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Neighbors sue Santa Rosa over asphalt plant silos


Santa Rosa is being sued for allowing an asphalt plant to add three massive storage silos without requiring a report analyzing the environmental impacts.

Citizens for Safe Neighborhoods filed its suit in Sonoma County Superior Court last month challenging the City Council’s approval June 19 of a permit for the Bodean Company project.

Bodean Company plant operator Anthony Boyle runs the batch plant from the control room on Monday, April 23, 2012. (Christopher Chung / PD)

The group, made up mostly of residents who live in the West End neighborhood near the Maxwell Drive plant, claims the city twisted local zoning and environmental rules to approve the project.

It’s asking the court to void the permit and require an environmental impact report.

“We have an issue with a company expanding a non-conforming use that’s surrounded by homes, families, schools and parks,” said Allen Thomas, a resident of the West End Neighborhood and Historic District and former city planning commissioner.

At the heart of the debate is whether the three proposed 82-foot silos and related equipment represent an expansion of the use on the 6.5-acre site, which has been used for similar activities since the 1950s.

Bodean claims the $1.5 million project won’t increase the production capacity, but would help it operate more efficiently.

Critics note the company’s application for a new permit from the Bay Area Regional Air Quality Management District proposes an annual production limit of 759,000 tons, which they call a threefold increase over 2011 levels.

City staff recommended approval of the permit largely because the silos don’t actually allow the plant to produce any more asphalt, just store more of it. The heart of the operation, the batch plant, still will be able to produce only about 300 tons per hour.

Because the production capacity won’t be increasing, city staff concluded that other impacts such as noise, dust and traffic weren’t likely to increase, either. It found that the new equipment would allow the plant to operate more efficiently, thereby reducing energy use, greenhouse gas emissions and other neighborhood impacts.

The suit claims the city improperly approved the project as a “minor conditional use permit.” The height of the towers alone — 27 feet over the 55-foot height limit for buildings — should have triggered greater review, the suit claims. It notes that former city planner Joel Galbraith concluded in 2010 that the height of the towers would require a major conditional use permit.

The suit also claims that the city improperly determined the project was exempt from California Environmental Quality Act requirements because it was a “minor alteration of an existing facility” and “replacement of an existing structure.” The suit questions both conclusions, noting that the new equipment isn’t replacing the existing silo, but augmenting it.

Thomas said he doesn’t understand why the company is so resistant to an environmental report.

“If the Bodean Company is such a stalwart, environmentally friendly, community minded company, why would they not be willing to produce an EIR that would study the effects of things like smoke, emissions, dust and traffic? It’s our contention that they are hiding something,” Thomas said.

But Bodean general manager Bill Williams said the West End neighborhood isn’t getting the facts about the environmental benefits of the project.

“The neighbors need to understand what the benefits of this project will be and how Allen Thomas is actually preventing that from moving forward in a timely manner,” Williams said.

He estimates the lawsuit could delay the project six months to a year. The company will have to pay the legal fees to defend the city’s actions.

City Attorney Caroline Fowler said the suit is without merit because “all appropriate steps were followed in the approval process.”

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com.

10 Responses to “Neighbors sue Santa Rosa over asphalt plant silos”

  1. Carole Notley says:

    I am not impressed with Ms. Fowler’s legal abilities, frankly.

  2. Bill me says:

    This project had extensive environmental impacts done prior to coming to the PC and Council. Air, traffic, etc were all considered beforehand. The other mistake the NIMBYs are making is that this project does not increase production. This project stores more hot product so the more offensive nighttime production will be needed far less than presently. That is a benefit to the neighbors.

  3. Terry says:

    One more thing I forgot to mention, homegirl, there are neighbors with the plant in their back yard that are very supportive of the project. I have a couple of friends who live in the West End who have told me that because they understand the project now, but they would rather not voice their opinion because this has become so emotional for some people as a result of Allen Thomas getting everyone so worked up.

  4. Terry says:

    Homegirl…the problem is you appear to have your information wrong. The are not an expansion in respect to production, only storage. The silos will reduce the impacts you are concerned about…read the environmental studies on this project. Available online. I have recently been following this with great interest. I think once you know what is actually going on in respect to what is being proposed, you might see things differently.

  5. homegirl says:

    When a local government agency gives the go ahead for a monstrosity in your backyard, you too will become a NIMBY. 3 eight story high silos, increased production, meaning traffic and noise, not good planning.

    The perfect response to having the designation NIMBY thrown at you is, “yes, it is in my backyard.” I am sure none of the supporters of this expannsion would welcome it in their backyard.

  6. Jim Bennett says:

    This is a tuffy.

    I believe that you should build a kind of equity, a senority when you’ve been around a long time. Especially having weathered this business climate.

    I think this facility was in place before virtually all these neighbors were here.
    Not to detract from the genuine environmental grievances the locals have shared.
    In a healthy traditional municipal landscape that was pro-business and recognized the priority of cars/roads/affordable construction/ travel local government would accomadate both factions of this issue by proactively facilitating a move to a more rural location.
    I’m pretty sure our local ICLEI cronies are running with, even fostering objection as it is in keeping with their crash-sabotage ideology to which they’ve subscribed or at least thus far condoned.

    However if you move next to a wetland, you should expect mosquitos.

    If you move next to a asphalt plant…
    well you get my point.

  7. Skippy says:

    “Or should anything be allowed anywhere?”

    It would be preferable to having the vampires of Big Govt bleed you dry while you beg for their approval.
    If the choice is between private property rights and Big Govt strangulation, I’ll take the former.

  8. Terry says:

    bear, What are you talking about? This project hardly “skated by” as you say. I did a search on the PD and there are numerous articles on this subject and there was plenty of “public review” as well as environmental review. I read the environmental reports myself. What are you smoking? It seems people just say things not knowing the details.

  9. bear says:

    I would not want three new 8-story buildings in my back yard. Would you?

    This business is called a “legal, nonconforming use.” That means a land use that was formerly legal, but is allowed to continue without penalty in its historic form and with its historic capacity. The article states that there will be a large expansion of production capacity.

    The reason these types of uses exist is because the City and/or County allowed residential uses around this business, and rezoned the business property to make it “legal but nonconforming.”

    Interesting to note that the departed planner found that this change in use required a “major use permit.” That’s a big deal compared to a “minor use permit.”

    Apparently, the decision to let this project skate by with essentially no public or environmental review is because of changes in the City Council.

    Or should anything be allowed anywhere?

    I want to open a fast food place or a homeless shelter or a medical marijuana clinic next to your house. Is that OK?

  10. Jimbo96 says:

    The cost associated with an EIR are enormous and in reality it does nothing to determine if the proposed increase in storage capacity in order to be more environmentally and fiscally responsible is detrimental. The acronym is “NIMBY” which stands for, Not In My Back Yard, and that is what it appears the protester(s) are.