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Since 1998, an 11.5-acre patch of land in northern Douglas County east of I-25 has been zoned for industrial use, a designation covering everything from animal hospitals to trash-transfer facilities. In the years since, businesses and residential neighborhoods have sprung up around the property.
In July, 19 years after the Douglas County Planning Commission and Board of County Commissioners approved zoning for the property, Vista South, LLC, filed a site-improvement plan with the county to build a two-story trash-transfer and recycling facility on the property.
Now neighbors are up in arms and local officials are pointing fingers about who's to blame for the predicament and whether the plan will go forward.
No one disputes that the zoning approves such a use for the property, but Mitch Maulik, who lives in the Dove Meadows subdivision across Chambers Road from the property, still doesn't want trucks hauling tons of garbage near his house.
“I agree we do have to have trash… but this isn't the way,” said Maulik who, with his wife Terri, organized a Sept. 6 community meeting at Rocky Vista University, directly across Grasslands Drive from the project.
The Mauliks, who bought their home in 2015, urged their neighbors to pressure county officals to deny the project.
"We need them to be afraid to open their email," Maulik said.
The meeting was attended by approximately 160 people, including Parker officials and state Rep. Kim Ransom, R-Acres Green.
The property was zoned for industrial use when it was purchased by 470 Compark, LLC, in 1998, and one of the principal uses by right listed in the original site application is a trash-transfer facility. That hasn't changed.
But the surrounding landscape has.
History, zoning and annexation
Since the property was purchased, the town of Parker has annexed and approved rezoning for most of the area around the property where the facility is planned.
The most recent change was in 2013 when the town annexed land on either side of Chambers Road. On the east side of Chambers, the annexation became Dove Meadows, on the west, the land annexed extends to the eastern edge of the Vista South site.
That rezoning allowed single-family residential neighborhoods and redesignated the land around Rocky Vista from commercial to industrial use.
Parker Senior Planner Paul Workman started working for the department in April, and wouldn't speculate about decisions made before his time. He did say that the “light industrial zoning” the town approved for the annexed land doesn't match the “heavy industrial” use of a trash-transfer facility on the Vista South property.
“It's not complementary of heavy industrial uses like a trash-transfer facility,” Workman said.
On that, at least, he and Douglas County Community Development Director Terence Quinn agree.
“It isn't complementary,” Quinn said. “Why did they rezone it then?”
Quinn is charged with approving or denying a site-improvement plan filed by the current owner, Vista South, the company that purchased the land in 2016. Quinn said he understands concerns about odors, visual impacts and traffic, and said Vista South has to address those details as part of the approval process.
Quinn added that he and Parker's Public Works department are working together to address transportation and other impacts and that he is providing updates to Parker's Community Development department. He's also waiting for referrals from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and Tri-County Health before making any decision.
But Quinn said it wasn't the county's decision to approve zoning that put the Mauliks and their neighbors near the site.
“We haven't changed a thing, the town has changed these things,” Quinn said. “They've made these decisions to annex. We can't be responsible for their decision making... This has been zoned for a long time. Because you decide (to put residential housing) in proximity to this site, I can't take that property right away."”
Parker Mayor Mike Waid agreed that possible principal uses for the land have always included a trash-transfer facility, but said other uses, such as a golf course, could have gone there. He referenced a 2003 intergovernmental agreement between the county and town.
“How does this fit into our IGA, our inter-governmental agreement that says we will work cooperatively to do what is best for all of our citizens?” he said. “(The county) did not do that.”
But Quinn said the agreement itself is evidence of working cooperatively.
“That was their first bite at the apple. They could have said, 'We don't like that use in our IGA and we need to change that,' ” Quinn said. “They did not… They knew it was there and continued.”
Approval- or denial- of the improvement plan is an ongoing process, Quinn said, and he is still "in the middle" of it. After referrals from CDPHE and Tri-County Health, and the finished site improvement plan from Vista South, he'll make his decision, which could be appealed by Vista South or the Mauliks and their neighbors.
But Quinn stressed that the approval process is based on the zoning for the land,and a facility like the one Vista South is a use by right.
That's the law, and he has to follow it.
“I cannot arbitrarily take that property right away… We have to look for facts,” Quinn said. “If through our process they are unable to comply with our approval criteria, there is no problem telling them no. But for us to just go in and say `we don't want this here' without the approval process, then we have trouble.”
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