Scandia planning commission recommends council deny permit
In its fifth and final meeting to debate whether to reopen an unreclaimed sand and gravel mine, the Scandia planning commission found only reasons against.
The first vote, taken early in the Jan. 7 meeting, was to recommend that the city base its decision on the current comprehensive plan, which has been in effect since 2009.
Tiller’s 2008 application for a mining permit came in before the new plan was adopted, and the miner was assured several times over the years that the application would be considered under the comprehensive plan and ordinances that were in place at the time of the original application.
Between 2008 and 2012, the mine was subjected to two environmental studies, the required Environmental Assessment Worksheet (EAW) and the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), ordered by the city to provide more information.
The city hired a consultant to carry out the studies. Tiller reimbursed Scandia $9,944 for the EAW and $625,306 for the EIS. These amounts do not include Tiller’s costs for engineering and legal counsel.
After the environmental impact statement was deemed adequate by the council last September, Tiller submitted a new conditional use permit application.
That started the permit review process that involves the planning commission, an advisory committee whose role is to make a recommendation to the council.
The city planner recommended that the permit be granted with conditions, based on mitigation specified in the EIS to lessen the environmental effects of mining.
The planning commission had to choose between recommending approval with conditions or denial with findings. A permit denial by the city would probably result in a lawsuit, and findings (the city’s reasons for denying) would be important in deciding the case.
But before making that choice, the planning commission addressed the question of which comprehensive plan to base a decision on. At a December hearing a local attorney said the city is not bound by old ordinance and urged the commission to make a recommendation to the council on which plan to use.
Early in Monday’s meeting, members considered voting to apply the current plan and then go home, because under that plan mining is not allowed in that zone.
City attorney Vince Stevens counseled against this idea. “You want to be more thorough, go through each criterion,” he said, to make the case as strong as possible. Simply applying the current comp plan and calling it a night “might put the city at risk.”
The move to apply the current comp plan was made by Tom Krinke and seconded by Chair Christine Maefsky. The motion passed, with only Peter Schwartz voting no.
During the discussion Schwartz said, “I don’t see we have an option, legally. I think we are bound by the 2020 [previous] plan.”
For the rest of the meeting, while an audience of about 50 people patiently watched, the group read through specific reasons for denial.
The final resolution says the proposed project does not comply with:
• Section 8.4(1) of the Development Code that requires that the project “be in compliance with and shall not have a negative effect upon the 2030 Comprehensive Plan including public facilities and capital improvement plan.”
• Section 8.4(2) which requires that “the establishment, maintenance or operation of the conditional use will promote and enhance the general public welfare and will not be detrimental to or endanger the public health, safety, morals or comfort.”
• Section 8.4(3) which requires that “the conditional use will not be injurious to the use and enjoyment of other property in the immediate vicinity for the purposes already permitted, nor substantially diminish and impair property values or scenic views.”
• Section 8.4(5) which requires “adequate public facilities and services are available or can reasonably be provided to accommodate the use which is proposed.”
• Section 8.4(6) which requires any conditional use “to conform to the applicable regulations of the district in which it is located and all other applicable standards of this chapter.”
In the final resolution, any reasons referencing the old comp plan were deleted.
The resolution passed 4 to 1, with Schwartz abstaining. In a phone call after the meeting, Schwartz said because he lives close to the mine and suffers from advanced asthma, he could be “as impacted as anybody.”
He said he tries to remain unbiased, adding, “In the early stages, it was clearly stated that the 2020 plan would apply to this application.”
In addition to disagreeing with some EIS conclusions and hearing conflicting testimony from technical experts, planning commission members also were frustrated with the large number of conditions that the permit would carry. The burden of monitoring the mining operation might require an increase in city staff, they said.