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Larimer County wants more info on alternative behavioral health site

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Alternate sites proposed by Fort Collins officials for Larimer County’s voter-approved Behavioral Health Facility failed to impress county officials.

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The county commissioners said during a Wednesday work session they have little interest in locations identified for the facility through a property search conducted by Fort Collins, but they do want to know more about a 40-acre site in Loveland suggested by a development company.

Commissioner Tom Donnelly, who lives in Loveland, said the proposed site southwest of the intersection of West 57th Street and North Wilson Avenue is more viable than the long-designated location for the facility on county-owned land south of the landfill at Taft Hill and Trilby roads.

The property has good access to major roadways, is close to existing utilities and medical facilities, and would be next door to a future Loveland park. It’s the best site the county is considering, he said.

“When it comes to predictable development on a site I think the county can really be proud of, this site meets all of those criteria,” Donnelly said.

Background:Fort Collins pitches alternative behavioral health sites

Commissioner Steve Johnson said his preferred site remains the designated 40-acre property near the county landfill, but would rank the Loveland site as his second choice.

Commissioner John Kefalas said he wants more information on the landfill and Loveland sites as well as one property identified by Fort Collins as a potential location; the 71-acre “Sitzman” property is east of U.S. Highway 287 across from the Walmart Supercenter in Loveland.

Fort Collins launched a search for alternative sites to the Taft Hills and Trilby property, which was selected as the site of the Behavioral Health Facility in 2017, after raising concerns about the designated location.

City officials said the site is inappropriate for a health facility given the proximity of industrial operations planned for the property once the landfill is closed, including a trash transfer station.

Other concerns raised by the city included the lack of public transportation to the site, its distance from other health care facilities and the potential stigma of sending mental health patients to a facility identified with the landfill.

The city search came up with two sites along the U.S. 287 corridor between Fort Collins and Loveland. Officials also proposed the county consider a land-lease arrangement for a site on the 93-acre Harmony Campus owned and operated by UCHealth at Harmony and Timberline roads.

The commissioners unanimously rejected the idea of a land lease. County staff members argued against a lease deal, saying the county would not have control over the design of the facility and could lose flexibility when selecting a provider to operate it.

The county has contracted with SummitStone Health Partners, in a partnership with UCHealth, to provide “a continuum of treatment and crisis services” at the Behavioral Health Facility when it is built.

In comparing the designated facility site with the proposed alternatives, county staff said the locations offered pluses and minuses. The cost of bringing in utilities would likely be less at the alternate sites, but the county already owns the land near the landfill.

Some details related to the alternate sites are unknown, such as the potential delay in constructing the facility as it went through a development review process in Loveland or Fort Collins and potential environmental factors.

The proposed facility and other behavioral health services are funded through a 0.25% sales tax voters approved in 2018. The facility is expected to cost about $29.8 million to build and about $15 million a year to operate and maintain.

Groundbreaking for the facility might happen late this year. The county has spent many months and about $1 million planning and designing the facility for the Taft Hill and Trilby location.

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Bringing a sewer line to the property and building other off-site improvements would cost between $2 million and $4 million, county officials said.

Donnelly said building sewer facilities, which would include a lift station, would cost at least $4 million. He noted there is a risk the South Fort Collins Sanitation District might not accept a connection into its system.

Uncertainty about utilities at the county-owned site make it unviable, Donnelly said.

“I really think more than anything else this is a killer for this landfill site,” he said.

The 40-acre site and 57th and Wilson was offered by Gerrard Development LLC. The selling price for the property is $4.8 million.

The commissioners are expected to take up the issue again Tuesday during their administrative matters meeting as the county prepares a formal response to Fort Collins’ proposals.

Kevin Duggan is a senior columnist and reporter. Contact him at kevinduggan@coloradoan.comSupport his work and that of other Coloradoan journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.

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