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Planning commission denies gravel pit application, issue not dead

After being returned to the planning commission for reconsideration, an application for the proposed Eagle Mountain gravel pit was denied, but is still on hold, this time at the request of attorneys for the applicant and opposing neighbors.

The issue will be considered by the Board of County Commissioners at an Aug. 10 meeting. The BoCC is not obligated to accept the planning commission recommendation in coming to a final decision on the matter.

Peggy Montano, representing applicant Tom Smith, requested a continuation for the gravel pit’s hearing until Aug. 10, adding that attorney Jeff Robbins, who represents a number of the neighboring property owners, was also requesting the continuance.

County Attorney Todd Starr noted in a meeting earlier in the day that the sides were in settlement talks regarding the project.

The proposed Eagle Mountain Gravel Pit would be located on 38 acres of a ranch of about 2,000 acres northwest of Pagosa Springs, owned by Thomas and Margie Smith.

Gravel would be processed and used on site to reconstruct a private access road to the ranch and could possibly be used to create roads for a future land division. The pit would be in operation during daylight hours five days a week no more than 90 days per year.

A previous access road to the ranch was located off of Stevens Lake Road east of Piedra Road, but the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District’s enlargement of Stevens Reservoir took away that access.

According to the application, access to the pit would be from Cloman Boulevard, though no gravel would be sold or taken off the ranch, and the Conditional Use Permit would be for up to 25 years (with renewal periods), complete with a number of conditions for dust mitigation, noise levels, public health, storm water detention and more.

The county commissioners last heard arguments for and against the gravel pit on July 20, at which point they sent the request back to the planning commission to be reconsidered in terms of five questions and concerns:

• Is the application complete? If not, why not?

•The Land Use Code uses language to the effect that conditional uses will be located properly within surrounding practices. How does that statement apply/affect the current application?

• Consider the sand and gravel mining standards point by point as they affect this application.

• Is the current proposed mitigation sufficient, appropriate and successful?

• Consider the Robbins and Montano letters of July 8, 2010. Copies of the letters were distributed to the planning commission members.

The project was revisited at the planning commission meeting July 29, a meeting that lasted nearly three hours.

At the meeting, Montano sought to dispel rumors surrounding the proposed pit, noting that it was estimated that less than half of the gravel extracted would have to be crushed, that the crusher would be buffered, and that, while the max depth for the pit would be 80 feet, a 3-to-1 slope would be required (meaning that it would take three horizontal feet to descend one foot vertically).

Montano and Kit Shy, a surveyor working with the project, also argued that the application was complete and that substantial mitigation efforts had been made since June where necessary, while other mitigation was deemed unnecessary by entities such as the Colorado Division of Wildlife (concerning lynx) and by state authorities concerning dust.

Project proponents also informed the planning commission that test pits had been dug throughout the Smiths’ ranch and the proposed site was the best option.

Robbins spoke to the fact that it was his belief the application was not complete, as information continued to be added to the application even after the planning commission approved the pit.

Robbins also questioned the location of the pit in terms of gravel deposits and noted that the amount of dust at the site would be dependent on the type of crusher used, and that mitigating in terms of the residents was impossible.

Nearby resident Bob Santee told the planning commission that, from a value standpoint, his property would be “annihilated.”

Guisseppe Margiotta, working with the project applicant said the proposed pit was in the airport influence zone, and that the area was not inappropriate for a pit, next to Cloman Industrial Park. Montano again noted mitigation efforts and the fact that any pit would be reclaimed.

Planning Commissioner Ray Lattin said that, in his opinion, the proposed pit was compatible with the airport and industrial area, but not with the residential area and added that, while he is a staunch supporter of personal property rights, a small, short-term pit should be dug to allow the applicants to prove their case.

Commissioner Steve Van Horn spoke of his concerns over the method of pit testing, noting that personal property rights end where another’s rights begin, and questioning how mitigation testing would be carried out.

Commissioner Jeff Jones echoed Lattin’s idea of a test pit, also discussing possible testing of dust and noise.

Commissioner Kirk England responded directly to questions posed by the commissioners, noting that he felt the application was complete; that the use was not compatible with surrounding areas; that the current mitigation couldn’t be approved due to unknowns and unanswered questions; that the application would be “materially injurious” and that his opinion had not changed since his previous vote to deny it.

England also recited seven LUC sections he felt the project violated, but that if a location were found which did not violate those LUC sections, he would consider supporting the pit.

As discussions continued, comments from the crowd urged, “Bring this to a vote, let’s get this over with.”

Without the option of continuing the item due to the BoCC’s planned hearing for the item on Aug. 3, Lattin made a motion to deny the application, which passed with a 3-1 vote, with Jones as the dissenting vote.

The denial, along with the planning commission’s opinions on the matter, will be sent to the BoCC.

The continued request will be heard by the BoCC on Aug. 10, at 1:30 p.m. at the Archuleta County Extension building located on U.S. 84.