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County tables Hot Springs Blvd. property lease, sets meeting Feb. 8

Community members filled the BoCC’s meeting room Tuesday afternoon and spilled into the hallway, many concerned over the Archuleta County Board of County Commissioner’s consideration of leasing five acres for $1 per year.

The BoCC held the special meeting to consider a lease agreement that would lease five county-owned acres located on Hot Springs Boulevard (across from the Town Hall) to the Pavilion at Pagosa Springs, a music-oriented non-profit, for $1 per year for 10 years.

Additionally, the lease provides an option for purchase at five years, with the Pavilion afforded the first right of refusal on any offers received for the property.

According to a draft of the lease, the Pavilion group would initially use a tent to house events on the property but would provide plans for a “temporary structure” no later than June 30. Any improvements made to the land or structures built would become property of the county.

Under the agreement, if passed, the Pavilion group would have to host at least one event on the site per year.

The county has owned the property for 11 years.

John Huft, member of the Pavilion board, spoke in favor of the lease at the meeting, noting the need for a venue sufficiently large enough to host events like Music in the Mountains.

Huft said that, with BootJack Ranch changing ownership and the ranch lost as a venue for Music in the Mountains, the program held concerts at The Springs Resort last year but that the site was not large enough for the concerts.

Huft said the group had plans for the property that included 400-500 seats and a large stage, adding that the inexpensive lease would allow the group to raise funds for scholarships and philanthropic endeavors, as well as allowing them to raise funds for a permanent facility on “purchased land.”

“This property has lain felled for 11 years now since its purchase by the county. To date, it has provided no benefit to the taxpayers and there are no plans for it,” Huft said, adding, “We feel that the economic impact alone would pay the taxpayers back many times over.”

Huft said the group currently has plans for multiple events that are “on hold waiting for a place to park this tent.”

Following Huft’s speech, Commissioner Michael Whiting said he felt that the lease negotiations have been going on “just under the radar” and that he felt he hadn’t heard enough feedback from the community, making a motion to table the item until Feb. 8.

The motion was seconded by John Ranson, opening the floor to public comment.

Resident and County Court Judge Jim Denvir was the first to speak, voicing his opinion that the lease was a bad idea both on its own and in conjunction with the county’s decision to purchase 95 acres recently.

Denvir said he felt the lease was “tying up a piece of property for no good reason” and that the lease eliminates the property as a potential site for a future county governmental and judicial campus — a site he said would have “tremendous practical advantage” for a courthouse to be located.

Denvir added that by leasing the property, the BoCC was “depriving the community of that discussion in the future” and he expressed concern over the appropriateness of the decision when former commissioner Bob Moomaw and wife Janis are involved with the Pavilion group and Moomaw voted in favor of the county purchasing the 95 acres.

Resident Bill Hudson agreed with Denvir, adding that when the county considered leasing the property a Request for Proposal should have been released.

Teri Frazier brought about the idea that perhaps the county could lease part of their newly acquired 95-acre parcel to the group, but that the county should get more out of the Hot Springs property.

Laura Moore, owner of the Pagosa Springs Center for the Arts, took issue with the lease’s flying under the radar, saying she asked to be kept informed and wasn’t.

Admitting that leases of government land for $1 are nothing new, Moore pointed out that other such leases fill a niche not already filled.

Bob Hart similarly took issue with the BoCC’s method of working on the lease under the radar and Moomaw’s involvement with the Pavilion group, saying, “If this doesn’t reek of conflict of interest, what does?”

Other residents brought up the possible issue of a tent in noncompliance with building codes.

Following public comment, Whiting urged the public to provide feedback before the Feb. 8 meeting, pleading, “Don’t let it go.”

Ranson, after voicing hope that the Moomaws would not be villainized for their time and effort on the project, asked for civility from the community, saying, “We’re all in Archuleta County.”

Commissioner Clifford Lucero apologized to Moore for the lack of communication, but told the audience that the Pavilion group came forward with a “great idea to move the community forward” and the commissioners were charged with moving the community forward.

Denying that they were trying to do “back door deals,” Lucero, too, pleaded the audience to “talk to your commissioner” about the lease.

The next meeting concerning the lease will be held at 3 p.m. on Feb. 8 in the commissioners’ meeting room.

The current draft of the lease is posted here Lease Agreement Draft.

randi@pagosasun.com