Minturn looks to plan, limit uses on Union Pacific railroad properties in town
Before approving a new conditional use permit for a Union Pacific Railroad property in Minturn in September, the Town Council expressed a desire to see industrial use curbed in the area in the future.
Council members were careful to consider the application from Burke Harrington Construction and Darin Tucholke on its own merits, which ultimately led to the council unanimously approving storage use on the property, located east of the Meadow Mountain Business Park and the Eagle River, and just west of the Union Pacific rail line.
But as to railroad property use in general, a degree of dissatisfaction was expressed by the council in an earlier meeting leading up to the Sept. 16 approval.
“They’re creating this nuisance for us, just so they can make a couple bucks a month,” Councilmember Earle Bidez said of the Union Pacific lease agreements.
In a memo, Minturn Town Planner Scot Hunn noted that Union Pacific often executes leases for various lease areas within the railroad property without consulting the town, leaving the town to find new leases and uses occurring in the railyard through code enforcement activity. The town also is left on its own to discover changes in lessors and subleasing, making it difficult for the town to determine who to contact as a matter of code compliance.
Requires town approval
Minturn municipal code says any uses occurring on the railroad properties located within the “Game Creek Character Area PUD Holding Zone District” area of town require the approval of a planned unit development application or a conditional use permit.
“I am extremely challenged by conditional use permits for this area in general,” Mayor John Widerman said in September. “The overall benefit to Minturn of these, in my opinion, it’s really run its course. It really does not comply with any of the other character areas in this town, and we have done a lot of work to clean up areas in this town, to not make them simply storage properties. … My concern is that if we continue down this path of approving conditional use permits for these very specific reasons, it’s going to be more and more challenging in the future to change it.”
Council members expressed a desire to create a master plan for the area, and an open space corridor along the river was mentioned.
“I think that this council needs to tackle this issue,” said Councilmember Terry Armistead. “To take this on and really have these hard conversations about that area down there … the railroad renews leases every year, people have ample time, if they know something is coming down the pike where conditional use permits are not going to be granted, they can find other areas.”
The Minturn Town Council has also heard numerous complaints from neighbors who said noise and other forms of pollution were too much in the area.
“It’s too busy,” said local resident David Clapp. “Cars park in non-sanctioned parking, they bring 100-plus people who come in and out of the yard every day, there are semi-trucks, tractor-trailers, dump trucks being unloaded and loaded with heavy equipment and supplies from 7 to 7, every day.”
Bidez said it’s not good for the neighbors or the town.
“It’s not good for the town because it takes staff time and there’s no good result, there’s no revenue stream, there’s nothing happening in this rail yard that does anything good for the town except for storage, we have a citizen here of the town (using it), but other than that it’s a total negative,” Bidez said.
Hunn suggested the council undertake an annual review of the railroad property operations this year, as one did not occur last year.
“And just talk about what those conditions or standards are, and if they’re working, and from a code-enforcement standpoint how much time the town is spending responding to complaints and dealing with folks out there,” Hunn said. “Talk more high level about how it’s working, and maybe what’s not working.”
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