Riverfront Column December 19, 2008
Progress on riverfront precludes industrial zone
Almost a half-century ago, a handful of citizens conceived an effort to make the Grand Valley’s river corridor a true asset for our community. As initial efforts morphed into the Riverfront Project, business leaders, service clubs, individuals and elected officials opened their hearts and their pocketbooks in support.
Just last April, Mesa County applied for and was granted another $1 million from Great Outdoors Colorado, to be matched by $500,000 of county funds, for two segments of riverfront trails and a nature park in Clifton.
The balance of the nearly $2.5 million project to move the Riverfront Commission closer to its goal of completing a trail system from Palisade to Fruita will continue to come from a partnership with Grand Junction, Fruita, Palisade, Mesa County, the commission and 14 other partners.
The Colorado Riverfront Project, a 20-year-old project aided by Great Outdoors Colorado, has received more than $9 million in grants and local funds since 1996 and many additional millions over the years. That perspective is important for today’s controversy over riverfront zoning and Brady Trucking.
Some members of the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce are concerned that allowing the public to petition to reverse zoning decisions will create a bad climate for business.
They suggest that judicial appeals of zoning decisions would be more business-friendly.
That’s a novel concept, but an erroneous one.
Businesses flourish when they are needed, provide jobs and stimulate the economy — if they do not denigrate the environment or otherwise adversely impact the community. The mixed-use designation sought by the petitioners would actually enable a much higher and — for local businesses and the city of Grand Junction — a much more remunerative use of this land.
Mixed-use zoning would allow commercial enterprises such as restaurants, coffee shops, retail, entertainment and recreation-oriented businesses to enliven our riverfront, making it a prime destination for locals and tourists alike, and generating a significant revenue stream for entrepreneurs and public tax coffers.
Zoning — unlike conditional use permits, for example — is a legislative process. It applies to the land involved, not specifically to a particular land owner, such as Brady Trucking. As we all know, legislation is subject to the initiative and referendum process. Thus, the petition to reverse the City Council’s decision to zone riverfront property I-1 and I-O falls directly within the initiative and referendum provisions of the City Charter and Colorado state statutes.
It is unfortunate that the Chamber of Commerce would question citizens’ rights guaranteed under both state statutes and the Grand Junction City Charter.
We need this process because zoning affects all of us. As with all legislation, zoning is impacted by the biases and interests of the decision-makers — in this case the City Council members. If their interests are to support real estate development or to support particular businesses over other interests, then broad community interests may get short shrift. In the case of the Brady Trucking rezoning, the community got short shrift.
It is worth noting that the first vote on the rezoning resulted in a tie. Brady Trucking did not prevail. It was only when Councilwoman Teresa Coons, fearing a lawsuit by Brady Trucking, changed her vote that the I-1, I-O zoning was passed. Brady Trucking never had certainty in its rezoning bid.
It is true that the current 12-year-old growth plan designates the land as available for industrial use. However, the plan is advisory and does not mandate such use. And the current plan is in the process of being revised.
At every open house on the comprehensive plan currently being drafted, the public has spoken up for a vibrant, green, recreational and commercial river corridor. As of this time, it appears that the initial draft plan still does not recognize what the people want. This can and should change.
If we want Grand Junction to be the kind of place where people want to live and do business, if we want the river in the heart of Grand Junction to be the heart of our community where nature and people thrive, industrial zoning of the Brady land should be denied.
Brady Trucking gambled when it bought this property. The community as a whole should not be made to suffer because of this gamble. Brady should be able to sell the property at a profit for commercial uses — such as restaurants, shops and entertainment venues with a wide green setback from the river that includes a trail — or the city should purchase the riverfront properties from Brady.
Disallowing industrial zoning will benefit the entire Grand Valley, and with it, the businesses that can and should thrive in appropriate locations.
The citizens of Grand Junction have every right to support their community through this initiative and referendum process.
Helen Traylor and Bennett Boeschenstein wrote this for Citizens to Protect the Riverfront.