Residents ready for Round 3 in fight over gravel pit proposal
Residents of an Orchard Mesa neighborhood opposed to a gravel mining operation in their area are hoping the third time is a charm.
It’s been a rocky tug of war both for the applicant of a gravel pit proposal, Schooley-Weaver Partnership, and residents in the area of 29 3/4 Road, where the operation most recently has been approved by the Grand Junction Planning Commission.
Now residents are requesting another go-round, asking planning commissioners again to reconsider the matter. Planning commissioners first will decide during a Nov. 9 meeting whether they will rehear the matter. If they agree to do that, it will be scheduled for a subsequent meeting. If commissioners refuse to rehear the matter, residents can appeal the decision to the City Council.
“We have several truck drivers in this community,” said Carrol Zehner, one of the neighbors opposed to the gravel pit. “We even have a couple people who work in the gravel pit industry. Those people say this is crazy. You don’t put this in a residential area. It feels like it’s right on top of you.”
Several neighbors have formed a nonprofit organization, Concerns of Impacted Neighborhoods, or COIN, to fight the mining proposal through the legal system.
Gravel pit applicants also want the issue to come to an end, feeling they’ve met the city’s requirements and have agreed to mitigate impacts to residents.
“Frustrated couldn’t even begin to describe in emotions and expense what we’ve been through,” said Belinda Knisley, the office manager of CMC Weaver Trucking, owned by Merle Weaver. The Schooley-Weaver Partnership is composed of Merle Weaver and James Schooley.
“They’ve met all the criteria and have been approved,” Knisley added. “In regards to a request for a rehearing, (commissioners) have heard all the criteria that we’ve met. We’ve done everything that we were supposed to do on our end.”
Residents oppose the pit slated for 104 29 3/4 Road, near the road’s dead-end, for a host of reasons.
Those include the safety of children and residents walking along the roadway while up to 300 gravel trucks per day drive past.
Shoulders on the road fluctuate, with some stretches having no shoulders. Residents also are allowed to park on the street in the area zoned rural-residential.
Residents question why Mesa County officials years ago deemed that commercial and industrial traffic on the road was incompatible with the residential area, but city officials do not.
Standards for rural roadways should be 26 feet with 4-foot shoulders. But 29 3/4 Road is 22 feet at its greatest width, with shoulders ranging from a foot to 4 feet.
“I found that the asphalt road did meet standards but that there was little or no shoulder in most places,” according to a Sept. 24, 2010, letter by Mesa County Public Works Director Pete Bair. “The shoulder was found to be inadequate for purposes of pedestrian refuge from vehicles traveling in the roadway.”
Bair also said in his recent letter that the traffic volume on the road estimated by today’s standards is about 435 vehicles a day. Standards for average daily travel on rural residential roads should not exceed 500 vehicles a day. An influx of up to 300 more vehicles a day would increase traffic by 69 percent on the road, Bair said.
City officials maintain that the road base is thick enough to handle the increased traffic for well past the duration of Schooley-Weaver’s five-year conditional-use permit.
After the property was annexed by the city in 2004, the city and county split ownership of 29 3/4 Road, although it is maintained by the county. With this proposal, the city will take over maintenance of the road and forward that responsibility to Schooley-Weaver.
According to conditions of the proposal, the company will create a turnaround at the road’s end to accommodate a school bus. It also must create acceleration and deceleration lanes on connecting U.S. Highway 50 for gravel trucks to navigate those turns.
Although the 15-acre ridge for the proposed gravel pit has been annexed into the city, many homes in this Orchard Mesa neighborhood have not. Any new development in designated areas is automatically annexed by the city and within service boundaries for the Persigo Wastewater Treatment Plant. Those homes that are grandfathered into county areas can request and be annexed by the city and receive sewer services. Prior to the Persigo boundary agreements, county land could be annexed by the city without residents’ approval.
But living in the county and being governed by the city offers residents no representation from elected officials, some residents said. In this case, the gravel pit’s permit goes through the city process, but residents in the county neighborhood cannot vote for City Council members.
What’s more frustrating for residents is their belief that a similar gravel pit proposal brought to the county would not be allowed, a trend that has been documented in years past.
“We found paperwork that the county tried to get a conditional-use permit for the Mesa County gravel pit, and they were told that they could not use this road,” Zehner said. “Now the city is saying it’s OK. There’s no doubt in my mind if (Schooley-Weaver) had to get a CUP through the county, it would be denied.”
The Persigo boundary annexation is an issue that Bob Engelke long has rallied against. Though Engelke does not live in the Orchard Mesa area and isn’t familiar with the gravel pit proposal, the Grand Junction resident, who has worked as a planning consultant, said he doesn’t agree with governments making decisions for people they don’t represent.
“People are ultimately disenfranchised,” he said. “Certainly, I find this very suspect legally. If anybody wanted to go out and pay $200 a hour for a lawyer, they would have a good case. It’s unfair to the property owner, it’s unfair to the neighbor. None of them are talking to somebody that they elect. You might as well be talking to the council of England.”
Grand Junction City Attorney John Shaver said that just because some Orchard Mesa residents hadn’t voted for the city leaders doesn’t mean those elected officials aren’t objective when issuing rulings.
“I saw no red flags that this was evil at the time (the Persigo boundary was approved). Boy, was I wrong,” said Orchard Mesa resident Vicki Felmlee, who opposes the proposed gravel pit. “Because we are county residents, we are not listened to. It’s going on everywhere (in the county), and people don’t think it’s going to happen to them.”
Knisley said she was asked by Merle Weaver to reply to a reporter’s questions about Schooley-Weaver’s pit proposal. Robert Jones II, owner of Vortex Engineering, the applicant’s engineer, did not return a call for comment. A staff member said he was away on other business.
Knisley said the company had planned to bid on providing gravel for the city and county’s combined 29 Road Overpass project.
Hurdles in getting the gravel pit approved made that impossible, Knisley said. Schooley-Weaver had listed the 29 Road Overpass project as its single public benefit.
Gravel for that project was awarded to Parkerson Construction and was hired out by general contractor Lawrence Construction.
Currently, CMC is purchasing gravel from other companies to complete bids from other projects, Knisley said.
Gravel at the 104 29 3/4 Road site is of good quality and, although there aren’t any other specific projects that gravel could go toward, “there’s not not a need,” for gravel, she said.
Knisley said she has heard talk from neighborhood residents that Schooley-Weaver wants to eliminate the hill in an effort to later build homes there. She said she doesn’t know whether that is true.
Schooley-Weaver has offered to mitigate its impact by building a foot path along 29 3/4 Road and a bus shelter and installing a fence around the gravel pit.
Those ideas came with their own issues, and planning commissioners in the end said they did not want those features. Schooley-Weaver also plans to mine the gravel furthest from homes first to keep down dust and initially reduce the visual impact.
“When you’ve got small businesses developing and unemployment so high and us hiring local workers, then to be painted as a bad guy is not fair,” Knisley said.
The property has been on the market for $1 million since the proposal first was submitted more than a year ago. It was purchased by Schooley and Weaver in 2007 for $338,000, according to the Mesa County assessor’s website.
Neighbors also are concerned about the precedent the city is setting by allowing ridgelines to be removed, and they said the neighorhood is in a ridgeline-protection area.
“To think that those foothills will all be gone is really disheartening,” Zehner said.