Questions linger on whether Grand Junction must approve body farm

Attorney looks into whether college needs OK from city

The question of whether Mesa State College needs approval from the city of Grand Junction to establish a body farm in Pear Park remains unanswered.

City Attorney John Shaver said he is looking into whether the college or its Real Estate Foundation must abide by city zoning and land-use rules in order to proceed with plans to place human corpses for scientific study on a portion of a 154-acre parcel owned by the foundation at 29 Road and Riverside Parkway.

“We’re trying to determine to the best extent we can the best nature of what the use of the property would be,” Shaver said. “We’re trying to evaluate the ownership questions, whether the owner is going to be obligated to have some kind of additional review.”

College officials already have taken steps to build what would be the fifth forensic anthropology center in the United States, where forensic and criminal justice students and professionals could study how bodies decompose under a variety of circumstances. They’ve erected a 10-foot fence topped by razor wire and poured a foundation within the fence.

City Planning Services Supervisor Greg Moberg said earlier this week he assumed the college or foundation would have to go through the city’s planning process for the body farm because the foundation did just that two years ago when it sought to develop the property into a mixture of high-density housing, commercial and industrial space.

That project has been postponed because of the downturn in the real-estate market.

College officials say Mesa State and its foundation can bypass city zoning and permitting regulations because they’re state entities.

Local land-use and real estate attorney Dan Wilson said Friday he believes the body farm can be built without the city’s blessing. Wilson spent 16 years as Grand Junction’s city attorney before resigning in 2004. He also filed documents on behalf of the foundation with the Colorado Secretary of State’s Office in 2008.

Even though the foundation is a private, nonprofit corporation registered with the state, Wilson said the foundation is “clearly a quasi arm of the state” and “its purposes are 100 percent supportive of the college.” He also said that although the foundation is the owner of the land, it’s the college that will be using it.

“This is clearly a classroom function,” he said. “Whether it’s a formal lease or not, they (the foundation) are making it available to the college for college primary-mission functions.”

The Mesa State Board of Trustees created the foundation in 2006. Its purpose is to sell or redevelop land not currently in use by the institution and invest the proceeds in the college.

The foundation’s articles of incorporation say that while it “is intended to be and shall be maintained and operated as a legally separate entity from the college,” the foundation “is organized and at all times shall be operated exclusively for the benefit of, to perform the functions of, or to carry out the purposes of ... Mesa State College.” The foundation’s board of directors is appointed by college trustees.

College officials said they chose the Pear Park property for the body farm because the foundation owns it. They said the farm will be located there temporarily and moved to an undetermined permanent location at a later date.


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