Eyesores and policy

The dispute over wrecked cars stored on private land northwest of the Redlands Parkway and the Blue Heron Section of the Colorado Riverfront Trail is reminiscent of earlier riverfront disputes. There was the trucking operation along the river near 28 Road and the move of a salvage yard near the Fifth Street Bridge. In those cases, as with the most recent one, the landowners were operating within existing land-use rules or applying for the appropriate permits to do so.

In the current case, zoning rules allow light industrial uses, but not vehicle storage to the extent that is now occurring. Property owner Mike Knowles has applied for a conditional-use permit to allow the additional storage of wrecked vehicles that are temporarily held on the lot before being sold.

But once again, the issue isn’t so much the actions of an individual property owner as it is a larger community question about where we should allow certain kinds of development and how far we should go to protect scenic vistas here.

In a narrow valley with a limited amount of property, we can’t prohibit every commercial or industrial operation that offends somebody. This region cannot live on tourism alone. It needs viable commercial and industrial operations for a healthy economy.

But the stunning views of our spectacular landscape are also key things that differentiate this community from similar-sized ones in other regions. Those vistas help attract tourists, families and new businesses. We must protect them to the extent possible.

For too long, Grand Junction had a reputation for junkiness. Various efforts have been to reverse that image, the most significant one being the creation of the Colorado Riverfront Commission in the late 1980s. Millions of dollars and countless hours of volunteer work were spent cleaning junk from along the Colorado River through the valley and making it a pleasant place to visit. Hence the frustration for some people at seeing a new facility that holds wrecked cars across from Blue Heron trail.

In addition to the Riverfront Commission, other entities have worked to clean up and protect Grand Valley lands. Mesa County has occasionally taken court action to clean up private properties that have become de facto junk yards. And it has established an oil and gas policy that aims to protect scenic vistas.

The county has also worked with Grand Junction, Fruita and Palisade to preserve buffer zones at either end of the valley. Mesa Land Trust has worked with individual landowners to preserve agricultural land, including many acres in the buffer zones.

That doesn’t mean all is perfect. Those who whiz through the valley on Interstate 70, and never exit, may remember little but the old cars, trucks and campers they see along some parts of the I-70 corridor. Too bad that vista couldn’t portray more vineyards and fruit orchards.

When the Knowles permit application is considered by the city planning commission in January — and if a conditional-use permit is approved — suitable landscaping should be required to screen the cars from the riverfront trail.

But a larger community conversation is still needed on where, if at all, protecting scenic natural resources should trump commercial and industrial development.


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