CHEYENNE – Going into the new year, the Cheyenne City Council hit the ground running with a number of big projects. Now, as January ends, the council stamped its final approval on the purchase of land for a new park on the east side, the revitalization of Crow Creek and a storm sewer extension near the Capitol.
Mayor Marian Orr began the second council meeting of the year with a moment of silence to remember the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.
She quoted Elie Wiesel, holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner, saying, “The opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is indifference.”
A new park approved by voters on the 2017 sixth-penny sales tax ballot is finally in the works. The council approved a $2.5 million purchase of a plot of land near Pershing Boulevard and Whitney Road, which will become home to a sprawling 100-acre recreation area on the fast-growing east side of town.
Having been in the works for more than six years, longtime developer and landowner Dale Keizer told the City Council, “If you want to purchase the land, tonight’s the night to do it.”
And after an hour of discussion about the land’s appraised value and the potential benefit to Cheyenne residents, the council decided to take Keizer’s advice and finally buy the land.
“This is a legacy we are leaving,” Council President Mark Rinne said.
In an area of Cheyenne that has seen rapid growth with developments and needs more open space, the park has the potential for fishing, equine trails, and much-needed baseball and fast-pitch softball fields.
Ward 2 Councilman Dicky Shanor was the only “no” vote of the council, which he attributed to lack of professional input in determining the land’s fair market value.
“That’s a really scary precedent for this council to set tonight,” Shanor said.
The landowner initially wanted $3.2 million for about 100 acres of land. But when the city sent an appraiser to the property after the sixth-penny ballot measure was approved, the appraisal found the land was only worth $1.1 million.
The city had Chief Economic Development Officer Brendan Ames, who has previous experience in the real-estate industry, look at the land’s fair market value instead of valuing it as open ranch land.
By using comparisons from similar types of developments and factoring in the land’s assets, Ames estimated the land was worth around $2.7 million, which was then negotiated down to $2.5 million with the property owner.
Other council members shared Shanor’s concerns about the appraisal process, but ultimately decided the value of the park to Cheyenne residents was worth the cost.
During debate, Rinne told his fellow council members that Cheyenne residents never ask, “Did the city overpay for Lions Park?”
The land where the east side part will be is connected to an area owned by the Laramie County Conservation District, which is accessible from the park property. City Attorney Mike O’Donnell said because of the location, the recreational opportunities of the park will be more than doubled.
Ward 1 Councilman Pete Laybourn said this type of project “is the reason you serve on the council.”
Toward the end of discussion, Ward 3 Councilman Mike Luna brought the focus back to those who approved a tax to fund this measure in the first place.
“It’s what the voters wanted,” he said.
Thanks to the combined efforts of staff from the city, the Board of Public Utilities and the Laramie County Conservation District, the dream of revitalizing Crow Creek is coming to fruition. The council approved a memorandum of understanding that outlines each entity’s responsibilities in phase one of the creek’s revival.
“Every child in Cheyenne ought to be able to go down to the creek and throw rocks in once in a while,” Councilman Laybourn said. “I think that’s what we’re kind of looking at here.”
Crow Creek used to be home to trout and other wildlife species, complete with curves that slowed the rush of water and made the habitat livable for wildlife. Over time, developments in the city degraded the creek’s health and ability to support such wildlife species. The Wyoming Department of Environmental Quality currently lists the creek impaired for sediment and E. coli.
According to Jeff Geyer, water specialist with the conservation district, the revitalization project should solve those sediment issues and restore the creek’s natural habitat. In the future, Geyer said the hope is for trout to be reintroduced into the creek with the possibility of it becoming a kid’s fishery.
With the approval of the memorandum of understanding, staff can move forward on three years of planning and designing. According to Geyer, the first step of revitalization will be to excavate a large amount of material “in order to create the perfect stream.”
BOPU’s Dena Egenhoff said, so far, they have raised about $572,000 for the project, and the implementation for the first segment of the creek will cost somewhere from $700,000 to $1 million. Phase one will cover the portion of the creek that runs from Happy Jack Road downstream to Westland Road.
Capitol Basin storm sewer
To protect the estimated $317 million investment in the newly renovated state Capitol, the state is providing major funding for the Capitol Basin 26th Street Storm Sewer Extension project, which will provide needed drainage near the Capitol.
Initially, the plan was to expedite construction on the project, but after receiving feedback from the governor, construction will take place at the normal rate to be more “fiscally responsible,” according to City Attorney O’Donnell.
A majority of the project, up to $3 million, will be paid for by the State Loan and Investment Board due to the proximity of the storm sewer to the Capitol, so the city can’t carry on with the project without the board’s approval. Continuing with normal construction will save more than $20,000.
The council approved a professional services agreement with AVI Professional Corporation, which will finish design work by August. Construction will now begin in 2021, whereas if the expedited plan had been followed, the storm interceptor would’ve been installed before Cheyenne Frontier Days this year.
Councilman Laybourn noted that storm drainage is an issue the city has to take a deeper look at, in general, because he’s seen the damage water can do.
“These storms are getting worse. Much worse,” Laybourn said. “There’s no doubt this is very important.”
In addition to taking a closer look at drainage, he said the council should take a closer look at the city’s engineering department and the company carrying out the design of the project.
Laybourn pointed to a number of “unusual activities” with a previous city engineer, Jim Voeller. A decision was made to cut the first phase of the 26th Street Interceptor project, which Laybourn said changed the capacity of the sewer system.
“There wasn’t a follow-through like there should’ve been,” Laybourn said.
He also noted that the city has had difficulties with AVI’s work in town, mentioning drainage issues at Thomas Heights. Though Laybourn supported the project, he voted “no” on the design contract because AVI would be carrying it out.
“Is this really the proper group to perform this type of work?” Laybourn asked.
Laybourn was the only “no” vote on the measure.
Some changes are coming to Cheyenne’s parking ordinances, although a few minor tweaks are still needed before it passes. The council postponed the item for two weeks to allow time for adjustments.
“We’ve finally been able to make some progress,” Ward 2 Councilman Bryan Cook said.
Instead of disputing tickets in Municipal Court, residents would deal with a parking administration manager. That person would take over responsibilities that are currently handled by the city clerk’s office and the Municipal Court.
Parking in an accessible parking spot without a permit, however, would still remain a criminal offense.
With civil offenses, any unpaid bills could also be sent to collections, which currently is not the case. Last Monday, Cheyenne Police Department Parking Administration Manager Ted Miazga told the Finance Committee that the city has more than 1,500 unpaid parking tickets.
Food trucks, construction workers and downtown residents would all have the ability to apply for permits that would excuse them from the two-hour limits downtown. Food trucks and residents could apply for a permit for $60 a month, and the construction permits would allow the police department to monitor how many permits are given and where.
The ordinance will be heard again at the council’s Feb. 10 meeting.