Will The Downtown Development Battle Ever End?

Woodland Station Design Standards Ignite Heated Debate at DDA Meeting

~ by Trevor Phipps ~

Last week’s Woodland Park Downtown Development (DDA) meeting turned into a heated debate about the city council’s effort to loosen up design standards on Woodland Station property, the controversial development anchor in town.

DDA members and other folks had a chance to discuss their problems with the requested changes to the current ordinance. Meanwhile, city officials clarified why it was proposed.

 The amendment to chapter 18.31 of the city ordinance first came to light during the last council meeting in late June. During the council meeting, the changes to the ordinance were placed on the agenda, as the first reading, when the council voted on whether the matter could be sent to a public hearing.

 The changes to the ordinance dealt with Woodland Station property, which is owned by the DDA. The ordinance currently requires any developer who wishes to put a project on the Woodland Station property to first get approved by the DDA’s design committee. After approval from the DDA committee, the prospective developer then has to go in front of the city’s planning commission for further approval of their plans.

 The new ordinance change takes out the part in which developers have to get approved by the DDA design committee. If the change is passed, the developers can submit their plans directly to the Woodland Park Planning Commission.

 When it was discussed at a recent council meeting, some believed it was a way to streamline the development process while others saw it as an attack on the DDA. The request for a public hearing was voted down by a vote of 4-3, which is a rare occurrence. Few city issues get defeated in the initial first readings.

A Bad Idea From the Get-go

At last week’s DDA board meeting, board members had a chance to voice their opinions on the requested change to the ordinance. Board Treasurer Tanner Coy first took the floor to voice several concerns about the city’s proposed ordinance changes.

DDA Board Treasurer Tanner Coy

One of the problems he had with the proposal was that it moves the DDA in a different direction. Coy first brought up a section of the ordinance that talks about making the Woodland Station property mixed-use and allowing ground floor residential properties, which were previously not allowed by plan restrictions.

 “When I read that I disagree,” Coy stated. “I think that is perhaps short-sided and doesn’t consider the difference in value to the general public and the central business district of commercial development versus residential. To allow residential on the ground floor comes with some sacrifice of value. I think that the way this ordinance is written that it puts us in a compromised position.”

Coy then went on to say how difficult it is for the DDA to just give away the Woodland Station property to prospective developers. He said that it is the job of the board members to make sure that taxpayers get fair value for their property whether that “fair value” is cash or the building plans provide some other value to the taxpayers and the commercial business district. He also said that the new ordinance change makes it tough for the DDA to do that.

 Coy then explained that giving away the Woodland Station property without providing taxpayers fair value violated state law.

City Attorney Jason Meyers, though, staunchly opposed these comments.“The DDA is a part of the city,” Meyers said. “They are not a separate entity that does your own thing. You are in intended to serve directly with council not opposed to council.”

 Meyers explained that it was legal for the city and the DDA to give property away free of charge as well as to sell the property. However, he did say that there were stipulations when transferring the property either way.

 DDA Chairperson Merry Jo Larsen responded to the city attorney by saying that she understood the DDA and the city council were supposed to work together.

DDA Chairperson Merry Jo Larsen

“We want to make sure that we are stating our concerns and working together with you,” Larsen said. “We were a little surprised to see that ordinance come up. We are striving as a board to get as much information and facts as we can so we can present ourselves to council and tell them ‘this is what we feel we need to do in order to do our end of it.’ And we want to make sure we convey that as a whole board.”

 City Planning Director Sally Riley, who started the meeting with a presentation on the history of the Woodland Station property, took the floor to discuss why the city staff backed the ordinance change. She said that the ordinance doesn’t change the design rules, but it reduces the development process down from two steps to just one.

Woodland Park Mayor Neil Levy

 Woodland Park Mayor Neil Levy then discussed further the reasons for the needed change. “I’m the one that brought forward the new ordinance, which mayors can do,” Levy stated. “My reasoning and thought behind it is simple. The less barrier to entry in my opinion and the less government involvement the easier it is to enter.”

 In other action, the DDA then briefly mentioned a new project on the table that would be a mixed use project. A letter of interest was recently sent to the DDA stating that a family from the Smoky Hills area wants to expand their business to Woodland Park.

 The letter said that their “family friendly business” serves the tourist market but that they are also known for their community involvement and as being a center for family activities. The project calls for a rezoning of the property to mixed use so that the business and some housing units can be buil