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Land swap appeals to Delta City Council

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The City of Delta is exploring a possible land swap with Bill St. James, a move that would exchange park land on the north side of the Gunnison River for numerous parcels St. James owns on the south side of the river from Ute Street to the east.

The land swap will require voter approval, and to get the question on the November ballot, the wording must be finalized by the Sept. 4 council meeting. The pressing deadline has resulted in numerous work sessions with St. James to hammer out details.

Visibility, accessibility and the possibility of commercial development, in addition to recreational amenities, are seen as the biggest advantages to the city taking ownership of parcels east of Highway 50 and south of the river.

In exchange, the city would give up Riverbend and Cottonwood parks. Riverbend has been set aside for future development and is not open to the public. Cottonwood, the former location of the city's nine-hole golf course, has reverted to a natural state, with about four acres carved out for soccer fields. The park is open to the public, but parking, restrooms and accessibility are limited.

St. James is interested in both properties because he could tie them in with parcels he has purchased on that side of the river.

If voters approve the land swap, the soccer fields would be moved to the newly acquired land. Mayor Ron Austin said he envisions a sports complex that would include expanded soccer fields, ball fields and even tennis courts connected to a riverfront trail system.

Two questions must be addressed before council signs off on the ballot question. The first is whether the land swap would be equitable to both parties. St. James stands to gain acreage; the question is whether visibility and infrastructure offset the disparity. An appraisal to be completed later this month will answer that question.

St. James said he'll be curious to see how the valuation comes out. "It's not about acreage; it's about value," he pointed out.

The second is the status of a Great Outdoors Colorado (GOCO) grant that was used to purchase Riverbend Park. Wilma Erven, director of parks, recreation and culture, said GOCO provided $175,000 of the $253,921 purchase price. It's her belief that an exchange for riverfront property of similar acreage would be acceptable, but she has not received confirmation from GOCO.

"I'm not comfortable with moving forward on a deal without knowing these things," the mayor said.

He added that it makes no sense to acquire another piece of land without a means of generating revenue, which led to a discussion about potential uses of the property.

The land falls within the boundaries of the Delta Urban Renewal Authority, so any commercial development would generate revenue for future DURA projects.

David Torgler, city manager, and Stacey Voigt, executive director of Delta County Economic Development, said the ballot question should be worded in such a way so voters know how much of the land will be set aside for commercial development and how much will be designated for recreation, open space and riverfront activation.

If the land swap moves forward, the hotel could potentially be back in play at that location. Voigt urged council members not to focus their efforts on that possibility alone, but to keep ballot wording general enough to cover any commercial development. "You don't know ... the project may take a turn," she said.

Portions of the land that wouldn't be suitable for commercial development, due to the floodplain, could still be used for trails, open space and riverfront activation.

"I want to see this thing work, I really do," St. James said, but he advised staff and council he will move forward with other plans if the question doesn't make it on the ballot. "I've been messing around with this for two and a half years."

While no formal vote could be taken during the work session, council members feel the advantages of a land swap merit additional consideration.

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