Council deliberates Black Hawk’s parking proposal
By David Josselyn
The Central City Staff and Council met for a small community appreciation night and State of the City address by Mayor Engels followed by a regular Council Meeting on Tuesday, January 19, 2016.
Inaugural State of the City Address
The community appreciation night started atypically late at 6:05 pm as the Mayor delayed for a council member’s arrival. Mayor Engels structured his address by starting with economic impacting events leading up to 2015, accomplishments of 2015, and ending with goals for 2016.
It is commonly understood that much of the City’s revenue is derived from gaming taxes and fees. Doc Holliday’s (a large casino) closed in the summer of 2013 and Crystal Palace (a small to moderate casino) shut its doors in December the same year. In 2014, a rockslide temporarily closed the Central City Parkway and cost the City greatly to have it repaired. The Council entered 2015 still feeling the economic effects of those events. The Council did not issue any Historical Preservation Commission grants either residentially or commercially during the year and used the savings to catch up on other expenditures.
The Mayor emphasized that encouraging positive change is essential to the city’s future. He added, “If it ain’t broke, don’t’ fix it,” and “Fortune favors the bold,” followed by “We will ruffle a few feathers because you can’t make an omelet without breaking a few eggs.” Mayor Engels stated that they first had to become effective and then make adjustments to increase efficiencies. The City has managed to maintain and increase efficiencies in services across the City.
The water fund has ended the year with a positive balance and is projected to end even better in 2016. “It’s well on the way to becoming self-sufficient,” said the Mayor. The City has paid off its bond debt and they do not have to rely on a line of credit to manage cash flow.
Referring to residential status, Engels stated that over 60% of occupied housing in the city is rented and over 30% of housing is vacant.
The City has worked to “attract desirable retail” to the core (downtown). They have worked to build relationships with surrounding communities to strive toward that goal.
The Central City Parkway debt is not the City’s, but belongs to the Business Improvement District (BID). The Mayor pledged that the City would work with the BID to find a manageable way to repay the debt.
Mayor Engels next delivered a laundry list of achievements which included the implementation of new accounting software, reestablishing the capital fund, and establishing Main Street Central City. The Mayor gave credit to City Staff who “worked tirelessly to meet these goals.”
Looking forward to 2016, the Mayor stated several goals including creating an online payment system for the water bills, installing bus stops with covered seating, completing access points near the KOA on and off the Parkway, and establishing intergovernmental relationships.
The Mayor finished by saying “Government will move as slowly as you allow it or as quickly as you push it.” He pledged they will move forward as fast as they can with the help of the community.
City Employee of the Year
The Mayor presented an award of appreciation to City Manager Daniel Miera for his contributions to the City over the past year. The attendees were then invited to partake in food and drinks provided by members of the Council.
Regular Council Meeting
The regular Council Meeting convened at 7:04 pm. Council members present were Alderman Kathy Heider, Alderman Shirley Voorhies, Alderman Judy Laratta, and Mayor Ron Engels. City Staff in attendance were City Manager Daniel Miera, Finance Manager Abigail Adame, City Attorney Marcus McAskin, Public Works Director Sam Hoover, Police Chief Terry Krelle, and Fire Chief Gary Allen. Also in attendance were all three candidates for the empty council seat; Jeff Aiken, Bobbi Hill, and Kara Tinucci.
After reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, Mayor Ron Engels asked for any amendments or additions to the agenda or if any agenda items presented a conflict of interest. There were no proclamations of amendments, additions, or conflicts of interest.
There was no Consent Agenda for tonight’s meeting.
Mayor Engels opened the floor to the public for anyone who wished to speak to a topic on that night’s agenda. No one chose to address council at that time.
Common Consumption License Number Three
Alderman Voorhies moved to convene the Liquor Licensing Authority and was seconded by Alderman Heider. The Authority considered a three-fold request; to reduce the area of an existing license for Johnny Z’s Casino, to add a liquor license to a 100 square foot area called Jan’s Tavern, and to extend the hours of the new license to allow liquor service twenty-four hours a day. City Attorney Marcus McAskin reviewed the licensing procedure in lieu of the City Clerk who was not in attendance. The owner, John Zemple, was not at the meeting and Joe Behm spoke on his behalf arguing that Jan’s Tavern gives Central City an establishment not currently existing in other casinos. Mayor Engels stated that “Jan’s Tavern is 109 square feet and will have a staffed bar complete with bartender. It looks like you’re staffing a broom closet.” The Mayor inquired of Attorney McAskin is there are minimum size requirements that define a tavern. McAskin replied that he was not sure, he is not aware of any state requirement but he is “loathe to say that’s the case because I just do not know the answer” to that question.
Joe Behm replied that it will be “cozy and intimate.”
Alderman Heider commented that “We’ve done this for two other casinos, so it seems fair we allow this casino to do the same thing.” Alderman Voorhies agreed.
Alderman Voorhies moved to approve the reduction of area defined by the existing license and was seconded by Alderman Laratta. The motion passed unanimously.
Alderman Voorhies moved to approve the creation of a liquor license for the area defined by the name Jan’s Tavern and was seconded by Alderman Laratta. Mayor Engels requested that counsel render an opinion on size of the facility. “I don’t want Johnny Z’s or the City to get into any hot water over the size.” Alderman Voorhies amended the motion pending input from counsel regarding the legality and appropriateness of size of taverns, and was seconded again by Alderman Laratta. The amended motion passed unanimously.
Alderman Voorhies moved to extend the hours of the new license to twenty-four hours a day and was seconded by Alderman Laratta. The motion passed unanimously.
Alderman Voorhies moved to adjourn the Liquor Licensing Authority and return to the regular meeting and was seconded by Alderman Laratta. The motion passed unanimously.
Black Hawk Parking Lot Causes Consternation
Community Development Director Ray Rears reviewed Resolution 16-05 which would conditionally approve a Special Review Use Permit for a parking lot on property located within the Limited Community Commercial (LCC) Zone District located northwest of the intersection of Gregory Street and High Street. Many local people will know it as the former location of the Mountain Family Clinic. Although the land falls within the drawn boundaries of Central City, it is owned by the City of Black Hawk and by Mr. Ed Smith. Both municipalities must approve a plan for the area. The City of Black Hawk is proposing to create a surface area parking lot which could yield 79 to 81 parking spaces for regular automobiles. Black Hawk’s proposal went first to the Central City Planning Commission and then to Central City Staff for approval and recommendations. The Planning Commission stated that adequate lighting is required and as such, the City of Black Hawk must submit a lighting plan. City Staff found no such requirement in the Code and recommended that the proposal be approved after striking the Commission’s recommendation; and then adding four more conditions of their own based on City Code requirements and public safety concerns. Rears also stated that the property lies on a flood plain and in a floodway. There is no historic impact as there are no structures on the property.
Alderman Heider clarified that the Community Development Director (Rears) has final authority and that his recommendations were made based on City Code. Heider also pointed out that there is some ambiguous language in the document especially when it references “some measure” of screening. Rears replied that the intent is to screen the parking area using living shrubbery instead of Jersey barriers.
Alderman Voorhies stated that “in this time of safety, I’m all for a lighting plan.” Alderman Laratta agreed saying “I can’t imagine a parking lot without lights. I think lighting is a great idea.”
Representing the City of Black Hawk and the applicant of the Special Review Use Permit, Catherine Zellers addressed the Council to clarify that signage conditions outlined by the Staff would only apply to the Central City side of the parking lot and not to Black Hawk. She gave the example of a sign on High Street pointing the way to the parking lot. The Council agreed that is the case. Zellers also commented that she agrees with the Staff that the lot would not require lighting according to the plan. She then suggested that Central City does not have extensive lighting in their lots.
Alderman Heider asked to clarify whether the lot was intended to be paid or free parking. City Attorney for the City of Black Hawk, Jack Lewis, informed the Council that a portion of the lot is intended to be a paid or fee area and the rest of the lot would be free parking. The paid portion is that which is owned by Mr. Ed Smith. (Smith is the Ed of Ed & Shirley’s that owns the Wild Card and Sasquatch Casinos). Lewis stated that they keep language in the proposal regarding a paid lot so that down the road as things change, they could convert the lot to paid parking only without redrafting the entire plan.
Central City resident Jack Hidahl addressed the council saying he first argued in front of the Planning Commission to deny the request and has not changed his mind. Hidahl stressed that part of the Special Review Use Permit for the LLC land is to discern economic opportunity for the City and this plan would render the site “economically barren for Central City.” The lot serves no purpose but to service Black Hawk. Hidahl went on to point out that the posted speed limit is unusually low for that kind of zone and it is low for a reason; the area has been determined hazardous. There is traffic movement coming off and on High Street, the parking areas across the street, and to add another traffic pattern into the mix sounds like another hazard.
Resident and council candidate Jeff Aiken conveyed his concern that down the road, the City of Black Hawk may want to convert the surface level parking into a multi-storied parking structure. Mayor Engels assured Aiken that if that comes to pass, the City would need an entirely new permit and plan approved and could not just add on to what is there.
Mayor Engels closed public comment and asked for Council Comment.
Alderman Heider commented that she has been in two car accidents in all the years she has lived here and both of them happened in that area. “It’s a dangerous spot.”
Alderman Voorhies added that it was dangerous when the clinic was there with only 18 spaces and all the more so once there are 79. “I want to see lighting.”
Mayor Engels commented that the lighting on the upper decks of the Century and Reserve Casinos was built to Code and has caused no end of fits from those who live above those establishments.
Alderman Laratta stated, “I agree that there needs to be lights.”
Director Rears stated that any lighting would have “fugitive light” leaking out, but it would be as minimal as possible per the Planning Commission recommendations.
City Manager Daniel Miera stated that the Staff’s approach was to mitigate as much of the impact as possible and it is their understanding that most of the parking would be utilized by employees and they travel down the hill to Black Hawk’s casinos. Imposing a lighting requirement where historically it did not exist did not make sense.
Alderman Laratta commented that “I think it’s good that something is going in where it is now vacant. It shows progress.”
Ed Smith advised the Council that he parks his trailer there that they use to transport groceries from town and that once this agreement passes, he would be in violation of the no long-term parking. Smith requested special permission to park his trailer there.
Mayor Engels retroactively opened public hearing for the purpose of additional input.
After further discussion, the Council decided that the Community Development Director can give prior permission to allow long-term parking in this case.
Mayor Engels “closed public hearing firmly.”
Alderman Voorhies moved to approve conditionally a Special Use Permit as recommended by the Planning Commission with the addition of four recommendations from Staff and was seconded by Alderman Laratta. The Resolution passed unanimously.
The Mayor opened the floor for public comment on any items not on the evening’s agenda. Resident Jim Voorhies elected to address the Council bring two items to consider.
The first item is the safety of pedestrians and automobiles on Lawrence Street between the Century Parking Garage and Johnny Z’s Casino. The striped area is hard to see and the majority of pedestrian traffic does not utilize the striped zone, but instead crosses on the western edge of the parking garage entrance to the doors of the casino immediately opposite. Jim encouraged the City to look at ways to enhance the safety for pedestrians and vehicles. He suggested additional lighting that may be timed to dim during low pedestrian traffic times. He also suggested striping the entire area for increased visibility and pedestrian awareness.
The second issue Voorhies brought up was the name of the Central City Parkway. He stated that when it was first built, the people named it the Central City Parkway. It still pulls up with that name on GPS and mapping software, but when people get on it, it says Casino Parkway instead. Jim encouraged the City to revisit the name.
Alderman Voorhies moved to enter Executive Session on a personnel matter in which the employee in question consented and was seconded by Alderman Heider. The motion passed unanimously and the Council went into Executive Session at 8:23 pm.
Mark your calendars
The next regular Council Meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, February 2, 2016, at 7:00 pm.