Despite a vocal opposition that feared increased odors, heightened truck traffic and inadequate fire protection, the City Council Thursday night decided to allow an asphalt plant to expand its production on the city's west side.
However, Crown Asphalt's expanded operation will not escape the spotlight, as both residents and city officials promised to closely supervise every aspect of the asphalt production. Any violations, especially odorous vapors, will result in a revocation of the conditional-use permit the council approved."In my mind, as I look at this, I wonder where to fight the battle," said Councilman Darin Hicks. "I've decided to fight the battle, and spend the taxpayer money, at the enforcement level."
Enforcing the 14 conditions placed on the plant will result in either a clean and safe operation or a ceasing of business, Hicks said. Denying the conditional-use permit to Crown Asphalt, he added, would bring the city a lengthy and costly court battle it would likely lose.
Among the requirements for the conditional-use permit is an adherence to the master plan and zoning laws. Current zoning of the Crown Asphalt site is I-2, which allows heavy industrial use. That zone was established in 1991 to fall in step with the 1990 master plan revision, Hicks said.
"This is in harmony with the master plan, and if it wasn't, it would have been rezoned," Hicks said.
Another consideration was that the company currently stores asphalt at the plant, and residents have not complained about the current operation, Hicks said. The expanded operation would include heating the asphalt to package it in smaller, 100-pound containers.
Finally, Hicks pointed to the evidence provided by both the residents and the company. Residents offered their opinions while Crown submitted an engineering study that claimed no odors would leave the plant.
"I don't have any evidence saying otherwise. There is no proof, no testimony," Hicks said. "I cannot take `This is what I feel' into a court."
Other council members agreed that the decision came down to the law, and they had to adhere to it regardless of their desires or public opinion.
"I have a right to deny the permit, and I'm sure everyone would be my friend," said Councilwoman Eva Webster. "But I pledged to uphold the law, and I don't feel that I can break that pledge."
Residents opposed to the plant, who comprised most of the audience, scoffed throughout the hearing. They also doubted the city would effectively enforce the conditions.
"Historically, the city has had a problem enforcing odor violations," said Todd Weiler, who has led the fight against Crown. "I doubt that will change overnight."
Weiler did compliment the council for studying the issue in-depth, and also said that the one positive result was the involvement of many residents. Most had probably never seen a permit appeal, nor did most understand the zoning ordinances of the city when they bought their houses.
Homeowner complaints about the plant were justified because it affects their neighborhoods, Weiler said, even if the plant existed before many of them moved to the area and the zoning was established.
"You can move next to a pig farm, know what a pig farm smells like and still ask the pig farm to stop smelling like a pig farm," he said.