Battle Over Woodland Station Development Continues

DDA Board Members Clash Over Future of Downtown Vacant Area

Bob Volpe

The Downtown Development Authority (DDA) held a special workshop last week to revisit their bylaws and discuss how the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) system works.

Well, so much for business formalities.

Instead,  the main focus of the  meeting turned again into a debate over the future of Woodland Station, once regarded as the future anchor of commercial development in the downtown.

Woodland Park City Council recently appointed Jon Gemelke, Tony Perry, and Arden Weatherford as the three new members to the DDA board. Incumbent members Tanner Coy, and Nick Pinell, were not reappointed despite applying for new four-year terms. Another member, Ellen Carrick, recently resigned.

After a brief introduction on the board’s standing regarding Woodland Station by DDA Chairperson Merry Jo Larsen, the floor was open to comment from the rest of the board. Veteran member Al Born began with his opinions about the matter. He expressed his frustration with the fact that Woodland Station has sat vacant for some 20-plus years. After trying to find a developer, Born spoke with local real estate professionals about why it was so difficult to find a developer for the land.

He said, “Without exception those professionals thought that this particular piece of property is too small for them to address a lot of the development issues, and then try to spread all of those costs over such a small parcel of land.” He suggested subdividing the land into individual parcels would be more attractive to entrepreneurs. This would be handled by a member of the board who would oversee the development, yet not be involved in the actual development.

Born lamented that in the past, trying to find a developer for the land was “fantasy driven for the last 20-years.”

DDA member Jerry Good disagreed with Born’s assessment. Good was concerned that such a deal would unfairly benefit a member of the board. Good was specifically addressing new board member Arden Weatherford, who once sued the board over a project he proposed on Woodland Station.

Good went further to accuse Weatherford of a conflict of interest regarding his interest in the property.

A brief kafuffle ensued between Weatherford and Good, until board chairperson Merry Jo Larsen brought the subject to a close.

New member to the board, Tony Perry, also addressed the issue. Perry  said, “I don’t necessarily disagree with Mr. Born, but what I would argue is the best thing this board could do is that we put our efforts into one thing and that we put together a document with the good, the bad, and the ugly of the property and wait for the market, whether it’s one-year or twenty-years, I don’t care.”

He continued, “Only the market can solve this and only the market and a developer with a checkbook knows where that inflection point is.”

Weatherford, another new member, also expressed his opinions on this subject. He questioned Born’s assessment that the issues were too great to spread over such a small property. He asked Born to elaborate.

Born stated the obvious engineering issues, and cited problems associated with the land being located in  flood plain. In addition, he mentioned the fact that the land hasn’t been surveyed for many years, and that there is a possibility of the land encroaching on other properties. Born also touched on issues with necessary infrastructure improvements to satisfy the fire department, and requirements for such utilities as water sewer and gas.

Weatherford then question the estimated cost of the improvements. He said, “A lot of the things you mentioned would need to be done on any property anywhere.” He then said, “It didn’t slow the hardware store up.”

Debate then occurred over the subject of state mandates for the property. And past infrastructure pursuits.

Weatherford questioned whether the vapor barrier to seal off the vapors from the benzene plume,  located under the property, was a mandated requirement or if it was a choice. Born replied that it was indeed mandated by the state.

Weatherford then said, “My other understanding is that some of the past plans included underground concrete drainage project. That was a choice. You don’t have to underground the creek. That takes on an urban myth that you have to do $3-million dollars- worth of earth moving. Well, that’s not really true.”

The board then moved on to give an update on a proposed, elaborate multi-use  project for Woodland Station, highlighted by plans for housing, entertainment and retail. This has been a dream of the DDA for months now.

Larsen said there is no more information from the developer and the DDA plans to move forward with other options until they have something concrete.