We were surprised to see the county commissioners acquiesce to outside pressures and agree on Aug. 10 to consider gravel pit proposals in the aggregate.
From our observation, the current group of commissioners Nancy Stahoviak, Dan Ellison and Ben Beall are well-versed in county regulations and local planning documents, have strong opinions about land-use issues and normally vote with their heads.
Except with gravel.
When it comes to pits, apparently, they give ground instead of standing it.
It was unfair on Aug. 10 for the commissioners to tell the Lafarge Corp. that its conceptual proposal for the Werner land south of Steamboat Springs which the county Planning Commission had decided met regulatory and land-use requirements would not be judged on its own merits. Instead, the commissioners decided, Lafarge will be heaped in with at least two other gravel pit proposals in the south valley. The winner will be sifted out by a process that is as unclear as the dust kicked up by a dump truck on a dirt road.
For Lafarge, it was a bureaucratic bait and switch. We we worried that might happen.
We realize the commissioners were considering the Lafarge pit proposal in concept. But it was a conceptual review of a plan that had been hammered out in two arduous Planning Commission meetings and over several months. And the concept the commissioners were reviewing was whether Lafarge's pit, planned for a particular location, is an acceptable use of that land. The commissioners were not scheduled to consider how many gravel pits are acceptable and where.
Lafarge brought its plan to the county last year. Its representatives sat through a Planning Commission meeting last fall at which they were beaten up and sent back to the drawing board. They came back to the county with a plan that met the expectations of the commission and the requirements of county regulations. But the plan also got the attention of other gravel pit developers who, like Horshack on "Welcome Back Kotter," began vigorously waving their raised hands to get the attention of the county. They succeeded, and the county failed.
It's one thing to decide that gravel pits need to be considered collectively. We can understand the need for that. Gravel pits are not like hot dog stands. The economic doctrine of laissez-faire should not guide decisions about them. Because of their visual impacts, in particular, there is a limit to how many gravel pits should be allowed in the south valley. However, there is no doubt that a gravel pit is needed south of Steamboat. Housing construction and anticipated improvements to Colorado 131 will fuel demand. Lafarge saw that need and was first to put together a plan to satisfy it. It's not right for the commissioners to delay a decision on the plan because others want to copy it.
The Lafarge plan and the other pit proposals didn't sneak up on the county. Rather, county planners knew for months that this storm was building. But instead of proactively saying that a comprehensive look was needed before any individual proposal was publicly reviewed the county used Lafarge's initiative against the gravel company. Instead of being rewarded for being first, as you might expect in this capitalist society, Lafarge is being punished.
The county commissioners will say they had the big picture in mind when they decided to put the brakes on current gravel pit plans. We would argue that rhetoric and emotion clouded their vision and kept them from being fair.