After a significant push from residents, the Belgrade City Council is considering interim zoning regulations that could prevent the development of a gravel mine and asphalt plant near hundreds of homes and a new elementary school.
Riverside Contracting is working to obtain a permit from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, which oversees mining operations in the state, for the project on Weaver Road near Collins Road. DEQ officials said the company has not filled an application as of Wednesday afternoon.
Though it’s not within city limits, the pit would be on land within the city of Belgrade’s planning jurisdiction. As part of the permitting process, the Belgrade Planning Department must attest to whether the project complies with local zoning regulations.
Belgrade-area residents are asking the city to adopt interim zoning rules that would prohibit gravel mines, effectively preventing the project from receiving DEQ approval.
In response to residents’ request, Belgrade city employees are drafting interim zoning regulations.
The Belgrade City Council will consider those regulations and hear from residents at a special public meeting on July 7.
Interim zoning rules would last six months and can be extended. During that time, the city could enact permanent zoning rules.
Belgrade is working on zoning regulations in its 4.5-mile planning area.
Last year, the city adopted a new growth policy, which laid the foundation for the adoption of zoning regulations in areas that include the site of the proposed gravel mine and asphalt plant.
The city hired consultants in January to develop the new regulations, but their work has been delayed due to the difficulty of holding public meetings amid the coronavirus pandemic, said Belgrade Planning Director Jason Karp.
Residents formed a group called Belgrader Against Weaver Pit and collected about 300 signatures in support of interim zoning “to protect the status quo,” said Chris Hildebrandt, a group leader and president of the Mission Park Homeowners Association.
Group members have spoken at several public meetings, urging the city council and Gallatin County Commission to take action. They say the proposed gravel mine and asphalt plant are contrary to Belgrade’s growth policy and zoning efforts and must be stopped.
“We have an emergency where there is going to be land use inconsistent with the city’s future plans,” Hildebrandt said. “That’s exactly what interim zoning regulations are for.”
Belgraders Against Weaver Pit hired a lawyer, Jecyn Bremer, who sent a letter to Riverside Contracting in early June asking the company to look for a “more suitable location” for its project. Hildebrandt said the group hasn’t heard back from Riverside Contracting.
Riverside Contracting’s lawyer, Griffin Stevens, said at a Gallatin County Commission meeting on Tuesday that the company is looking forward to participating in the process.
Several Belgrade residents also spoke at Tuesday’s meeting. They said Riverside’s project would cause their property values to decline, pose a threat to water quality and quantity, pollute the air, destroy their scenic views and increase traffic.
Iona Burkholder said she is particularly worried about the gravel pit contaminating her well water, aggravating her asthma and harming the children who will attend the new elementary school nearby.
“Belgrade shouldn’t be a dumping ground because you can’t afford to be in Bozeman,” she said. “Up until now, that has been the line of thought … but there are people who live out there for other reasons.”
The Gallatin County Commissioners were sympathetic to residents’ concerns and voiced support for Belgrade’s exploration of interim zoning.
Commissioner Scott MacFarlane said when he served as the facilities director for the Belgrade School District a few years ago he helped select the site for the new elementary school because it seemed like an area that would grow into a larger residential neighborhood. He said he was disappointed to see that a gravel mine and asphalt plant may end up nearby.
“I learned about this to as much surprise and dismay as you,” MacFarlane said. “… I support this to the greatest extent possible and think the best route is for the city to look into interim zoning.”
About a decade ago, several companies sought DEQ permits to mine gravel in western Gallatin County. At the time, commissioner Don Seifert served on the county planning board and spent 18 months on a task force that developed recommendations for the county commission on managing gravel pits. The county commissioners ultimately rejected the task force’s recommendations.
“Everything comes back around eventually,” Seifert said.