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Marathon meeting for Walsenburg City Council

Council looks at housing problems, approves new cannabis grow

by Brian Orr
WALSENBURG– The Walsenburg City Council covered a wide range to topics Tuesday night, ranging from mundane business housekeeping to touching on just what are society’s obligations to their fellow man.
Sub-standard housing
Terry Patrick, of the Family Resource Center, came before the council to ask their help in protecting citizens in town who are living in sub-standard housing.  She talked about her clients at FRC who live in terrible, even life-threatening  situations.  There are renting places in Walsenburg without water-tight roofs, with no insulation, no water, no electricity, and broken windows, and are still paying $375 a month.  “These might be people with cognitive disabilities,  or people with criminal records,” she said.  “Right now, there are several statutes already in place that can help these people,” she said, “they just need to be enforced.”  Council members concurred, saying landlords are required to supply certain minimum standards of livability.
  City administrator James Toth would like to see the city take action, such as requiring landlords to have their properties licensed and inspected.  He told the council personally has inspected properties in town that were “really terrible.”  “If we could license a place once a year, then monitor it, maybe we could eliminate this.”  Patrick urged the council to consider passing an ordinance that had ‘some teeth’; so it, so it could be enforced; “Make these landlords care,” she said.
City attorney Dan Hyatt noted this has been a problem facing cities for many years, and that the state has passed legislation to deal with the problems.  He recommended Patrick send her clients to Pueblo to consult with organizations offering free legal services, with the aim of forcing landlords to comply.
Mayor James Eccher mulled over how many of these dwellings are tinderboxes just waiting to burst into flames, or have a build-up of carbon monoxide taking a toll on the people living there.  Toth echoed this thought, that the city has an obligation to eliminate these situations.
Speaking on behalf of property owners with low income tenants was Justin Gehre, who asked the council how many of these dwellings might be drug houses, and brought up the point that targeting these landlords might drive up housing prices around town.  He was also concerned about cracks in the city sidewalks.  Mayor Eccher thanked him for his input.
Local property developer Brian Trani urged the council to listen to their legal advice from Hyatt, stating this was a civil issue, and there was definitely liability on the city’s part if they delved too deeply into this.  He praised the council for thinking progressively, but counseled them to tread very lightly: “If you bite this off, and you’re not ready for this- you could choke,” he said.

In defense of slumlords- Walsenburg resident Justin Gehre spoke out against city council’s concern for terrible living conditions, noting the city had a sidewalk crack problem. Photo by Brian Orr.
Cannabis grow approved
After this, the next big item on the agenda was the approval of a conditional license to grow marijuana in Walsenburg by Zapotk, LLC.  The owner of this company, Marcus Prom, was asking the city to approve his transfer of his  license from the county to the city to grow 1,500 marijuana plants east of the city transfer station.  Prom fulfilled all of the requirements for a city license, but then got bogged down in that most sticky of subjects- water.
Prom was asking for a 3/4 inch water tap to irrigate his proposed 1,500 plants, and to also tie into the city sewer line leading directly to the wastewater treatment plant.
Trani, who had previously addressed the council regarding potential liabilities, brought up the point that 1,500 marijuana plants would require 60,000 to 100,000 gallons of water a day.  Trani has a construction company specializing in cannabis grow facilities, and has his own property- Martra- out in the same area, which the city required of him to do detailed water modeling surveys.   Prom has not done any water modeling plan involving 1,500 plants on a 3/4 inch water line.  Trani, who emphasized he is not against Prom’s plan, but wants a level playing field, noted that Prom would suck up all the water on that line, limiting it for other users downline.  It was noted that Prom could later request an upgrade to a two-inch water line, but the city would be under no legal obligation to provide it to him.  “If he can’t make it happen on a three-quarter inch line; that’s his business,” stated council member Greg Daniels.  Prom reiterated he is happy with a 3/4 inch line, and Trani reiterated it was not big enough to grow that many plants and would deprive downline users of water.  City Public Works Director David Harriman testified he felt Prom’s water was sufficient for what Prom wanted to do.
In support of Prom’s position, marijuana business owner Barbara Johnson, who owns Bud Hut, on the north side of Walsenburg, said she had a 3/4 inch line to her business and greenhouses, and they had been doing just fine for close to four years.
In closing, city attorney Hyatt recommended to the council that Prom had met all the requirements, and the council should accept his conditional permit.  The council approved Prom’s application.

SWEARING IN- Brian Trani (background) and Marcus Prom (foreground) are sworn in for public testimony regarding the Zapotk marijuana license hearing. Photo by Brian Orr.
In other business
The council approved authorizing city administrator Toth to work with Frank Kirkpatricks’ nonprofit Universal Alliance of Communities in establishing a wood recycling effort for the county (see related story this  page).  Kirkpatrick wants to get waste wood out of the county waste transfer station and split it up or chip it, either to give away for people who can’t afford firewood or wood chips, or selling it to those who can.
Kirkpatrick told the council he would be using volunteers and people who have to serve community service hours to split and chip the wood, giving them a stake in the community, even helping them qualify for food stamps, while saving the county around $5,400 a year in waste transfer costs on trees and limbs.
The city requested that Kirkpatrick carry liability insurance, and name the city as an insured party, but otherwise were all in favor of helping Kirkpatrick’s project out.
The city took some financial spankings, first from Colorado Interstate Gas, which sent a letter stating they had mischarged the city for gas over the past ten years, to the time of $89,985, but they would be willing to let bygones be bygones for only $8,750.  City attorney Hyatt said if the city wanted to fight it, it could cost them a whole lot more, and they’d probably lose.  Grudgingly, the council voted to approve the expenditure.
After that, city finance director Mark Ellis informed the council that an initial $3,000 bill on the city lake dam project, through a price mis-quote, was actually $30,000.  This is a mandatory state fee the city is required to pay, if they want the dam project to move forward, and the state is requiring the project move forward.   Again, the council unhappily voted to pay the bill.
City administrator Toth put before the council three options for a used vehicle for the city to buy, recommending they opt for a 2015 Dodge Journey.  Councilman Daniels preferred the 2017 Kia Sorento, stating it was newer, and had more of its warranty still in place.  The council passed the Sorento on a split decision.
Council passed a revision of updated fees for use of city equipment and personnel, and changed the city broker for insurance from Pinnacol to Associates Insurance Group, which could save around $5,500 a year, starting in 2019.