Judge sends embattled Laporte gravel pit back to commissioners
Fort Collins Coloradoan
The three-year legal twists and turns of a proposed gravel pit took another turn this week when a district judge ruled against the Loveland Ready Mix project on the doorstep of Laporte.
The latest move centers on the project’s concrete batch plant.
Larimer County District Court Judge Juan Villaseñor in a Monday ruling rejected a 2018 zoning decision by the Larimer County board of commissioners because the concrete batch plant is not allowable under current land-use regulations.
The ruling sends the matter back to the commissioners, who will discuss it in executive session at their Tuesday meeting.
Further complicating the matter is the fact that since the board’s initial decision, it has a new commissioner.
John Kefalas won an election over Sean Dougherty in 2018, who was appointed the position after the death of Lew Gaiter. Dougherty and current commissioner Tom Donnelly voted in favor of the project at the time. Current commissioner Steve Johnson voted against it.
Donnelly is term-limited and will be replaced after the November election.
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The case was brought before the court by No Laporte Gravel Corp. Robert Havis, president of the group, said they are delighted with the latest ruling but know the fight is not yet over.
“It’s been a long struggle, but we are going to keep pushing,” Havis said. “We hope that the commissioners will also recognize how inappropriate the project is for Laporte.”
The 125-acre plant site, where cattle now graze, sits about a half-mile west of Taft Hill road along Larimer County Road 54G. Havis said the group’s objections include truck traffic, air quality, noise and groundwater impacts.
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Stephanie Fancher, who owns Loveland Ready Mix with Brad Fancher, said she believes the judge got the law wrong in the ruling and, despite the latest setback, believes the project will ultimately be permitted.
“We are planning our next steps, including appealing, based on what the commissioners decide,” she said. “We believe in the public process. We didn’t expect it to take this long but will continue down the course.”
The Larimer County Planning Commission unanimously recommended approval of the project to commissionres in August 2018.
That same year, opponents of the project submitted more than 3,000 signatures, about 600 shy of the population of the unincorporated community. The Laporte Area Planning Advisory Committee came out against the project, but the committee doesn’t have regulatory authority.
Havis said the project could be helped if Loveland Ready Mix would amend it to increase the buffer on the west side of the property, where homes and apartment complexes abut the site, from 100 to 500 feet.
Fancher said her company has tried its best to explain to neighbors about the project and answer concerns they might have. She said her company has and will comply with all regulations and do as much as it can to minimize impacts.
She said her company has moved the concrete batch plant onto the site and completed upgrades, such as building a road and cleaning up the site, in the last few months, without any complaints from neighbors.
She said the site is ideally located because of the gravel bed underneath the land and its proximity to areas where there is demand for concrete, from northern Fort Collins north to Livermore. Further southeast of the proposed site are former and current gravel pit sites.
When the permit is up in 12 years, she said the company is responsible for returning the land to the condition it was when they started mining.
Ladelle West, who for the last 43 years has owned a small farm next to the site, said the Fanchers have been the best neighbors she has had. She also said opponents are “disingenuous’’ when they talk about the environmental impacts of the project.
“We have a community that raves about Watson Lake, and the reason we have Watson Lake is because of aggregate mining years ago,” said West, who has lived in Laporte for 60 years. “And if we don’t mine our aggregates here, we will be hauling it from out of Wyoming and that carbon footprint is much more than what this pit will have.”
Still, anger about the pit lingers in Laporte and has spilled into meetings and hearings, as many residents of this small town want to keep the peace and quiet they have come to enjoy.
“This site is different than others because those are further from town,” Havis said. “This one is right next to the town center and houses. It’s just incompatible with the area.”
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