<B>By SARA NESBITT</B> <FONT SIZE=-1><I>Staff Reporter</I></FONT>

Couture’s dry cleaning business may want to see more parking in downtown Colorado Springs, but it’s not about to give up its business for it.

Earlier this week at a Colorado Springs City Council meeting, council members discussed condemning the property at 201 N. Cascade Ave. so city workers could plow down the lot for a parking facility.

Carl Peterson, co-owner of Couture’s, said the negotiating process that he’s been going through with the city for the past two-and-a-half years is permanently off because the parties cannot come to an agreement on how Couture’s should be compensated for leaving the site — where it has been located for nearly 100 years.

During the negotiating process the Petersons looked at several options. One was locating inside the planned parking garage, but equipment posed a problem there. Another option was to expand its location at 801 N. Tejon St., but that meant putting a locally owned cafšout of business. The other option the Petersons considered was expanding their 4060 Palmer Park Blvd. location.

“But that would’ve required some drastic changes,” Peterson said, which amounted to more money than the city was willing to give.

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Peterson said that he and the city originally agreed on a $700,000 settlement for the property, but could never agree on the amount of moving expenses.

Peterson said that during the negotiations, most of the communication went through Stephen J. Lebel, an attorney with Anderson, Dude and Lebel PC. Lebel is also an attorney for the city. Peterson maintained that there was no conflict of interest in having Lebel state his business’s case, since the negotiations prior to December 1999 had been cooperative and “friendly.”

However, Couture’s is considering taking legal action against the city, should city officials try to condemn the property. Peterson said if that happened, Couture’s would immediately get a new attorney.

What touched off the debate was a letter from Lebel to Greg Warnke in December, stating that negotiations were off and that Couture’s wouldn’t be moving.

Warnke, unit manager for the city’s parking system, said that a parking facility at the Couture’s site wasn’t even recommended to City Council. Warnke said it was the Downtown Partnership — a pro-downtown business organization — that actually recommended to the council that the property be condemned.

Beth Spokas, president of the Downtown Partnership, could not be reached for comment.

Warnke said city officials don’t want to condemn the property if they don’t have to, and are in the process of looking at other options for building a new parking facility. He said one option is expanding the parking garage at Nevada Avenue and Colorado Avenue. Another is asking members of the downtown business improvement district for input, and another is to just look at other places to build the facility.

“We’re just trying to provide the City Council with information to help them make a decision,” Warnke said.

Stephen Hook, a city attorney familiar with condemnation suits, said that so far, no one has approached the city attorney’s office with plans to condemn the Couture’s property.

“Condemnation is something we don’t like to do unless we absolutely have to,” Hook said. He added that during his 20-year tenure with the city, he’s never had a condemnation suit go all the way to court.

“They normally get settled pretty soon,” Hook said.

City Attorney Pat Kelly said the legal procedure for condemnation of property takes a while to put together. Kelly said the two major issues for a condemnation filing are whether the potential facility “would constitute a public purpose,” and whether the property owner could show that the city could build the new facility at a better place.

However, Kelly also confirmed that there are no imminent plans for city officials to file the petition of condemnation.

Peterson said that until the city gets all the information it needs, he’s going ahead with his plans to remodel the Cascade Avenue branch by redesigning the front portion of the store, in addition to installing a new boiler.

“So we just plan on going ahead with it,” Peterson said. “But the communication with the city has been terminated.”