The plan to build a police station on a corner of Rita Valentine Park is getting negative reviews from nearby residents and members of the Steamboat Springs City Council.
Council members on Tuesday night had mixed views of the city's idea, with one member wanting to scrap it immediately.
“This is a park, and I've heard plenty of people say it should remain a park,” Sonja Macys said.
Macys said city staff is too far ahead of the council on the planning and she hasn't heard anything positive from the community about potentially rezoning 3 acres of open space in the 35-acre park to accommodate a new station near the intersection of Hilltop Parkway and Mill Run Court.
She said the city should cancel the upcoming community meetings Public Safety Director Joel Rae has scheduled for Tuesday and Sept. 5 to get feedback on the proposal.
But other council members see the upcoming community meetings as a necessary part of the process, and don't want them cancelled.
“I wouldn't want to pull anything off the table. I think there is information that is going to come from (these meetings) and I think staff is doing the work we've asked them to do,” Council President Bart Kounovsky said.
He reminded the council that it voted unanimously in May to have city staff continue planning the construction of the new station.
The recent revelation that the city has identified Rita Valentine as its preferred building site already has angered several neighbors of the park.
It also has started another debate among council members about how city staff should proceed with the plans for the new police station.
On one end, Kounovsky said he's pleased with city staff's progress and their determination to save taxpayer dollars by building on land it already owns.
On the other, council members Macys, Kevin Kaminski and Kenny Reisman are critical of aspects of the process.
Reisman said Friday that at first brush, nothing about the Rita Valentine plan excites him.
And concerned about the backlash already stemming from the idea, Kaminski on Tuesday night said city staff should take its police chief “out of the real estate business.”
“It's not doing him any justice,” Kaminski said. “Unfortunately, Joel is in this spot. We need a buffer.”
He added that the new police station isn't a “self-serving mission from Joel Rae,” and the City Council should be “taking the bullets” on the plans, not city staff.
Reisman also said the planning for the new police station needs a new point person.
After he commended Rae on his recent Colorado Association of Chiefs of Police Executive Certification, Reisman said he'd rather see the chief focus more on public safety, not on the site plans for the new station.
Macys said Friday that she thinks the city needs to “go back to the starting point and start with a vision,” and the council needs to formally decide whether the city should limit its search for building sites only to land it owns.
“When we see them bringing a park back to us, we're not on the same page,” Macys said, adding she can't recall council giving the city direction to rule out purchasing any land for the project.
Years in the making
The new station highlights the city's six-year capital improvement plan and is more than two years in the making.
The station originally was part of a plan introduced in March 2012 to build a new public safety campus in west Steamboat supported by a new property tax.
After that plan was scrapped in the fall, the city proposed razing the defunct Iron Horse Inn to make way for a new station.
When council wasn't on board with that idea, the city started investigating several other properties before the sale of the current emergency services building on Yampa Street was scrapped in February.
Now, the city wants to start construction on the new 18,000-square-foot police station next year at an estimated cost of $8.9 million. The proposed plan calls for a 12,000-square-foot building and 6,000 square feet of garage and warehouse space.
“We need to draw closure to this within the next couple of months, because the city hasn't had a true police station in almost 40 years, and it is needed in this city flat out,” Kounovsky said Friday.
To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210 or email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com
Public safety campus timeline