Body farm stinks to residents

Mesa State College intends to place human corpses for scientific study on college-owned property in Pear Park, one of the fastest-growing residential areas in the Grand Valley, The Daily Sentinel has learned.

A body farm, the nickname for a forensic anthropology center, will be within a 154-acre tract owned by the college’s Real Estate Foundation at the northwest corner of 29 Road and Riverside Parkway.

The Sentinel first reported two weeks ago that the college was pursuing the creation of the fifth body farm in the United States, which would allow forensic and criminal justice students and professionals to study how bodies donated to science decompose. At that time, however, college officials declined to say where they planned to establish the operation.

John Redifer, head of the Mesa State Social and Behavioral Sciences Department, confirmed Wednesday the college plans to temporarily locate the body farm within a fenced-in area on the foundation’s property.

Pear Park residents who have heard rumors for weeks or months that the body farm would be built in their neighborhood say the location is inappropriate, given its proximity to homes.

They say they’re worried about the odor, insects and disease the farm could generate, and they’re upset that no representatives from the college or the foundation have contacted them to inform them of their plans.

“It’s absurd to place a pestilence next to people who have built their homes here. This amounts to taking this (property) value from them,” said Ray Lashley, who lives a half-mile away on C 1/2 Road. He met Wednesday with assistant professor of criminal justice Michael Bozeman, who is spearheading the effort to establish the body farm, to express his concerns.

Bob Carpendale, who lives on the east side of 29 Road and a matter of a couple hundred yards from where the body farm would be built, said he sarcastically laughed when a friend told him a couple of months ago that the college intended to locate bodies near his house.

“I ha-ha-ed him and said nobody would put a body farm in a residential area,” Carpendale said. “I think it’s disgusting to put it right across the street from us, if not unsanitary.”

Redifer said he understands residents are concerned about the potential effects of the body farm on the neighborhood and that, without knowing how a body farm operates or about the work done there, “the natural inclination of people is to react to the most grisly things.”

But he said Mesa State faculty visited the first body farm built in the country at the University of Tennessee and plan to adapt its procedures and protocols to western Colorado’s dry climate. He said officials will not accept bodies carrying communicable diseases. And he believes odor will not be an issue because “we’re not talking about having huge numbers of bodies out there,” although he couldn’t estimate how many there will be.

“We have every confidence that none of this (concern) will develop into any kind of reality,” he said.

A neighborhood plan the city of Grand Junction developed in 2004 for Pear Park, which is between 28 Road and 32 Road and the Colorado River and the railroad tracks, indicated the area was experiencing “a great deal of growth.” The area’s population was estimated at 10,000 in 2004 and was projected to grow to more than 17,000 by 2020. City officials estimated there were more than 4,300 homes in Pear Park in 2004, and hundreds more have been built since then.

The 154-acre site originally was slated to become a large mixed-use development. Two years ago, at the request of the college’s foundation, the City Council amended the city’s growth plan, rezoned the property and approved a plan that called for up to 1,124 multifamily housing units, 565,000 square feet of commercial space and 44 acres of light industrial businesses.

The foundation asked the city in December to extend the development deadline for the property from 2010 to 2013, citing the decline in the real estate market.

It wasn’t immediately clear Wednesday whether the college needed city approval to create the body farm or a permit to build a 10-foot fence on the property.

City Planning Services Supervisor Greg Moberg said he assumed that because the foundation went through the city’s planning process and public hearings on the zoning change in 2008, college officials would have had to walk through those steps again in order to build the body farm. But he said he needed to confirm that with the city attorney.

Moberg wasn’t aware of the fence until he was contacted by a Sentinel reporter this week. The chain-link fence is shrouded in a black tarpaulin and has razor wire around the top of it. Inside the fence, workers have poured what appears to be a concrete foundation. An old barn or outbuilding also sits within the fence.

Moberg said the city zoning code requires anyone proposing to build a fence higher than 6 feet to obtain a conditional-use permit. He said the city hasn’t issued a permit for the fence. He also said razor wire isn’t usually allowed as a fence material.

Redifer, though, said the college is exempt from city zoning and permitting regulations because it’s a state entity. Private citizens and groups must follow city codes regarding zoning and development.

City Attorney John Shaver didn’t return messages left for him Tuesday and Wednesday.

Redifer said the college intends to keep the body farm on 29 Road for a few years until the property can be developed. The farm would then be moved to a permanent location, which he said hasn’t been identified yet.


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