Voters get say on riverfront

The Grand Junction City council meeting drew a packed house Thursday.



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The Grand Junction City council meeting drew a packed house Thursday.

QUICKREAD

THE STORY SO FAR

The Grand Junction City Council’s decision Wednesday night marks the latest turn in a four-year-old zoning dispute that centers on private property rights versus public benefit.

Councilors in September 2008 approved a mixture of light-industrial and industrial-office park zoning for 13 acres of land near 27 1/2 and C 1/2 roads on the north banks of the Colorado River. The property is owned by Utah-based Brady Trucking, which removed a rendering plant and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to clean up the site in anticipation of expanding its operations in south downtown.

Western Colorado Congress and other citizens immediately began gathering signatures on a petition asking city voters to overturn the City Council’s decision, arguing industrial operations could endanger the river and seeking a less intensive land use. The petition effort, which would have forced the council to reconsider the zoning or referred the matter to voters, failed when City Clerk Stephanie Tuin disqualified some signatures five months later.

That launched a back-and-forth court battle that started with the citizens’ group asking Mesa County Chief District Judge David Bottger to reverse Tuin’s ruling and force her to consider the signatures. Bottger sided with Tuin.

The citizens’ group appealed to the Colorado Court of Appeals, which in December 2010 ruled the city abused its discretion by throwing out the petition signatures and remanded the case to Bottger for further consideration. Brady Trucking asked the state Supreme Court to review the Court of Appeals decision, but the high court refused.

Given direction from the appellate court, Bottger ruled last month that the City Council must either reconsider its original zoning decision or set an election.



After four years of conflict, the future usage of Brady Trucking’s 13-acre property near the Colorado River in south downtown Grand Junction is now in the hands of the voters.

City Council members voted 6-1 late Wednesday night to put the zoning of the land at 347 and 348 27 ½ Road and 2757 C ½ Road on the April ballot. Councilor Bennett Boeschenstein cast the dissenting vote.

For some in the overflowing meeting room passionately representing either side, the protracted battle is a business investment and property rights issue and for others it is a river vision and protection issue.

Chuck Johnson, vice president and general manager of family-owned Brady Trucking, said he agrees about the importance of the river, hopes to co-exist and “I think we’ve exhibited we are willing to do all we can to be good citizens and neighbors.”

The company worked with city officials to design the zoning plan that was approved in 2008 and voters will decide on that plan as it stands. Along with the light industrial and industrial office zoning, that plan includes conditions such as a 25-foot landscape buffer with a wall on the western and northern boundaries adjacent to Las Colonias Park, a 50-foot trail easement and a 50-foot easement along the river, Greg Moberg, planning supervisor for the Public Works and Planning Department, said while presenting the history to the council.

When the company purchased the property Mesa County had it zoned as heavy industrial, but as it annexed to the city, the zoning had to be reviewed, Moberg explained.

The new city zoning never took effect.

Within 30 days of the final adoption, a petition seeking to reverse the council’s decision landed on the City Clerk’s desk and a back-and-forth legal battle began, culminating in this ruling about whether to send the issue to the voters or repeal the ordinance and send it back to city planners..

Boeschenstein said he believes the previous council that approved the plan overlooked essential pieces. He shared concerns about the floodplain and said the city comprehensive plan that has been adopted makes the river and increased access to it a high priority.

“Riverfronts can be huge economic drivers. ... Grand Junction has not recovered its riverfront and it’s a shame. My vote is not to put it on the ballot, but to repeal a flawed ordinance,” he said.

Both he and Mayor Pro-Tem Laura Luke, who said she thinks “it’s a fine mess,” brought up the possibility for the business to expand to Indian Road industrial park as an alternative solution.

About 20 citizens in the room mobilized when Mayor Bill Pitts called for comments on the issue. Pitts had a tough time limiting the comments simply to whether those who spoke wanted to see it on the ballot or back in planning, and some intermittently made snide comments while people took their turn.

Harry Griff, a local attorney and one of the main representatives for the petition who has worked on it pro-bono, urged the council to send the ordinance back to planning.

“This community has spent the last 30 years reclaiming that stretch of the river. ... We want the river developed,” he said. “We just want it developed compatibly with the river.”

Leading up to the meeting, the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce sent out a message requesting attendance, testimony or a message to council members in support of Brady Trucking.

Diane Schwenke, chamber president and CEO, said the organization is so involved because the issue is vital for businesses to feel secure and want to invest in the community.

“Over 53 businesses have weighed in and are joining me tonight in asking you to take this to the ballot. .... Businesses are watching and businesses are concerned,” she said. “We need to open for businesses in Grand Junction.”

Candi Clark, a retired business owner, worked with Griff on the petition.

“I’m not against Brady. ... What I have a problem with is this word we’ve thrown around all night, vision,” she said, adding she feels having more industry along the river interferes with the vision of it.

If the voters approve the ordinance, it will go into effect as it stands. If they do not, it will be sent back through a zoning process that could take another four to five months.

Currently, the zoning is suspended but Brady trucking’s property cannot be left without a zoning designation, city officials said.

A number of councilors, including Jim Doody, commented before the vote about wanting to put this issue in voters’ hands.

“I agree with (Councilor) Sam (Susuras) and I think this needs to go the people .... and whatever happens, happens,” Doody said.



COMMENTS

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I was thrilled with community involvement in this issue. I am concerned that the zoning rules that started this kafuffle will not be repealed till the zoning process weakness can be rehabilitated. Instead the City Council, afraid of the implied threats by the Chamber, have decided to send the corrupted zoning rules to “the People.”  Mr.Doody even had the audacity to lecture the people that wanted the repeal before it goes to the “people” thinking we are afraid of the people’s decision.  Why should the people of the City of Grand Junction waste their money and time voting on the zoning of this piece of land only to have “spot zoning” become the presedence for zoning?  The zoning laws on the river need to be consistent and fair and enforceable.  “Spot Zoning” which is what this parcel is, will come back to haunt ALL the tax payers of the City…Not JUST tax paying businesses.  Well over $100 million dollars of state, federal and city taxes have been spent cleaning and clearing the river corridor.  The prior City Council and now this one, have failed to do their jobs by treating the symptoms and not the root cause of this incident.  Private property rights must be protected with clear and tested zoning laws. That is what really should be on the ballot.

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