One-time dream development hub may remain vacant
~ by Bob Volpe ~
After a lengthy fight between the city of Woodland Park and the Downtown Development Authority (DDA), the two sides have agreed to give peace a chance and to work together better.
But in their first joint meeting, the idea of converting the Woodland Station development area into a public open space hub appeared to gain momentum. However, the legalities of making that happen still must get worked out.
This meeting was the first of what both WP council and DDA leaders hope could become a series of more forums and workshops.
The DDA/council summit agenda last week consisted of seven topics of discussion, but the hot topic was, an amendment to the 2009 Woodland Station Disposition and Development Agreement between the city and the DDA. This change could give the green light for turning Woodland Station into an open space/park area.
The original agreement stated that, “the DDA would transfer the property (Woodland Station) to a developer or developers for no cash value, but for fair value.” In other words the land must be
The new DDA proposed amendment states that the “no cost” part of the original agreement is obsolete and should be replaced with “redevelopment options that are in the best long-term interest of the central business district and the community at large.” This would give the DDA an option to develop the land as a park/open space or consider a feasible commercial offer to develop the land.
One of the big problems with Woodland Station has dealt with the declining market value and the costs of the infrastructure for developing this property.
DDA Treasurer Tanner Coy explained that the land has declined from the original purchase price of $2.75 million to $1.1 million, and the loss would be a burden on the taxpayers, who would absorb that loss. The Woodland Station property was acquired through a trade with the Saddle Club in exchange for the 23 acres that was the old sewage treatment ponds east of town, and the city agreed to make $2 million in improvements to the 23 acres.
The original agreement also obligated the DDA to “construct the improvements, or cause them to be constructed,” which is a violation of the law, according to Coy.
There has also been recent talk about the city taking back possession of the property as part of the DDA’s $1 million debt payment to the city.
Cut the bull, turn Woodland Station into open space hub
Despite the complex legal details involved in resolving the fate of the property, public sentiment is growing to turn the 10-acre-plus area into an open space hub, until the commercial market rebounds. This point was echoed at last week’s summit session by several DDA leaders. However, the legalities surrounding that idea are still generating a few question marks.
Councilperson Kellie Case, who is also the council’s liaison to the DDA, discussed the new proposed DDA amendment. She believes the issues in the amendment need further study and review by both city and DDA attorneys. Case acknowledged that much has changed since the original agreement was enacted and those changes do need to be revisited.
Mayor Neil Levy chimed in, stating that this amendment will be a subject of discussion at the next city council meeting.
It is unclear whether this will be referred to the current city attorney or the new forthcoming in-house attorney (see related story).
As with any discussion of Woodland Station, the conversation then turned to what should be the future of the property regardless of who oversees it. DDA Board Member Elijah Murphy cited the
Levy stated it was more than just dirt work. He said improvements to Fountain Creek were also involved in that dollar amount. Murphy continued, “There are also about $3 million in highway improvements
Soon after the discussion began, DDA Board Chairperson Merry Jo Larsen asked for a show of hands of those who would like to see the property become open space until the market is such that it can be commercially developed. The overwhelming majority of attendees and city officials
Levy commented that they should start working towards that end. He suggested the city and the DDA pool their resources to lower the cost of that endeavor.
Developer Pete LaBarre, though, expressed much skepticism about this solution.
“Ya know what? Citizens of Woodland Park are a bunch of NIMBY’s (Not In My Backyard). You will always hear, we don’t want more development. And quite frankly, if that is part of the solution, I understand this property is owned by the DDA. It’s being paid for by taxes collected by the DDA and the DDA is responsible for the development. Yeah, community input is terrific, but I can tell you from personal experience, what the outcome will be. Don’t build. Don’t develop. Leave it alone. You guys are done. Pack it up. Call the meeting to an end and just leave it open space forever.”
Resident Curt Grina, who was one of the leaders of the effort to build the Pikes Peak Regional Hospital, also stated his position. He railed about excess government control and feels the free market is the deciding factor of control. He went on to say the planning commission is there to prevent “too bad a thing to happen.” Grina said, “My answer to the citizen who wants it to be something is fine. Comply with the zoning requirements, raise the capital and put your building in there if the planning commission will approve it. Ya don’t need a bunch of government bureaucrats to micro manage development.”