Man battling county over permitting of his stone farm
Between a rock and a hard place
Rudy Fontanari’s crop needs no water, fertilizer or even sunlight, but it does need a lawyer.
Fontanari owns Western Slope Flagstone, located in Clifton off 33 Road at E 3/4 Road. His rock farm has grown to 20,000 tons since starting in 1984, and for seven years before that the property was used for another of Fontanari’s industrial businesses: welding, fabrication, dump trucks and backhoes.
“I was born and raised over there 67 years ago,” Fontanari said.
But some of his neighbors have grown tired of his business, and the Mesa County Commission on Tuesday said the time has come for Fontanari to comply with the county codes he has been in violation of for several years. But Fontanari maintains the rules don’t apply, and he’s not done fighting.
Mesa County Code Enforcement started receiving complaints about the operations on Fontanari’s property and did site visits from 2002 to 2004. By 2005 Fontanari was notified his property was in violation of codes, and he would have to cease all operations by September 2005. To rectify the problem and allow him to continue his business of selling rocks, he was offered a conditional-use permit (CUP). The letter was signed by Kurt Larsen, county director of planning and economic development.
Fontanari still has the letter.
“This CUP wasn’t my idea,” Fontanari said.
But he went along with it “to continue my business,” he said.
The conditional-use permit was approved by the County Commission in July 2006. It called for Fontanari to phase out his business over five years. But Fontanari said he never intended to close his business, just move the flat rock to another property he has on the north side of E 3/4 Road, away from the few neighbors who were complaining.
“I didn’t ask to be taken out in five years,” he said.
Fontanari has been fighting back ever since, but he has lost his appeals to the commission as well as a trial in district court.
On Tuesday, the conditional-use permit was again used against Fontanari. The Mesa County Commission unanimously approved proceeding with legal action against Fontanari because he has failed to comply with its timetable.
“Mr. Fontanari has had plenty of time to comply,” said Donna Ross, director of Code Enforcement. “Yet, still much of the rock remains on the property.”
The result of the commission’s decision is Fontanari now has to move his business 300 yards to the east.
Fontanari was given 30 days to file a site plan and begin moving his collection of flat rocks. To move them will cost $32 a ton, or $800,000, Fontanari said. But moving might bring new problems.
“Where I am moving this rock, I got one neighbor that is already complaining,” he said.
With such costs to contend with, Fontanari said his fight with the county is not over. He maintains that since he has been in business for more than 30 years, he should have the right to remain in business in the same location.
“I’m grandfathered in after 32 years,” he said.
Fontanari also contends the county rezoned his land from agricultural, which allows for flat-rock storage, to residential without his permission.
Despite their troubled relationship, Mesa County and Fontanari have done plenty of business together. Fontanari said he has supplied the county with 90 percent of its rip-rap for the last decade, sold stone to the county for Long Memorial Park and has sold decorative rock to the county for placement on bridges. Other customers include Mesa State College, School District 51, private landowners, sculptors and masons, he said.
The business generates $200,000 a year, he said.
“They are taking away a needed resource in the valley,” he said. “I don’t have a problem paying my taxes, but I do have a problem with people changing my zoning and unlawfully taking my money.”