel will be situated on a 2 acre plot adjacent to the Country Lodge. The site was originally zoned in 1993, for a two story office complex. Rabaut teamed up with lodging developer Microtel and devise a new plan for a 28,521 square foot, 3-story, 45 foot tall lodging facility.

The project received approval from the planning commission after some changes to the original plan were submitted by Rabaut, prior to the city council meeting. Council’s role was to approve changes to the
original plan regarding the dimensional standards of the project, including the maximum building height, the maximum site coverage, the minimum street frontage, and minimum setbacks.

Rabaut originally submitted a plan for the project in 2012. Rabaut’s plan changed from the proposed office complex to a motel, and two years ago he approached the DDA (Downtown Development Authority) for a Tax Increment Financing (incentives) agreement to offset the cost of improving the site for development.

According to DDA Treasurer, Tanner Coy, the DDA’s commitment for the TIF expired before Rabaut finalized the motel plan, but the DDA decided to honor the original TIF agreement.

There has been a lot of discussion lately about exempting EMS services from future TIF agreements entered into by the DDA. This project did not escape scrutiny by EMS services seeking to receive what they consider to be a fair share of property tax revenue.

A meeting took place at the Country Lodge between Rabaut, Tim Dienst (ambulance service), Jim Ignatius (fire protection district), Merry Jo Larsen (DDA chairperson), Tanner Coy (DDA treasurer), and Tyler Lambert (fire chief).

According to Coy the purpose of the meeting was to see if the parties could renegotiate something in the TIF contract that Rabaut would find acceptable so that the DDA could then share the revenue with EMS
entities and still reimburse Rabaut out of the remaining TIF revenue.

Rabaut contended the financing of the project was tight because of extensive costs for site preparation, due to the topography of the site and infrastructure. Site preparation costs are not a physical
asset like a building would be.

Although Rabaut considered his risk and investment in infrastructure to be high, he did not agree to any renegotiation of revenue sharing with EMS. Rabaut did, however, offer to host multiple events at the Country Lodge for fund raisers for EMS services and said he would match dollar for dollar the amount raised up to a certain amount.

While EMS services will not receive revenue from the TIF agreement, Coy noted that as the value of the property increase, the majority of the increase in tax revenue goes to those entities.

Northeast Teller County Fire Protection District (NETCFPD) did go on the record to disapprove the project on two accounts. The first account was that they are left out of revenue sharing due to the TIF agreement. The second area of contention was that they do not support the construction of a building taller than 35 feet because it could affect their ISO (Insurance Service Organization) rating. One of the ISO’s criteria for rating fire districts is the number of buildings in the district that exceed 35 feet in height. Woodland Park has five buildings over 35 feet in height at this time. A poor ISO rating could also lead to higher insurance premiums for property owners.

A sticking point for some council members was the lack of local workers to be employed by the project. T

The general contractor is out of Oklahoma City. Councilman John Schafer asked, “Would you anticipate
hiring any of the local labor force?” Rabaut’s representative Tom Cave replied that the general contractor will be bringing some of their staff, but would be hiring several local sub-contractors from Colorado Springs and Woodland Park. He said, “The company that we hired has done three other Microtel projects. They specialize only in hotels, so they’ve done many other brands as well.”

Mayor Neil Levy responded, “We would encourage your contractor to use as many locals as possible.”

The council unanimously approved a motion approving the new hotel plans.