VIDEO: Salida City Council Considers Sackett Avenue Property Transfer, Part One

“We did receive, just this morning unfortunately… sort of last minute… from Parks & Wildlife… we have talked to them extensively about a separate agreement to further, kind of, elaborate on the intentions of both parties.  And we just received the draft of that this morning.  We’d hoped that could be passed [by City Council] concurrently with the transfer of the property.  So it’s our recommendation to postpone, or continue the hearing on this item until the February 5 [Council] meeting, so that we can bring both of those items to the Council at the same time.  And it’s really just meant to be kind of a further explanation of the intentions of both parties, that it’s really not that appropriate to include that type of language on the ordinance or deed.”

City Administrator Dara MacDonald was addressing the Salida City Council, and a packed Council audience, about halfway through a lengthy Council agenda on January 22, 2013.  The item currently before the Council — and presumably the reason for the generous citizen attendance — was a controversial proposal to transfer certain City-owned property, located at 307 W. Sackett Avenue, to the state agency recently consolidated as “Colorado Parks & Wildlife.”

 

Ms. MacDonald and City attorney Karl Hanlon have been representing the City administration in some ongoing negotiations with the state government, and as Ms. MacDonald explained at the outset, she and her administration was recommending a “continuance” of the ordinance approval process, to allow a thorough reading of a new agreement that had just arrived that morning.  For some reason, Colorado Parks & Wildlife apparently preferred not to have certain parts of the property transfer agreement included in the deed, so the state was asking the Council to approve two separate agreements, according to Ms. MacDonald.

Ms. MacDonald continued laying out possible reasons for delaying the final vote on the property transfer.

“Also, we have scheduled an NRC Board public meeting for next Monday, January 28, at 6pm at the SteamPlant.  Board member Tim Glenn and myself will be there to present a brief presentation of the history of the Natural Resource Center and the role of the board in that and also answer any questions from the public on how things have come to be and where the board may be headed in the future. So we invite anyone from the public to attend that session as well and hopefully that might be an opportunity to alleviate some concerns that have been expressed by a few members of the public about the transparency of that entity.”

That’s tonight, Monday.

[incolumn]Presumably, most of the people in the audience understood why an upcoming NRC Board presentation might be related to a proposed property transfer of City-owned land to the state agency now known as Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW).  The proposed land transfer — by which the City would deed, to the state, the land located beneath the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area (AHRA) headquarters buildings at 307 W. Sackett Avenue — is currently tied to an apparent promise from CPW to build a new headquarters building on the former Vandaveer Ranch property south of downtown Salida, where a private non-profit corporation known as the “NRC” is attempting to use City-owned land to create a new and extensive government complex to be known as the Natural Resource Center.  The new Colorado Parks & Wildlife building — as proposed — would house the Wildlife office (now located in rented space at the west end of the Highway 50 strip) and also the Arkansas Headwaters offices now located in the heart of downtown Salida.

That Sackett Avenue AHRA facility is, by many accounts, one of the more attractive buildings in downtown Salida, and is centrally located near the Arkansas River boat ramp, the SteamPlant Events Center, and Salida’s downtown shopping and business district.  According to numbers provided by AHRA, the building served about 29,962 customers in 2012.  One might presume that many of those customers also spent money at the shops and restaurants in downtown, helping to vitalize the economy of Salida’s Historic District — a commercial area which was recently designated by the state of Colorado as the “Salida Creative District”.

But the Natural Resource Center Development Corporation — working hand-in-hand with the Salida City Council — would like the AHRA offices to relocate from downtown to their proposed NRC complex, south of town along Highway 50.  The board of the NRC currently consists of four people — two Council members, Tom Yerkey and Keith Baker, plus administrator MacDonald and former County commissioner Tim Glenn — and has been operating in a rather non-transparent, non-public fashion.  That lack of transparency has generated complaints from certain Salida citizens, dating back to 2009.

To read a lively discussion of the controversy from 2011, check out the reader comments from this posting in the Salida Citizen.

At last week’s meeting, City attorney Karl Hanlon reiterated the reasons why Council might want to postpone their final decision on the Sackett Avenue property transfer until their February 5 meeting, but he urged the Council to proceed with a public hearing as originally planned for the current meeting — considering the unusually large number of people who had attended the meeting.

Presumably, many of them wished to speak to the transfer proposal issue?

Council member Keith Baker — who, during previous Council meetings has found himself engaged in “back and forth” arguments with critics around the NRC and of the proposed Sackett Ave. property transfer — urged mayor Don Stephens and the Council to listen to the audience… without engaging… and then to allow the members of the Council to separately express their feelings about both issues… without getting into arguments.

“I want the public out here to hear my thoughts; I want them to hear all the Councilmen’s thoughts as well as the Mayor’s thoughts.  This is nothing to try and avoid your questions; I just don’t want to get into a ‘push-pull’ with anyone out there, at this point.  I think there’s room for that at a true public hearing.  And I’d like for you people to actually hear, from the beginning of this thing, where our thought processes started, where we’re at today, and why we think like we think.”

Former Council member Monika Griesenbeck stepped up to the microphone and asked for assurances that the Council would actually postpone their decision until February 5.  Mayor Stephens assured her that a postponement looked very likely.  The mayor then opened the floor to the public.

Local business owner Wade Veazey had apparently spent the past two weeks discussing the controversial issue of the property transfer with members of the Council and the City administration, and he’d come to some slightly different conclusions from certain Council members who were promoting a speedy decision on the property transfer.  Mr. Veazey — who owns the SubCulture Cyclery, located directly across the street from the AHRA offices — argued that the City and the NRC board was under no financial pressure to make a rushed decision — and he asked the Council and staff to confirm that fact.  Some head nodding apparently confirmed his statement.  He then proposed an alternate plan that would leave the AHRA offices and land in the hands of the City of Salida — rather than in state of Colorado ownership — while still promoting the relocation of AHRA to the Vandaveer location.

Click Here to View Part Two…

Bill Hudson

Bill Hudson spent a pleasant 18 months living in downtown Salida, during which time he did his best to understand the inhabitants and their motivations. He then escaped back to Pagosa Springs to resume his work at PagosaDailyPost.com