Voters may have final say on zoning of riverfront

The debate over how to zone nearly 13 acres of land on the banks of the Colorado River represents a classic confrontation between the rights of a private property owner versus those of his or her neighbors.

In the end, however, a third group — the community at large — could decide the issue.

Within minutes of the City Council’s approval of industrial zoning for a portion of Brady Trucking’s land in south downtown, a group of people huddled in the hallway outside the City Hall auditorium Wednesday night and began devising plans to collect enough signatures to petition a zoning question onto the ballot.

The decision also could be appealed to Mesa County District Court.

“There seems to be a lot of public concern about how this was zoned,” Bennett Boeschenstein, one of the most vocal opponents of industrial zoning along the riverfront, said Thursday.

Asked whether she thought activists could collect enough signatures — 5 or 10 percent of the registered voters who live in the city, depending upon how quickly they want to put the question on the ballot — Orchard Mesa resident Candi Clark had no doubts.

“Hell, yes,” she said Wednesday night. “Oh, yeah. No problem.”

The City Council voted 4-2 to zone two parcels industrial-office park and one parcel light industrial, nearly three months after deadlocking on the same issue.

Mayor Gregg Palmer and Councilman Jim Doody, who said they preferred industrial-office zoning for all three parcels, voted against the mixture of zoning. Council members Bonnie Beckstein, Teresa Coons, Linda Romer Todd and Doug
Thomason voted for it. Councilman Bruce Hill recused himself from the vote to avoid a conflict of interest.

Coons deviated from her vote three months ago and broke the tie.  She said Thursday she ultimately hopes to “de-industrialize” the riverfront, but she couldn’t allow another tie vote and risk spending taxpayer money to defend a lawsuit she believes likely would have resulted in the zoning that Brady Trucking received at the meeting.

“It was really one of the more difficult things I’ve ever had to do,” she said of changing her vote.

The decision came after city administrators’ attempts to buy the land or move Brady Trucking elsewhere in a land trade failed.

Opponents on Thursday criticized the industrial zoning, claiming the business is incompatible with plans to develop the adjacent Las Colonias Park and will disturb residents across the river.

Maggie Robb, wife of the late Jim Robb, who helped form the Riverfront Commission and build a network of trails in the Grand Valley, said she was heartbroken about the industrial zoning.

She called it a slap to residents and groups who worked for decades to remove junked cars and radioactive mill tailings from the riverfront.

“I think it’s very, very short-sighted of the city and I think it’s very greedy of Brady Trucking, knowing community sentiment is against them being there.”

Boeschenstein, a former planning director for Mesa County, Grand Junction and Fruita, said the council’s decision is a step in the wrong direction.

“It’s a setback for the riverfront project, to have a truck terminal with hazardous waste in close proximity to the river and the possibility of spills and flooding,” he said, noting the land is in the 100-year floodplain.

But Brady Trucking officials noted they’ve done their fair share to remove the blight that once defined the area.

The company demolished the rendering plant, which had been vandalized and subjected to graffiti in the years since it closed.

“The amount of private funds to purchase the property and clean it is phenomenal,” said Robert Jones, who spoke on behalf of the company during the council meeting. “

The removal of an existing criminal element in the area is a benefit.”

Beckstein said she viewed the industrial zoning not as lacking vision, but “the proper way of doing business.”

“Based on the fact that the property owner in good faith bought the property and dealt with the city in good faith, we need to respect that,” she said. “There was an opportunity in time for other things to happen that didn’t happen.”


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