PARK COUNTY, Colo. — An application to rezone a property in Park County — about an hour’s drive southwest of Denver — has led to accusations that the local government is giving preferential treatment to a prominent businessman in the community.
An effort to change the zoning from residential to commercial use at the property near the intersection of Highway 285 and Wandcrest Road to allow for a waste transfer station is ongoing, but a white tent-like structure already sits atop the hill at the site. That building originally went up without a permit.
“It’s infuriating… It’s absolutely infuriating,” said Joe Weidner, an area resident who opposes the project. He is also an elected board member of the nearby Will-O-Wisp Metropolitan District.
Weidner has criticized county leaders and elected officials, who he believes have already paved a path for the business owner, Adam Shirley, to move ahead with his plans.
“They don’t care. They are not intimidated by public outcry because the fix is in,” Weidner said.
Weidner and his neighbors are opposed to the rezoning, as they feel it will negatively impact their property values and could potentially create a fire hazard. The property is owned by ASKAG, LLC., a company owned by Shirley.
Weidner feels the process has been flawed from the start, with Shirley seeming to move forward with the project before approval. He first built a tent-like structure on the property without approval and was then granted a permit after the fact for a storage facility. But much of the community feels Shirley continues to skirt the rules without notable consequence.
“He doesn’t think the rules apply to him. And obviously, they don’t,” Weidner said of Shirley. “And that’s the story. Why don’t the rules apply to him?”
Denver7 Investigates has spent months looking into the situation, speaking with community members, county leadership and a former county employee in the planning department who said Shirley received special treatment during the application process.
“The truth is that the applicant in this case received preferential treatment contrary to the public interest,” said John Deagan, a former senior planner at Park County. “I am saying that this application was a guaranteed success.”
Deagan told Denver7 Investigates that his position with the county was eliminated last year.
“Adam Shirley must have been given reason to believe he could operate with impunity,” Deagan said.
That statement is seemingly backed by a recording obtained by Denver7 Investigates in which Shirley admits he built a structure without a permit and county leadership knew about it.
“I don’t have a permit… And the commissioners know exactly what I’m doing,” Shirley said on the recording. “I’m not going against the county. The county knows exactly what I’m doing.”
The recording was made by Weidner while at a Park County restaurant with Shirley. Later in the recording, he admits to Weidner and another member of the metro district who was present that he knows he upset many of his neighbors.
Denver7 Investigates brought this to Park County leadership, who denied that Shirley has received preferential treatment but noted this process has had problems.
“Mr. Shirley is not helping himself,” Park County Manager Tom Eisenman said.
Park County Director of Operations Mike Smith noted that the building at Highway 285 and Wandcrest Drive was built without a permit when it first went up. As for what was said in the recording, Smith denied that he had given Shirley a green light to move forward.
“He’s never gotten that from me, I can tell you that,” Smith said.
Eisenman said he’s not confident that Shirley will follow the rules moving forward, but urges him to comply with county policies and “fix his optics.”
Smith said this process has been a learning experience for the county.
"The county is making changes all the time," he said.
Denver7 Investigates tried to interview Shirley on multiple occasions, but he declined. He instead sent a statement that said, “ASKAG, LLC looks forward to presenting its application to Park County and will continue to cooperate with the County and its processes. Until the county is able to consider the application, ASKAG, LLC has no further comment.”
The Board of County Commissioners is set to vote on the rezoning next week.