By Joseph Lekarczyk
Scores of citizens (many of them garbed in red shirts to show their solidarity against the annexation) gathered at Town Hall for Monday evening's Board of Trustees (BOT) meeting to participate in, and listen to, a public hearing concerning the proposed annexation of the Planet Bluegrass Farm property; approximately twenty-five acres located just outside of Lyons between Apple Valley Road and Eagle Canyon along the North St. Vrain Creek. With fifty to sixty
area residents crowded into the council chambers, and half again that many standing in the adjoining room and outside in the plaza, it was apparent to all that this was a topic of concern to a great many in the community.
There must have been something in the night air that made people want to address the Board, because besides the multitude gathered for the annexation public hearing, eight other concerned citizens addressed the Trustees on various other topics during audience business. Several people, including St. Vrain Pharmacy owner Mary Arenson, lobbied the Board about their concerns over the impending closure of the former Milestone medical clinic. They stressed the importance of having a facility right here in town for seniors and others who may have difficulty getting to Longmont or Boulder for their medical needs, and implored their elected officials to help find a solution that would keep some sort of clinic in town. Former Mayor Nick Angelo apologized “for beating a dead horse,” but expressed his concern about a lack of legal representation at recent Planning and Community Development Commission (PCDC) meetings during Comp Plan discussions, pointing out that the Town had, according to Angelo, spent $78,000 on legal fees in the last four months, none of which was for representation that had to do with PCDC issues, questions, or concerns. Former Trustee Ed Bruder also addressed the Board over the odor emanating from the waste water treatment plant saying it was “driving people away” from the Black Bear Hole recreation area. An Eagle Canyon resident shared her concerns for the safety of neighborhood children playing and walking through the area because of guns being fired in a nearby field. And former Trustee Peter Baumgartner, never one to pass up a chance to speak to the importance of incorporating a performance space/auditorium in the proposed new library, pointed out to the council how such a space would have come in particularly handy for the night's public hearing so that citizens wouldn't have to stand outside.
Town Administrator Victoria Simonsen notified the Board during staff reports that the reimbursement requests for cost increases at the new wastewater treatment plant, due to the construction delays caused by the flood, have been denied. She said that alternatives for funding will have to be looked into, otherwise the Town will be on the hook for approximately $760K. Yikes! She also reported that Homeland Security officials were in town for site/project reviews and interviews for the various recovery projects the Town is currently involved with. They will be back to conduct further interviews on Friday. And she also informed the Trustees that the Boulder County Collaborative's Round 3 grant funding still has four million dollars earmarked for housing in Lyons, with the caveat that the project(s) must be “identified and underway” by late 2019.
To get the public hearing underway, Town Planner Bob Joseph walked the Board and those gathered through the proposed Planet Bluegrass Farm annexation request, and the process thus far. It has gone before the PCDC for a public hearing and recommendations. Been determined to be contiguous and eligible. Joseph indicated conformance with the Apple Valley planning document (preserving the rural nature), conformance with the Town of Lyons Comp Plan, the suitability of the zone change (Boulder County Rural Residential to Town of Lyons Commercial/Entertainment 1), and that it would be subject to conditional use review. Some of those recommended conditions mentioned were: noise restrictions similar to those imposed at the Riverbend wedding venue, no building of permanent structures or hardscapes, will not alter or modify liquor license, access for no more than fifty tent campers on the Apple Valley Road side of the property, access only through the Rte. 36 CDOT/Army Corps of Engineers entry for festival camping/parking, access through the “historical driveway” for wedding/dinners, the camping and parking would only be during the same dates as the festivals, no “stand alone major events” on the property, and the “minor events” (i.e. weddings, dinners, etc.) would be limited to 250 persons with no camping, only ten days per year for major events, and a limit of one thousand parked cars.
In an effort to make the public hearing process more efficient, the three public hearings pertaining to the Planet Bluegrass Farm annexation (the annexation, the annexation agreement, and the approving of zoning) were held at the same time. Twenty-two people spoke, and Mayor Connie Sullivan did a pretty good job of keeping them within their three minute allotment. If you're keeping score at home, ten (mostly residents of Apple Valley and areas outside of Town limits, and therefore not able to vote) were sort of “against” the proposal; nine (mostly residents within Town limits) were in the “for the annexation” category; three were a little hard to peg where they came down; and most wanted more information and answers. For the most part things were cordial and polite. There was one reference to festival-goers as “riff-raff,” and one “S-bomb” did get dropped, but overall emotions were tamped down and the proceedings were orderly.
Traffic and egress/ingress issues, both on Rte. 36 and along Apple Valley Road, were big concerns, as were pedestrian safety, noise levels, and amplified music. Loss of revenues, sales/property taxes, neighborhood parking, light pollution, fire safety, and concerns about possible future building and improvements to the property were also raised. Questions were also put forth about whether Craig Ferguson, the petitioner for the annexation, had secured the necessary permits from the County, State, and Federal agencies for the portion of the recovery work that has been done along the river on the property to date. One speaker, Leah Treadwell, indicated that he had not gone through the proper channels, and had thus cost his upstream neighbors tens of thousands of dollars in denied grant funding. She added that Ferguson had told her in front of a witness, “I'm gonna do what I'm gonna do, and get permission later.” Ferguson countered that he did get the necessary permits and was in compliance with Boulder County. Under further questioning from Trustee Dan Greenberg, Ferguson admitted that in the early stages of recovery work he wasn't aware he needed permits to “move dirt, separate out hazardous material and debris, and then replace the dirt,” but that those permits had been issued and everything was now in order vis a vis the county. Simonsen later read a letter from a county employee that seemed to contradict that assertion, but when Ferguson asked her when the letter was dated, it turned out to have been sent in March of 2016.
The hour was getting late, and Greenberg urged his fellow Board members to, “Resist the temptation to send this to the voters.” (By ordinance, any annexation proposal of more than five acres must be approved by a vote of the residents.) Greenberg felt strongly that any proposal that is to be put before the voting public should be complete document “word smithed” by the Board and something that they were confident the voters would be comfortable with. Sullivan suggested the proposal be tabled until either the next meeting on Monday, June 5, or considering the length of time still needed, to convene a special meeting. Calendars were checked, and Thursday, June 8, at 6 p.m., was agreed upon despite the fact that Greenberg admitted he would be in “big trouble,” since that was his daughter's birthday. Those gathered left the chambers like they were giving away money in the parking lot. It should be noted that if the Board does eventually put this to a vote of the people, that special election will have to be pushed back from the originally scheduled July 11 date.
The rest of the meeting went rather quickly. A second reading and public hearing was held for the annexing of Town owned property (the recently purchased decommissioned Longmont water treatment plant east of town). Only two people spoke. Nick Angelo and Ed Bruder. Both strongly suggested that the Board was being “disingenuous” and perhaps even circumventing the “democratic process” by invoking the “town owned” clause to get around the public's right to vote on this annexation (the parcel is about ten acres). It was suggested that something was trying to be snuck through, and that the two acres needed for a public works building should be subdivided, and the remaining eight acres be subject to a vote by the residents. Greenberg, not one to take aspersions cast his way lightly, immediately fired back saying that it was in fact those who introduced the language “town owned” into the five-acre rule when it was introduced all those years ago as a “political compromise,” in order to ensure its passage, and where now objecting to its use, were the ones who were being “disingenuous” and circumventing the “democratic process.” Sullivan jumped into the fray by pointing out that the Board was just following the letter of a law, which they had nothing to do with creating, and added that it was not possible for the Board to subdivide or re-plat the parcel (or even just purchase only the two acres needed from Longmont) until after the annexation. She and Trustee Barney Dreistadt strongly refuted the idea that anything was being done with this property in a less than transparent manner, and noted that this plan has been in the works for years, and that anyone who has been paying attention is well aware of what has transpired. Sullivan added that the reason the Board intended to keep the Agriculture Zoning for the time being, was to ensure a robust public discussion/process if and when a developer comes forward with a plan. They also noted the need to proceed with the utmost haste to capitalize on FEMA grant money for purchase of the land for the public works facility and insurance money for the construction of the building. End of discussion; unanimous vote to approve the annexation!
The consent agenda was passed. Under general business a resolution approving a neighborhood license agreement for properties acquired by the Town through the 404-Buyout programs was approved by a six to zero vote (Trustee James Kerr was out of town). The meeting was adjourned.