Planners like new gravel pit proposal

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A developer's offer to donate an estimated $500,000 or more to affordable housing efforts and shorten mining operations may have sweetened city planning commissioners on a gravel-pit proposal east of Steamboat Springs.

At a pre-application hearing Thursday, developer Ed MacArthur presented new plans for his Yampa Meadows development, which would include a gravel pit, an eight-home subdivision, a man-made lake and a city park. The plans, which have been revised since he first presented them in February, include mining operations shortened from seven years to four years and a proposal to add a $1 surcharge to every ton of gravel sold. MacArthur said that money, which he estimated at between $500,000 and $600,000, would be donated to the Yampa Valley Housing Authority.

The majority of Steamboat Springs Planning Commission members supported Mac--Arthur's revised plans.

MacArthur said he added the affordable housing contribution to prove that the project would benefit the public, a requirement under the city's planned unit development process. The idea drew mixed reactions from planning commissioners.

"It's unfortunate we have to have a gravel pit for four years, but I feel the applicant has provided enough public benefit," Planning Commissioner Cari Hermacinski said. Planning Commissioner Dana Stopher, however, said that land-use decisions should not be determined by how much money an applicant gives the city.

"That is saying we are for sale. If you put some money up, you can get what you want. I don't think that is the community I live in," Stopher said.

Stopher and fellow commissioners Dick Curtis and Steve Lewis said they did not want to see any mining operations on the land, citing concerns about effects to the nearby water infiltration galleries and the gravel pit's location as being near the gateway to the city. The three commission members were in the minority.

The majority of commissioners supported the revised plans for the gravel pit.

The shortened mining period would reduce the amount of gravel taken from the site from more than 1 million tons to 600,000 tons or less.

As in his first pre-application offer to the city, MacArthur proposed mining the gravel for only two months of the year -- October and November -- so as not to disturb eagles nesting nearby. Crushing and screening gravel would happen on-site from August to November, and the sale of gravel would happen year-round.

The new plan increases the size of a city park -- land that MacArthur said he would donate after the gravel mining operation was completed -- from 24 acres to 27 acres.

The plan also would turn 12 acres into eight single-family home lots. The total property size is 88 acres.

"If you look at the four years operating out there versus what the community will look at for the next 50 to 100 years, what our children and grandchildren will look at, it's really exciting," Planning Commissioner Kathi Meyer said. "This is a magnificent parcel."

In the first pre-application presentation, which required no vote and allowed commission members to give feedback, a majority of the planning commissioners supported MacArthur's plan. But, when the pre-application plan went before the City Council in March, five out of the seven council members said the land was not suitable for a gravel pit. The council asked MacArthur to remove the two gravel piles that already are on the property.

As with the council meeting, most of the negative public comments dealt with past plans for the property and a dispute MacArthur had with the county.

In 1998, MacArthur dug out a ski lake without any permits from the county, state or federal governments. Since then, a jump has been added to the edge of the ski lake. It's used by the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club for training freestyle skiers and snowboarders during the summer.

When Mac--Arthur dug the lake, state law allowed property owners to mine land, but not remove the extracted material without permission. The county had to allow MacArthur to dig up the land, but it did not allow him to move the dug-up portions from the property. The large gravel piles have sat there since.

Ben Beall, who was a Routt County commissioner at the time, on Thursday urged the Planning Commission not to allow the gravel mining operation.

"It's a continuation of exhortation to the community," Beall said. "It is definitely offensive to all of us in the community."

Some planning commissioners said the community should stop looking to the past and focus instead on how to fix the problem. Planning Commissioner Tracy Barnett said that five years of not being able to use the gravel was punishment enough for MacArthur.

"I have the same opinion as last time. Let's get it over with," Barnett said.

Dissenting commissioners similarly maintained their positions on the proposal.

"A mining operation is not capable of (acting) as a gateway to the community. There is a problem there," Curtis said. "I commend the applicant for reducing the time frame to four years, but that is still a four-year mining operation."

-- To reach Christine Metz call 871-4229 or e-mail cmetz@steamboatpilot.com

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