VIDEO: Facts and Fantasies About the Bridge to Nowhere, Part Six

Read Part One

One more video segment this morning, taken from the March 17 public meeting hosted by the Pagosa Springs Town Council. We hear from the six Town Council members present at the meeting, expressing concerns about a bridge that the taxpayers probably ought to embrace, before it’s too late.

As we found out during the three-hour meeting, the Town Council currently has very little information — very few hard facts — to help them come to a decision about moving forward with a $7 million vehicle bridge and roadway that had been promised to the Springs Partners by a previous Town Council during the depths of the Great Recession. (Or .. are we still in those depths?)

The Council has seen no traffic studies, or economic studies, that clarify whether the bridge would benefit downtown as a whole, or if it would instead hurt business in the existing downtown area. The Council has seen no calculations showing what other community needs — currently funded by the Town government — would be left in the financial dust by a decision to benefit these private developers with a 25-year loan costing $16 million including interest payments.

The Council has seen no feasibility studies, by independent researchers, that reveal the likelihood that the Springs Partners can actually afford to develop and build out any of the 27 acres. (We do, however, have the shining example of the Aspen Village subdivision — still mostly vacant after 10 years, in spite of being home to the community’s largest retailer: Walmart.)

The Council has no information about what might result if the Springs Partners should go into bankruptcy — something that happened to developments all over the nation between 2008 and 2012.

Despite this serious lack of information, the Council, at their March 17 meeting, carefully avoided raising any criticism of the proposed project. Instead we heard fantasies of a thriving new subdivision and a glowing economic future — thanks to a taxpayer-funded bridge.

It was left up to the taxpayers to raise actual questions.

Many of us have known Matt Mees (and to a lesser degree, perhaps, the more reclusive Bill Dawson) for many years, and we witnessed the impressive transformation of a fairly second-rate motel into the Springs Resort — thanks in large part to the gift of free geothermal water provided by the Town of Pagosa Springs.  Proponents of the 5th Street bridge proposal are fond of pointing to the Springs Resort as an example of what Mees and Dawson will most certainly do with the 27 acres, if the taxpayers will simply build them a free $7 million bridge and roadway.

Fact is, Mr. Mees and Mr. Dawson have owned these 27 acres for most of the past 20 years. And here’s what they’ve done with the property so far:

A un-improved gravel road leads onto the 27-acre parcel owned by the Springs Partners LLC. Owners Matt Mees and Bill Dawson thought they had sold the property to the Whittington family in 2005, but the Whittingtons handed the parcel back to them in 2012. Mees and Dawson now claim to need Town taxpayers to build them a bridge onto the property.

A unimproved gravel road leads onto the vacant 27-acre parcel owned by the Springs Partners Matt Mees and Bill Dawson.

Pretty much nothing. For 20 years. That would include 10 years during which Archuleta County was experiencing a massive population increase (the county population doubled) and when new entrepreneurial businesses were popping up all over the community…

… while the Springs Partners did … well, pretty much nothing… with their 27 acres.

Now that the population has stagnated, and now that businesses are struggling to find employees, suddenly it’s become crucial that the taxpayers subsidize three Good Ole Boy developers. Granted, the additional of $7 million in tax-funded infrastructure, added to a property currently valued by the County Assessor at $1.3 million, would make the property easier to flip — if that’s what the Springs Partners are planning to do with the vacant land.

But do they actually believe they can attract businesses onto a vacant travertine meadow… off the main highway… while numerous fine properties with highway frontage have been sitting vacant for the past 10 years?

What have the Town Council members been smoking?

Clearly, the Council is thinking something very different than the majority of people who attended the March 17 presentation, and who raised a steady stream of thoughtful questions about the economic viability of the Springs Partners, and about the way the taxpayers have been totally excluded from the decision-making process for the past six months.

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Sadly, the Council’s decision-making process has been not only secretive and hidden, but it has very possibly been illegal as well. According the Colorado Municipal League (CML), in their brochure titled Public Officials Liability Handbook, (which you can download here) the approval of a development plan is defined by the state of Colorado as a “quasi-judicial” process.  A short quote:

According to the Colorado Supreme Court, whenever a local government board or official takes action in a quasi-judicial capacity, procedural due process is required.

With this advice, the CML is clearly trying to keep local governments from getting sued. So they also offer this advice about “quasi-judicial” decisions:

Always:

· Be impartial and maintain the appearance of your impartiality. Avoid conversations or contacts with counsel or witnesses for only one side, or one of the parties, while the matter is pending; do not prejudge the matter; have no financial, personal, or private interest in the matter or outcome; avoid participation in prior decision-making on the matter; and avoid contact with the parties or their counsel prior to the hearing.

Unfortunately, the Town Council has been actively negotiating with only one side of this pending development action — namely, the Springs Partners — for the past six months.  Hardly the “appearance of impartiality,” the way I see it.

We all have our fantasies. They keep us feeling hopeful, when reality falls short.

I confess to my share of fantasies. I have a fantasy, for example, about honest local government, making legal decisions in open meetings and valuing the opinions of the citizens who fund them and for whom these governments were created.

That’s one of my fantasies — that governments were created to serve us, the ordinary taxpayers. That they were not created to serve wealthy developers, and bankers, and corporations.

It’s a fantasy that keeps me feeling hopeful, when reality falls short.

Bill Hudson

Bill Hudson founded the Pagosa Daily Post in 2004 in hopes of making a decent living writing about local politics. The hope remains.