Boulder's City Council punted a decision on a planned Hill hotel and parking garage after discussions that stretched from Tuesday night to early Wednesday, citing a desire to allow council member Sam Weaver to weigh in.

The vote is not technically a vote for any specific action; rather, the intent is to provide direction to city staff about whether or not to proceed with a joint development agreement governing the Hill hotel project. Denver-based Nichols Partnership is developing a 189-room hotel and retail space for roughly $36 million. The city will put a piece of its land toward the building of a 201-space parking garage, which it will own and manage.

The eight members of council present Tuesday night appeared split 4-4, with Jill Adler Grano, Aaron Brockett, Mayor Suzanne Jones and Bob Yates in favor of moving forward. The project still would be subject to council and planning board approval during the site review process.

Although councilwoman Mirabai Nagle declined to express a final opinion of support or opposition, she echoed peers Mary Young, Cindy Carlisle and Lisa Morzel in their reservations about advancing the project.

"I like supporting our community," Nagle said. "The Hill supports one specific (demographic), and I think it's a lot of tourists. And I'm going to put our residents over that."


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She and the other dissenters want to see voters weigh in on funding for the project, via a bond issue, rather than the current plan to use certificates of participation, which do not require voter approval. They also pushed back against the price tag — as much as $22 million, or roughly $100,000 per parking space, money they said would be better spent on services such as the library or fire department.

"I have a real problem with not paying attention to public needs," Morzel said, while also addressing criticisms that seeking voter approval would further delay the project. "The Hill has been a dump (for a long time) and has continued to be a dump, and one more year of being a dump isn't going to kill it."

There was no public hearing for the deliberation, but council extended open comment to allow speakers. More than a dozen people took turns at the podium, including one of the property owners, who threw council into confusion by speaking against the project.

"It doesn't benefit students or residents to build that hotel," said Robert Dorrell, whose father, Carter Dorrell, and brother are owners. "I'm totally opposed to it. The scale of it doesn't support the cost."

Council members, confused by the testimony, asked for clarification in the form of a thumbs up or thumbs down from Carter Dorrell, to indicate his feelings on the project. From the audience, Carter Dorrell held up his hand: thumbs down.

Another property owner, Jamie St. John, was later brought before council to explain the conflict. St. John said all four owners had signed a legally binding contract giving their consent to the development. He characterized the Dorrells' comments as the result of confusion brought about by "health (and) memory problems."

"People, as they age, get paranoid, get worried," St. John said. "I don't think the Dorrells understand the liability bucket they stepped into tonight to come here and say, 'We are opposed.' Right now, we're bound to do this."

A handful of CU students spoke against the project as well. Jake Reagan, a student body president, said that, while changes are needed, "improvements must not be made at the expense of our culture and history."

The higher-end hotel would "subvert" the Hill's identity, Reagan said. "We all know the Hill is not the most glamorous place. It's not meant to be."

Council members who were in favor of moving forward said something needed to be done to cure the Hill's ills, which include a 12 percent commercial vacancy rate and a run-down aesthetic. But they thought developers should have to kick in more money toward the parking garage, portions of which will be used by the hotel, and wanted guarantees that if the property changes hands, the city get a portion of the profits to offset its investment.

The previous City Council set the Hill redevelopment as a priority, saying it was direly in need of a facelift and more parking. A neighborhood working group has been meeting for several years to discuss options; the property owners have indicated they plan to redevelop with or without the city's participation, but danced around details of what might go there if this plan falls through.

"We need to invest," said Mayor Jones. "I think it's time to do that."

Council will take up the matter again at its next business meeting, Sept. 20.

Shay Castle: 303-473-1626, castles@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/shayshinecastle