Commission Chairman Tim French said the city hadn’t exhausted all its opportunities to site the 8,000 square foot building somewhere it wouldn’t affect people.
French and Commissioners Bucky Hall and Joe Tilden voted against the city’s request, finding the city of Powell’s need for the rezoning didn’t outweigh the potential detriment to the neighbors; Commissioners Dave Burke and Loren Grosskopf voted for it.
The city plans to build a transfer station to help bring its trash to Cody when the local landfill closes in September, and will now have to find a new site (see related story).
The proposed property, just south of the Lane 9/Road 7 juncture, is and has long been used as a gravel storage and hauling site for the city.
Hall said it didn’t matter what the city was proposing to add to the property — he opposed a rezoning to industrial use.
“I just don’t feel it would be in harmony with what’s out there now,” he said, describing it as a residential area. Hall added that he personally felt the impacts of the transfer station would “be fairly benign.”
Burke also said he expected low impacts, but used that rationale to support the city’s request. He recalled a tour of a similar transfer station in Glenrock, where he saw no problems.
“It was exceptionally clean. It was very clean. There was no rats. There was no smell,” Burke said, adding, “No different than a farm shop, I would say.”
Grosskopf echoed Burke’s sentiments in an interview after the meeting.
Tilden said he saw all sides.
“The one thing that I have to take into consideration is the fact that perception is reality, and it’s very apparent to me ... that the perception of the residents in the area that this is greatly going to harm them,” he said in joining the three-vote majority to deny the re-zoning.
The Park County Planning and Zoning Commission in December unanimously recommended the county deny the request.
Powell officials made some adjustments to the plan since then — moving the proposed location more to the center of the 26 acres instead of on the border with northern neighbor Dick Groen and altering the landscaping to better obscure the building — but that didn’t appear to make any dent in the opposition.
Rural Powell resident Steve Christiansen, a nearby home/farmland owner, was the first to speak and set the tone for the roughly two-hour hearing and discussion.
While not opposed to a transfer station, “I think there’s surely a better place you can put it,” Christiansen said.
Another 13 citizens — a couple coming close to tears — followed with a litany of concerns and fears about the transfer station: damage to property values; blowing trash; bad smells; vibrations; rodents, bugs and birds drawn to the structure; wildlife chased away by the added activity; people illegally dumping trash at and near the site; liquids potentially leaking from the planned tank system and getting into the nearby irrigation canal; noise; disruptions to funerals at nearby Crown Hill Cemetery; increased traffic that will grow in time; dust from the traffic perhaps causing asthma; and the traffic putting neighborhood teenage drivers and biking children at risk.
“If that transfer station goes in there, it’s not going to be the same. It completely loses the whole perspective of the reason we moved to Wyoming,” said Claudette Chretien. She lives northeast of the location on Lane 9.
“We live there for the quality of life. We don’t want the possibility of blowing trash, odors, rodents, traffic,” said Debbie Rief, who has a home south of the site.
Speaking on behalf of the city, City Engineer Sean Christensen said the mentioned concerns were unfounded: planned asphalt paving would solve the dust issue; city crews would try to work around funerals, as they do now; the trash all would be kept inside the building and inside sealed trucks and containers; and the traffic would amount to about four trucks per day.
The city currently makes around 1,300 trips per year to the site for gravel and would make another 1,100 with the station; however, that could grow significantly if the facility was ever opened up to the general public in the future.
The city says building a transfer station is the most cost-effective way to get its trash to Cody when the Powell landfill closes this fall. While the discussion before the Planning and Zoning Commission at times focused on those economics, there was no questioning of the need on Tuesday.
“I’m fine with the transfer station, just not in my backyard,” said a resident living south of the site, Nancy Gilmore.
“What the city of Powell wants to do is they want to take its trash and put it in someone else’s backyard,” said Joey Darrah, a Powell attorney representing Groen, who lives the closest to the proposed site. Darrah compared the transfer station’s location near the residences to putting a garbage can in the middle of a living room.
Christensen said some of the comments gave the incorrect impression that the city was creating a dump or landfill.
“This is a building, a steel building that will have asphalt up to it,” he said.
Powell resident Alan Jones described a transfer station he saw in western Montana as a clean facility that didn’t stand out.
“A lot of the horror stories I’ve heard today sure don’t exist up there,” Jones said.
The city picked the spot among four it considered, in large part because it owns the property.
Councilman Jim Hillberry asked where the city could go to avoid all backyards.
“We as councilmen have tried to find a location and tried to do what’s best of all involved — money-wise, location-wise, etc.,” Hillberry said, describing the spot as “the most efficient, the least costly (option) to the residents of Powell.”
The would-be neighbors contended it would cost them.
Eric Loloff, a realtor with Running Horse Realty, said putting in the transfer station would mean about a 20 percent reduction in nearby property values.
Mike Birdsley, who lives southeast of the site and helped organize opposition to the proposal, said the cumulative losses would reach $1 million. He also said that, if the county approved the project, the landowners would sue to recover any lost value.
“We will pursue them (the city) with our lawyers, and we will get the equity that got ripped out from underneath us,” Birdsley said.
Before voting against the city’s request, Commissioner Tilden said he “didn’t take kindly” to Birdsley’s comment.
“I’m certainly not making this decision based on any kind of threat,” Tilden said.
Some 236 Park County residents signed the petition objecting to the city’s proposed location.