City Officials Acknowledge Problems With Erroneous Variance Resolution
Some development debates just never seem to end in Cripple Creek. Or as the legendary rock band Led Zeppelin once stated, “The Song Remains The Same.”
Last week, the saga surrounding the ongoing pursuit of Bronco Billy’s mega hotel expansion, called the Chamonix resort, took another unusual turn. Only this time, the city shouldered the blame, but officials downplayed the situation, saying nothing has really changed with the most recent approvals granted.
As a result, city leaders now must grapple with the fact that they approved a nine-story development in 2021. “I am not happy,” blasted Mayor Pro Tem Tom Litherland. “Do we not have a limit on height?”
The council, at the recommendation of its building official and head attorney, reluctantly approved a new revised variance for a building height variance application, which officials acknowledge that the project will be comprised of nine-stories from Bennett Avenue, and eight -stories from Carr. The projected height of the new development will tower above the courthouse, a fact that makes some leaders like Litherland apprehensive.
Cripple Creek has tried to do gaming and business projects that adhere to the town’s historic character, and has refrained taking the same stance as Black Hawk, known for its 30-plus-story Ameristar resort.
Initially, the council had the impression that they were approving a less tall, seven-story project. The new development will become Cripple Creek’s most elaborate lodging venture ever proposed, with 300-plus rooms, a mega parking garage and a spree of four-star amenities. The project is currently under construction, and is slated for completion by July 2023.
What went wrong?
But from a regulatory standpoint, city officials had to admit last week a mistake was made in an earlier posted resolution. And unless a correction was made, the project may have even been forced to screech to a halt legally, according to officials.
“The text in the (original building variance) resolution was incorrect,” said Cripple Creek Building Official Ken Hartsfield. Similar sentiments were echoed by Cripple Creek city attorney Erin Smith. “There is a difference in form, not in substance,” said Smith, who downplayed the error, and praised Hartsfield for his diligence in researching and correcting the situation.
City officials noted that no real change will occur with the project and that recently revived architectural and building plans are being followed. The Bronco Billy’s expansion was actually initially approved in 2018, following a number of lively meetings. It was then put on hold due to the state and national mandated casino closures, in the wake of COVID-19 epidemic, with a hefty portion of the construction bond returned to Full House Resorts, owners of Bronco Billy’s, at their request. And then when casino action returned to the forefront and betting limits were lifted, Full House Resorts decided to embark on a much larger hotel and more speedy construction effort.
The landscape of Cripple Creek’s downtown core is now dominated by the sight of huge construction cranes and the first glimpses of the initial stages of the parking garage and hotel. This is part of a big lodging renaissance in the Creek.
Still, certain council members are worried about the height of the project. Some fear this could impact other lodging efforts planned around town.
During last week’s meeting, David Minter, owner of Colorado Grande and Johnny Nolon’s casinos, raised concerns about the city’s process, and questioned why public comment wasn’t permitted. “It doesn’t seem right to me,” said Minter. He stressed that he wasn’t taking a position on the height of the project. He reminded the council that that the original hearings on the Billy’s expansion featured many comments about the height of the project, and making sure it didn’t clash with the town’s historic look.
Smith, though, emphasized that problems occurred with the official notification of the building height in a resolution approved last year, when plans were amended. She said the approvals granted were mainly done from the plans publicly presented.
Hartsfield assured the council that the construction process will be heavily monitored by the city.
Following the detailed explanation by city officials, newly-elected councilman Mark Green stated that he would support the change, but like Litherland, expressed concerns in how the application was handled. He motioned for a prompt approval.
He and other elected leaders approved the change, and didn’t want to delay the construction efforts. All the council members agreed. Councilwoman Melissa Trenary, though, abstained from voting due to her involvement in the casino industry