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Friends of Reservoir Hill seek to amend town charter

At the inaugural meeting of the Friends of Reservoir Hill held Monday night in the south conference room of the Ross Aragon Community Center the second item on the agenda, after board member Jeff Greer read the group’s mission statement, was a presentation of an initiative to amend the Pagosa Springs Home Rule Charter.

Guest speaker Matt Roane, a local attorney representing five unnamed town citizens, said, “There’s obviously a joint interest in what Friends of Reservoir Hill are doing and what these folks are trying to do. Everybody’s heading towards a common goal.”

Roane then proceeded to outline the plan he and his five clients had formulated. “We are trying to amend the home rule charter of the town to require the town council, before they build any amusement rides up on Reservoir Hill (and that’s what the state calls these sorts of rides — amusement rides), they’ve got to get voter approval, so the decision to put something up there doesn’t lie in the hands of seven people on the council; it lies in the majority of voters in the town.”

The proposed amendment would not prohibit development on Reservoir Hill. Rather, it is a response to the opinion that the voice of the people has been ignored and that a majority of the town’s voting residents are opposed to the development plan as it exists now.

“The way we go about doing this,” Roane continued, “is we’ve got to get ten percent of the registered voters in town to sign a petition, which will put this issue on a special election ballot in March, and then the voters as a whole will get to decide whether to amend the charter and require this pre-approval.

“This is not a dramatic change from what they already require in the charter,” Roane explained. “There are several different actions the council has to get voter approval on. Obtaining a loan on behalf of the town is one example. We just want to add to that list, because what’s being considered right now is a dramatic departure from the way Reservoir Hill exists right now, and that’s fine. If the town really wants to make that dramatic of a change it certainly can do it, but we just want to make sure that’s what the town wants to do, and not just what the council wants to do.”

Just before the Aug. 23 town council meeting where the proposal was approved, when asked if the matter of Reservoir Hill should be decided by a popular vote, Council member Darrell Cotton said, “I personally oppose that, because we’re not a democracy; we’re a republic. You elected me to make the decisions. If I mess up, throw me out. If we vote on everything then we don’t need an elected government.”

“We’re trying to do something positive,” Friends board member Ken Levine explained at the Monday meeting, “not just be negative to their plan, but give an alternative vision to the park. It’s also about letting our officials know that they need to take us into account. They just can’t unilaterally do some commercial project there that not many people want, because it’s our park.”

“That’s the key,” Friends board member Christine Funk agreed. “It is one of our parks, like Yamaguchi or Town Park. Reservoir Hill isn’t just a hill; it’s our park, so I really feel that we need to have some say in what goes on.”

Roane read the petition that will be circulated to town residents, “No construction or operation of any amusement ride shall take place in the Reservoir Hill Recreation Area unless the question of doing so has been submitted to, and approved by, a majority of the town’s registered electors, voting thereon. Amusement rides shall be defined as any mechanized device, or combination of devices, to carry or convey persons along, around or over a fixed course for the purpose of giving passengers excitement, amusement, or pleasure.”

‘Timely’ information?

Included in the list of mechanical devices that fit the description of amusement rides are chairlifts.

In a related story, it was reported last week in The SUN that Town Manager David Mitchem eventually provided town council with two engineering reports concerning the feasibility of using the Chuchara chairlift on Reservoir Hill, and while that fact is true, the timeline of events has become clearer this week.

At issue is a report by Chuck Peterson from Tramway Engineering, which stated, “The alignment is approximately 1151 feet long with a vertical rise of approximately 235 feet. The purchased lift had a horizontal length of 800 feet with a rise of 111 feet. The new alignment is 50% longer and has 211% move vertical than the original alignment.” This report, which advocated not using the lift, was the first such report received; it was tabled and another engineering firm was hired to produce a more favorable report.

Wolf Creek Ski Area Owner Davey Pitcher mentioned the Peterson report during his presentation to town council on April 19, otherwise there would have been no knowledge of its existence outside of town staff and members of the Town Tourism Committee.

Mitchem admitted the TTC members had collected all of the information on the Reservoir Hill project, and then vetted it themselves before presenting it to town council.

The part that was unclear was the timeline for when the Peterson report was finally provided to town council. It did not occur at the Aug. 17 town council work session, as previously reported.

Mitchem later specified that the town council had remembered Pitcher’s presentation and requested a copy of the Peterson report on Aug. 17, however, they did not actually receive it until Sept. 19, well after the decision had already been made on Aug. 23 to approve the Reservoir Hill plan and authorize town staff to begin exploring financing options.

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