‘Real Issues’ Whether Gas Station is ‘Grandfathered’ or Not
LARAMIE – Albany County Commissioner Pete Gosar discussed his take on the redevelopment project on East Grand Ave. – the Tumbleweed Express Gas Station – and the reasons for the county withdrawing its initial action taken to enforce the zoning resolution to prevent the development of the gas station that sits atop the Casper Aquifer, the public water source which provides at least half of the Laramie community’s drinking water.
Albany County Clean Water Advocates presented information on the proposed re-opening of the former Tumbleweed Express gas station at a community meeting July 24, where ACCWA President Sarah Gorin asserted, “This is fundamentally a zoning problem. People were interested in what the next step (for the County Board) will be.”
“The publicly stated comments that the injunction that was filed would not hold up, and that the new owners had complied with everything that needed to be done to maintain the ‘grandfathered’ status, is all a bit confusing,” Gosar said on the KOWB Local Laramie Spotlight Thursday morning. “In my mind, there are some real issues with regard to whether it is a grandfathered station or not.
On April 23, Albany County Attorney Peggy Trent filed a request for a court order to block the project. Then on June 11, Trent dropped the request after concluding the county zoning regulations didn’t provide enough legal backing to stop the redevelopment. But the Board did formalize a 90-day moratorium on the project.
“The moratorium allowed all the uses to continue, just that the owners had to notify the Planning and Zoning Commission. This action was no different with Tumbleweed under the moratorium,” said Gosar.
“To understand the underlying legality of it, you must go back to the non-conforming use of the zoning ordinance. ‘If it is discontinued for a period of 24 consecutive months, all subsequent uses shall be in compliance with the scope and intensity of the uses of the district in which the use is located.’
“If it is not active and continuous for a period of 24 months, that gas station cannot be allowed on the aquifer – short and simple. I think there are people on both sides that would have an idea of what ‘continuous use’ means,” Gosar said.
“There is no doubt that it was not anything but a seasonal use for the last few years. There is little doubt that the pumps were not licensed for many, many years. So I think the question is up in the air.”
Gosar said with three members on the county commission, and he being in the minority with his ideas on the matter, it is difficult to say what the county’s next actions will be.
“You can never rule out something coming to light. It’s incumbent on the people of Albany County to understand that 80 percent or more of our folks get their water from that aquifer. That gas station sits not 70 feet above the aquifer, and some of it is very permeable ground.
“Having that understanding, reaching out to people that make decisions, and letting them know why we made those decisions, is very important. We have to answer them,” Gosar said.
Laramie Mayor Joe Shumway is on the record saying, “The most effective methods for protecting our groundwater are through land use planning and pollution prevention programs. These approaches are based on the knowledge that it is far safer, and cheaper, to take precautions to prevent groundwater contamination than it is to clean it up.”
In spite of the legalities of the development being pursued by the owners of the Tumbleweed Express Gas Station, Gosar felt they were not acting in good faith toward the community, considering the potential for disaster.
“It’s easy to see that the owners of Tumbleweed have not been good neighbors, at the very minimum. Ripping up Cease and Desist orders, hiding evidence with legal maneuvering – I just don’t think that’s how you conduct business in a small town, or any place. I would like to see more of an open dialogue with that organization and try to come to an arrangement. No one wants to go to court, but we don’t want the water supply to become fouled either. The cleanup would be in the magnitude of many, many times more than just preventing it. I think we all have a stake in this,” said Gosar.
“From a community perspective, not only is the aquifer a gem, but it is the reason Laramie is where it is – and it’s the reason economic development will stop or slow, should that be fouled. It would be an economic drag to the community. If someone should say, ‘What will happen if the aquifer gets contaminated?’ and that fouling can be tied back to the Tumbleweed, I think there is an idea that many of those businesses don’t stick around to pay the bill. They declare bankruptcy and pass the expense on to you and me,” Gosar said.
“I hope I am wrong. I hope we can come to some kind of arrangement. I’m hopeful that we will understand that allowing a gas station over an aquifer is really a bad idea, and can we not have that happen anymore. That’s the only gas station allowed going forward. Can we get them to move somewhere else that is more conducive to the community? I think we can find a way that it will be a ‘win’ for both parties, and the community.”