Don’t re-industrialize the riverfront
By Harry Griff
For the past 35 years, Grand Junction, Mesa County and the state of Colorado have spent millions of dollars and countless volunteer hours to reclaim lands along the Colorado River. As a result, the Grand Valley is about to be transformed.
Within the next five years, the county hopes to complete the riverfront trail system, connecting Palisade to Fruita. Simultaneously, the city is moving forward with development of Las Colonias Park on approximately 120 acres on the river east of the Botanical Gardens.
The city has included $570,000 in its 2013 and 2014 budgets to hire experts to refine the master plan for the park and begin its development. Bordering Las Colonias on the west will be Kannah Creek’s new brew pub and a new disc golf course, both now under construction. The park will feature a water kayak area and a music amphitheater that will serve up to 12,000 people.
The Grand Junction Downtown Lions Club, which previously invested $300,000 in the area surrounding the park, has now chosen the development of Las Colonias as its next major project and has committed another $300,000 for it. The Downtown Development Authority has also identified Las Colonias Park as one of its high-priority projects. These groups believe Las Colonias will jump-start the renovation of the south downtown area and hundreds of vacant acres along the river east of the park.
Brady Trucking is a Utah corporation that has been operating a well-service company on a 3-acre parcel east of Las Colonias and north of the river. It is the last remaining industrial development near the river in Grand Junction.
No one is disputing Brady’s right to continue to operate on its current parcel. Rather, the issue is Brady’s desire to expand its operations onto a 12-acre parcel it purchased in 2006, lying immediately east of Las Colonias Park, running eastward along the river and just across the river from Eagle Rim Park.
When Brady purchased its expansion property, the company was advised by city staff that the property, then in the county, would have to be annexed into the city and zoned according to city rules. City staffers determined that, given the property’s location adjacent to the river and near Las Colonias and Eagle Rim Parks, the highest zone they could recommend would be I-O, an office/commercial zone that allows no outdoor activity other than parking. However, an I-O zone would not allow Brady to use the expansion property for its desired industrial activities, which require an industrial zone of I-1 or I-2. So, when Brady purchased the land, it knew that it would face a zoning dispute.
The zoning issue was presented at a city Planning Commission hearing, where city staff recommended a zone no higher than I-O. The primary debate before the Planning Commission was not whether the property should be zoned industrial, as Brady requested, but whether the zone should be mixed use or I-O. Ultimately, the Planning Commission voted to impose an I-O zone.
Brady appealed the Planning Commission’s decision to the City Council. If the council had abided by the recommendations of its staff and Planning Commission, and ratified an I-O zone for the property, it would have been the end of the matter. Instead, the council instructed its staff to negotiate a resolution with Brady. The council approved a compromise whereby the four acres farthest east would be zoned I-O, and the eight acres adjacent to Las Colonias would be zoned I-1 (the industrial zone Brady was seeking). The agreement allowed the riverfront trail system to continue through the property. Unfortunately, the conditions did nothing to address the incompatibility of the industrial zone with Las Colonias Park, Eagle Rim Park and the Orchard Mesa homes overlooking the expansion property to the south.
Under the City Charter, if citizens disagree with a council zoning decision, they have the right to obtain a threshold number of signatures (in this case 1,860), within 30 days of the zoning decision. Accordingly, concerned citizens engaged in the signature process. The City Clerk’s office determined the signature threshold had been met and advised that the zoning ordinance was suspended and referred back to the council for reconsideration.
If Brady had accepted the clerk’s determination, the zoning ordinance would have been reconsidered by the City Council four years ago. Instead, Brady chose to judicially challenge the clerk’s signature certification. It took four years for Brady’s challenges to be litigated. In the end, the courts rejected all of those challenges and the zoning ordinance was finally referred back to City Council for reconsideration. The current council chose to refer the dispute to a vote of the people rather than rescind the zoning ordinance.
The community will resolve the dispute at the municipal election in April. The issue today is the same as it always has been — what is the appropriate zone for the 12 acres upon which Brady wants to expand its operations.
If you believe that re-industrializing the river immediately adjacent to Las Colonias and Eagle Rim Parks is a good idea, then you should vote to uphold the ordinance. If you believe, as I do, that re-industrializing the river would be patently inconsistent with the master plan for the South Downtown riverfront and the intended usages of Las Colonias and Eagle Rim Parks — and you agree with the recommendations of city staff and the Planning Commission that the property be zoned no higher than I-O — then you should vote to rescind the ordinance.
Harry Griff is a local attorney who has been actively involved in this community for many years, serving on the boards of a number of organizations, including the Downtown Grand Junction Lions Club and the Downtown Development Authority. He has been actively involved in the development of Las Colonias Park.