What’s next on the riverfront
Grand Junction’s riverfront has a history of being a dumping ground for junk cars and uranium mill tailings.
Fast forward to today, and city officials, with some financial help from the Grand Junction Lions Club, are planning a gleaming new future for the Las Colonias area, the 120-acre swath of open space that stretches along the Colorado River in south downtown.
Starting this year, residents will see some sort of development in the park that should someday delight users with a host of amenities, including an outdoor amphitheater to seat thousands, a kayak park, a dog park and picnic shelters. Already, Kannah Creek Brewing Co. is building a 14,000-square-foot brew pub and bottling facility on commercial land near the park.
“We have such potential there with the rivers and the trails,” said Rob Schoeber, director of the Grand Junction Parks and Recreation Department. “It’s such a beautiful site.”
Grand Junction city staff is tweaking a master plan to incorporate some of those ideas. Community members soon will get a peek at those plans and will be encouraged to make some suggestions of their own.
The ongoing transformation of property along the riverfront and the future development of Las Colonias comes as city voters are scheduled to decide April 2 whether to confirm industrial and industrial-office zoning for roughly 12 acres of land to the east of Las Colonias.
Brady Trucking owns the parcels and has agreed to offer a 50-foot easement to connect the bike path heading east and to provide a 25-foot buffer zone and a wall on its western edge.
Having an area zoned industrial immediately adjacent to the park doesn’t make sense, said Bill Haggerty, who spent years working to improve the nearby Western Colorado Botanical Gardens.
“It’s ludicrous to think we have industrial zoning in a floodplain,” Haggerty said. “Diesel trucks in a floodplain. That doesn’t make sense. Brady Trucking can work anywhere in this valley. Now’s the time we have a chance to do something.”
Haggerty said the issue before voters is neither about Brady Trucking nor jobs. Rather, he said, it speaks to a question of whether the area is the appropriate place for industrial zoning. Brady Trucking has always been a good neighbor and kept a clean business, Haggerty said.
“It doesn’t mean that we should expand industry on the other side of path,” he said. “It’s right there. People don’t get it.”
Even if voters approve the industrial zoning, the city, along with other entities, may eventually purchase the property or swap land with Brady Trucking. If voters don’t approve the industrial zoning, the issue would go back to Grand Junction planning commissioners, and then to city councilors. Most current councilors and City Council candidates have said they approve of zoning the land as industrial.
City Councilor Bennett Boeschenstein said there is talk between the Trust for Public Land and Brady Trucking for the nonprofit conservation agency to purchase the land. However, negotiations are stalled because neither side is willing to pay for an appraisal, Boeschenstein said.
Grand Junction’s Downtown Development Authority might be interested in obtaining the land, he said.
“I was hoping it would be acquired by now,” Boeschenstein said. “It has to be a fair price or a swap. The taxpayers’ dollars have to be protected.”
“I don’t think anybody has anything bad to say about Brady Trucking,” he added. “The zoning wasn’t there when he bought (the property). It was partially residential and industrial office. That’s what we’re fighting about five years later.”
While its future is looking up, Las Colonias has a history of being an industrial dumping site.
Its namesake comes from the colonies of migrant workers who lived by the Colorado River around the turn of the 20th century, working at the former sugar beet factory. After the Holly Sugar Factory closed in the 1930s, the plant sat idle for about 20 years and was leased to the Climax Manufacturing Co. The U.S. Department of Energy spent tens of millions of dollars cleaning up mill tailings dumped in the area and later donated the parcel to the city. Starting in 1985, a restoration project was initiated with the help of the Grand Junction Lions Club to clean up the salvage yard and purchase Watson Island.
Because of the mill tailings that were buried there, the groundwater cannot be disturbed. Any buildings constructed on the site must be open structures. The city drew up master plans for the area in 1998 and again in 2008. Officials are dusting off those plans now, thanks in part to a pledge by the Lions Club to invest $300,000 in the park in the next six years. The club already has donated $64,000 to the project. The city has dedicated $250,000 to the park in this year’s budget for the park’s initial phase.
“We’re very cognizant of the soil conditions,” Schoeber said. “We want to do big things for the community, but we cannot disturb groundwater in any way or form.”
Current plans for an amphitheater place the structure to the east of the Botanical Gardens, well away from the river and the floodplain. Parking would be located at different ends of the park, structured like Canyon View Park, Schoeber said.
Grand Junction Lions Club member Larry Jones said he’s proud that the club has the park as its signature project, something the club has not taken on in more than two decades.
“We felt that Las Colonias Park is something the whole community could benefit from,” Jones said. “The two things we want to see is a kayak park and an amphitheater. It has gradually improved over the years. It’s even being improved now. The disc golf group is doing a lot of work to make better conditions.”