The city of Glenwood Springs will not require a group of West Glenwood hotel properties to switch over to city water if they want to convert to extended-stay hotels or permanent housing.
City Council, at its regular Thursday night meeting, voted 7-0 on second reading removing a provision in its new hotel/motel conversion ordinance that originally required a connection to city water in order to adequately supply a fire suppression sprinkler system.
The new ordinance seeks to address the city’s workforce housing needs by streamlining the process for hotel conversions to help meet that need.
The change regarding fire suppression systems was aimed at a group of older hotel properties along US Highway 6&24 that are on the separate Mitchell Cooper water system.
If any of those properties were to be redeveloped as extended-stay hotels or for multi-family housing, they would need to install adequate fire sprinkler systems, per the uniform building and fire codes adopted by the city.
The Mitchell Cooper (MC) system does not currently have that capability, which is why the city water provision was originally added to the ordinance.
With the ordinance change, though, there’s no longer a mandate to come onto city water to meet that requirement, if the operators of the MC system can show that water for adequate fire suppression needs can be provided.
“That’s a discussion for them to have with their water provider,” City Attorney Karl Hanlon said, acknowledging that puts the responsibility on the operators of the MC system to make some needed upgrades to the system.
Hanlon said before the Thursday meeting that the city is not seeking to take over anyone’s water rights. Rather, it’s a life-safety issue for any of the aging hotel/motel properties that convert to residential use.
“Their system, as currently designed, has no ability to deliver fire flows,” Hanlon said ahead of the Thursday meeting.
Glenwood Springs Fire Chief Gary Tillotson offered that, aside from providing adequate water flow for fire suppression once system upgrades are made, properties seeking to convert could install a boost pump and store water on site to supply the sprinkler system as needed.
As it stands, though, MC has not been able to provide any water to its customers for about four years, after the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment issued a 2017 order requiring MC to shut down or bring the system up to current standards.
Since 2018, properties within the MC system have been on city water per the provisions of a 1984 agreement with the city when that part of West Glenwood was annexed.
The rural water company is a throwback to the pre-1980s era before most of West Glenwood was annexed into the city. The system takes in a block of mostly commercial properties stretching along Highway 6&24 from Rodeway Inn on the east to Red Mountain Lodge on the west, and north to Donegan Road taking in several mobile home parks and other residential areas.
Some of those property owners were before council Thursday prepared to claim the city water provision related to fire suppression amounted to a “water grab.”
The amended language essentially puts it on the MC shareholders to make the needed improvements to provide water for fire suppression needs, or to give permission for any conversion properties to switch over to city water.
Arthur Rothman, who owns the Red Mountain Inn and is president of the MC water company, said before the meeting that he believes the city wants to take over their water shares and bring all of the properties onto city water.
He’s one of about 40 shareholders on the system, which has historic water rights on both Mitchell and Oasis creeks dating back to the late 1800s.
“This is a system that serves 400 to 500 people every day in West Glenwood, and we believe it provides a valuable asset to the property owners,” he said in an interview before the Thursday meeting.
Rothman said the group is working to bring the water system up to standards, including plans to build a new water filtration plant.
“We have an easement in place, and the plant has been designed and approved,” he said.
At Thursday’s council meeting, I asked that the proposed ordinance amendments be tabled until matters related to water needs could be further discussed.
Monica Wolny, who owns Hanging Lake Inn, said it was the lodge owners within the MC system who have been pushing the city to make hotel conversions for housing purposes easier to do.
But the expense of the fire suppression systems, especially if they have to switch over to city water, is cost-prohibitive, she said.
“You guys still want us to give up our water rights and go onto city water, basically to give the city more (water income),” Wolny charged. “We’re not giving anything up.”
Laurie Raymond, who lives in one of the affected mobile home parks, urged the city not to do anything to negatively impact the MC system.
Raymond urged city council to further address issues with the MC operators through mediation, which several council members agreed should happen.
Aside from the water issues, though, council was ready to move the hotel conversion ordinance along.
In voting unanimously to approve the ordinance on second reading, council agreed to do away with the city water provision, as well as a 90-day extension for installing fire suppression systems when city water is used.
Several other changes to the ordinance were also approved, including a requirement that 35% of the units in any converted property be price restricted. That’s above the 10% requirement for standard residential developments.
Council members also agreed to have city staff further define standards for the requirement kitchenettes that would need to be added to converted units, as well as provisions for a parking management plan for converted properties.
The conversion ordinance provides leniency in the city’s normal parking requirements for residential development. Still, council wants to ensure parking from converted properties does not spill onto neighboring properties and public streets.
That language can be added to the ordinance at a later time by amendment, Hanlon said.