Brady Trucking wins battle; foes plan next move
A judge has upheld a ruling that a citizens’ group didn’t collect enough signatures on a petition that sought to overturn industrial zoning along the Colorado River.
The decision represents a victory for Brady Trucking, which is seeking to expand its operations near 27 1/2 and C 1/2 roads in south downtown Grand Junction. But those business plans, which have yet to materialize in the three years since Brady bought its property, appear likely to continue to remain on hold because a representative for the citizens’ group said Wednesday he intends to appeal the judge’s decision to the Colorado Court of Appeals.
A land-use controversy that dates back 15 months started when the City Council approved a mixture of light-industrial and industrial-office park zoning for nearly 13 acres owned by Brady Trucking, a Utah-based energy services company.
The council decision prompted members of Western Colorado Congress and a group calling itself Concerned Citizens for Protecting Downtown Riverfront Zoning to circulate a petition opposing the zoning of the property. The groups argued industrial operations could endanger the river and wanted less intensive mixed-use development. Their petition sought to force council members to either reverse themselves or allow voters to decide the issue.
City Clerk Stephanie Tuin accepted 1,864 signatures, four more signatures than was legally required to compel council action. But Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce President Diane Schwenke, acting as a private citizen, filed a protest of the petitions.
In January, Tuin ruled that notary public Candi Clark had a disqualifying interest in the petition because she notarized a page that she also had signed as a petitioner, and therefore had become too involved in the petition process. Tuin threw out the 18 signatures on the petition section signed and notarized by Clark, leaving petitioners short of the minimum number required.
Attorney Harry Griff and Clark filed a lawsuit against the city in February, alleging Tuin improperly disqualified the signatures. They asked Mesa County Chief District Judge David Bottger to reverse Tuin’s ruling and force her to consider additional signatures collected after her ruling.
In an order issued last month, Bottger sided with Tuin, saying Clark acted as more than a third party to the petition.
” ... Clark’s participation in the circulation of petition sections and her efforts to induce others to sign the petition were sufficient to disqualify her as a notary because she had become more than a generally neutral elector,” Bottger wrote.
The judge wrote that third parties are required to authenticate signatures in order to preserve the integrity of the petition process and prevent irregularities in the circulation of a petition.
Reached Wednesday, Brady Trucking Vice President Chuck Johnson said Bottger’s decision “has been a long time coming” and gives the company the ability to submit site development plans to the city in 2010.
Claiming the 13 acres would become “a productive and pleasing piece of property along the riverfront,” Johnson said Brady Trucking intends in 2010 to build a garage to store trucks and equipment on the western end of the land, which is zoned light industrial. Company officials previously said they also may create a gravel storage yard there.
Johnson said the eastern end of the land, zoned industrial-office, could become office space, but that won’t occur until 2011.
He said Brady Trucking, which employs 25 people in Grand Junction and 77 total, plans to hire 10 to 25 additional employees locally.
Johnson estimated the delay in expanding its operations has cost Brady Trucking $500,000 in lost business and attorney’s fees.
“We hope to rebound and recoup as much of that as possible with our plan and as we go into 2010. Those are still lost revenues that you’ll never fully recoup,” he said.
But Brady Trucking may have to wait a while longer before it can grow.
Griff said he and the citizens’ group disagree with Bottger’s order and plan to appeal the decision to the state appellate court. The group must file a notice of appeal by Dec. 31, and it could take several months for the court to issue a ruling.
“We believe that the judge’s ruling that Miss Clark was prohibited from signing one of the petitions and then acting as the notary of the circulator’s signature was wrong as a matter of law,” Griff said.
Schwenke expressed dismay upon learning that opponents of industrial zoning plan to take their case to a higher court, particularly in an economy that has been tough on local businesses.
“I truly do believe that zoning should not be driven by the ballot box,” she said.
Schwenke said Bottger’s ruling demonstrates that businesses, should they encounter similar challenges in the future, have as much legal protection as those who mount such protests.