Council okays mega storage facility on Saddle Club grounds

~ By Bob Volpe ~

It was another packed house at last week’s Woodland Park city council meeting.

Many in attendance came to show support or oppose an ordinance that will allow for the construction of a 72,000 square foot self-storage facility to be built on the old Saddle Club
property on Hwy. 24

The property in question is owned by the Saddle Club, but has recently been sold to developers M3XP2 for $2.4 million. An unusual twist to the sale is that the property sale could not be finalized until the ordinance was approved by council. Further complicating the sale is a pending lawsuit filed by Saddle Club members, who claim the sale was pushed through without the approval of the club members..

Before the hearing got under way, City Attorney Erin Smith pointed out council was required to proceed with a public hearing on matters that are recommended for approval by the planning commission. This was to clarify and head off a possible motion to table the ordinance pending
the resolution of the pending lawsuit.

Partner in M3XP2, Eric Smith, was first to present his argument in favor of the project. Smith commented on his previous experience with projects in Woodland Park, including the Trail Ridge apartments, and cited studies that he believes warrant the project being built in
town. He also stated the project is a low impact venture; it meets all the requirements set forth by city codes; and fills a need for the community. Smith then referenced a change in the request, that the primary use of the property will be onsite truck/trailer rental and the storage units would be the secondary use. The truck/trailer rentals will be limited to no more than a combined total of 30 trucks/trailers on site at any one time.

When Smith finished his presentation, City Planner Lor Pellegrino noted that the planning commission approved the project. She explained the project meets all code
requirements, complies with the 11 standards set forth by planning, and is within the city’s zoning for such a project.

Saddle Club leaders question deal

Saddle Club President Merry Jo Larsen addressed council regarding the sale of the property.

Larsen said she feels the Saddle Club membership was deceived when the sale was presented, and that the membership did not have proper representation regarding the contract. More importantly, she believes a vote of the entire Saddle Club membership should decide if the sale should take place, not just the board of directors. She also stated that the property is much too valuable to the future of the city for this type of project. She agrees there is a need for self-storage in the community, but that there are better uses for the land, and that there are better places to put a self-storage facility.

Long time resident Lisa Huff, who lives at the old Aspen Garden Nursery site adjacent to Fountain Creek, gave a power  point presentation on the effects of erosion in Fountain Creek that could adversely impact the property.

Councilman Paul Saunier noted that erosion mitigation on the property was recently estimated at $5.4 million,

Saddle Club member, and operator of the Historic Ute Inn, Elijah Murphy, then addressed council. Murphy echoed the concerns of Larsen regarding the sale of the property, and that the project will not create many jobs. He claimed his main concern was that the builders are a high-risk group, and that the sales contract puts the Saddle Club at financial risk somehow. Murphy also claims that one of the members of the M3XP2 group, Pete LaBarre, is delinquent to the IRS on taxes.

This could not be confirmed at this time. According to Murphy, should the IRS come after LaBarre for back taxes, a lien could be placed on the property and the Saddle Club will suffer the consequences, financially bankrupting the organization.

Several other residents spoke out against the project, basically stating the property is not the right place for this project.

Upon conclusion of public comment, M3XP2 representatives rebutted several of the points made by those who spoke against the project.

Ultimately, council came to a consensus that the property rights of the owners trumped the concerns of the citizenry. In addition, the council believes that the lawsuit is not relevant to the approval of the ordinance, and that zoning use for the property is consistent with this project.
Council voted 5-0 to approve the ordinance.

Councilperson Noel Sawyer was absent, and Councilperson Hilary LaBarre recused herself from the hearing because of her relationship with Pete LaBarre.