Woodland Park Leaders Endure Marathon, Early Morning Meeting

STR Issues, Cell Tower Plan and School Board Criticism Highlight Lengthy Session

Trevor Phipps

The Woodland Park City Council last week wrestled with a hefty agenda and another marathon meeting that lasted until the early morning hours of the following day.

This has become a familiar trend with the WP elected leaders now hosting the longest sessions of any government entity in the region.

Many of the items on the agenda last week were short business items and presentations,  but other issues, involved familiar controversies, such as the RE-2 School District Board, short-term rental policies, and a  cell tower project, sparked  lengthy debates.  In addition, the council had to deal with a sales proposition for Woodland Station (see related story).

During the first council meeting in April, the Woodland Park RE-2 School Board gave a presentation talking about what they have accomplished, and their current track record in pursuing their original campaign pledges, capped by a movement towards emphasizing more parental rights.    But last week, the critics of the school board took to the podium, and blasted  the actions of the current school board, most of whom were elected as a conservative slate in the elections of Nov. 2021.

Many citizens last week brought up concerns with a slew of the recent decisions made by the school board. Several of the speakers cited serious issues, pertaining to the school board cutting funding for mental health programs.

The council didn’t comment on this issue, which has commanded much regional media attention.

The council also last week partook in a series of scheduled presentations.  The council announced the graduates of the city’s recent Citizens’ Academy, and presentations were given by Core Electric and UC Health.

Then, the real fun started.

A heated debate ensued, when  an item came up surrounding short-term rentals. Council members Rusty Neal and Kellie Case put an ordinance on initial posting that would put in place regulations for STRs.

Neal said that after listening to the public, he said that both sides of the discussion agreed that the best part of the legislation was the two-strike rule. “We have STRs here and by our current municipal code, once somebody has a license there’s no way to remove an STR business that is not following any good neighbor policy,” Neal said. “So, across the board everybody has said that they at least like that piece of the legislation. I was trying to extract the universally desired piece of 1431 and at least while we are waiting forever for a new version to come to us, we could start the process of at least getting a way to remove the bad apples.”

Case, however,  said that it would be hard to pass the ordinance to enforce regulations for STRs when there is nothing written in the code and no way of licensing them. She said that after reviewing it, she no longer supported the ordinance the way it was written.

Councilmember Frank Connors agreed with Mayor Hilary LaBarre when she recommended that the council table the ordinance until the next meeting for further discussion. Councilmember Robert Zuluaga also said that he didn’t like the ordinance as it was proposed.

Neal then offered to remove the ordinance altogether.

New Cell Tower Gets Approved

During the first council meeting in April, the council decided to table the subject of a new cell phone tower that would be constructed near the Woodland Aquatic Center. Zuluaga brought up several concerns with the tower being constructed so close to the schools. He  said some cities have restrictions on how close a cell tower can be built near schools.

At the time,  Zuluaga said he wanted to send the council members more information on the subject.

But during last week’s cell tower discussion, Zuluaga waved the retreat flag and agreed to recuse himself from this matter altogether. He made a detailed statement in explaining his actions.

Zuluaga said that after the previous council meeting he was told that his actions were not legal since the matter was quasi-judicial. “According to our city attorneys, they feel I have overstepped my role as your representative as an elected city council member in one of the hats were asked to wear as a judge,” Zuluaga said. “Privately, our city attorney sent an exhaustive two page letter to myself, my fellow council members, and city staff chastising me and accusing me of unlawful behavior, bias and violating my legal responsibilities.”

Zuluaga said that he apologized to people who think that his actions could compromise the city. He ended up telling the council that he would be recusing himself from this agenda item, and any decision about the cell tower.

 Still, some concerns were voiced about the cell tower project.

Councilmember Catherine Nakai asked that since the tower was concealed, it would be the tallest structure in town, and what would be the method to solve lightning strikes. The attorney for Verizon responded by saying,  their company would have to meet all of the building requirements that addressed potential issues with lightning.

A representative for Verizon said that all of the structures are designed to safely mitigate lightning strikes and that all of their towers are constructed with higher standards than other buildings. The towers are equipped with lightning rods on top with heavy gauge wire to bring the lightning strike down to the ground. There is then lightning rods in the ground that can safely mitigate the electricity from the strike.

In the end, the 60-foot cell tower was approved by the council, with the exception of Zuluaga, who recused himself and Frank Connors who voted “no.”