Nursery owners worry about asphalt plant, developer says it's not happening

Sunday , March 19, 2017 - 5:00 AM

MITCH SHAW, Standard-Examiner Staff

WILLARD — Despite a developer’s reassurances to the contrary, the owners of a longtime Box Elder County nursery worry an asphalt plant might be built next to their property.

Since 1988, Della and Barney Barnett have owned Willard Bay Gardens, a nursery on the Box Elder County stretch of Highway 89 known as “Fruit Way.” The nursery has been in operation since the 1940s and specializes in perennials, natives, herbs, grasses, water-wise plants and annuals.

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Before the couple bought the business, the nursery was known as Chadwick’s Plants and was owned by a former chemist named Byron Chadwick and his wife Emily.

Della Barnett describes her business a “destination spot,” with repeat customers trekking from hundreds of miles away to pick up plants like the Sneezewort Yarrow, Spiny Bear’s Breeches and Bishop’s Weed.

Earlier this month, Barnett says she found out that Box Elder County is considering a zoning request for 34 acre piece of property to the east of the nursery.

The land is owned by Blue Ox Development, a Centerville-based real estate developer that has built subdivisions all over the Wasatch Front.

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Several years ago, the land was annexed from Willard into unincorporated Box Elder County. It’s not currently zoned, but Blue Ox wants the county to turn it into an “MG-EX” zone, which allows for mining, quarry, sand and gravel excavation.

Aaron Jensen, an assistant project manager with Blue Ox, said his company’s intent is to eventually turn the area into a residential housing development.

But before that happens, Jensen says, the land must be graded and leveled. Blue Ox wants to lease the area to Granite Construction, who will perform the grading while mining for rock that will be harvested and used and sold for construction purposes.

Jensen said the idea is to “create a revenue stream” while the land is being prepared for the subdivision.

Barnett said there are three other rock quarries near her property, so another one moving in doesn’t surprise her. But when she got her hands on the Blue Ox/Granite lease agreement that was filed with the county, a piece of information there did come as a surprise.

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The agreement, which was filed with the county in late January, allows for “the manufacturing of asphalt ... the operating of crushing plants, batch plants (and) asphalt plants.” When Barnett read the line about asphalt plant operation, she said she got a sinking feeling in her stomach.

“I just immediately started thinking about air pollution, ground water contamination, big gravel trucks coming through here, traffic,” Barnett said. “I immediately worried about our business. Who wants to come to this beautiful, lush nursery and breath in asphalt fumes? It shouldn’t be allow up here under any circumstance.”

Barnett started a petition against a potential asphalt plant on change.org. In just a few days, signatures began to rack up. As of March 17, the online petition had nearly 1,200 signatures.

“Obviously, there are a lot of people who don’t want to see this happen,” Barnett said.

Jensen, though, is adamant that Blue Ox and Granite have absolutely no plans for an asphalt plant. Jensen said the plant was an option during early negotiations, which explains the language in the lease agreement, but that alternative is now off the table. 

“An asphalt plant was a hypothetical option,” Jensen told the Standard-Examiner. “But we’ve decided it’s no longer an option.”

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On Thursday, March 16, the Box Elder County Planning Commission recommended that the regular commission not approve the rezone.

Box Elder Community Development Director Scott Lyons said the regular commission will likely cast their deciding vote on the rezone in April.

Lyons said even if the rezone is granted, against the planning commission’s recommendation, Blue Ox and Granite would then have to obtain a conditional use permit from the county. Essential, the CUP would dictate specific rules of any mining, quarry, sand or gravel excavations on the property.

Jensen said Blue Ox would agree to prohibit an asphalt plant in their CUP and has already done so in a draft. He also said the original lease agreement would be amended, removing the language about the asphalt plant. Jensen also said he’s unsure how long the mining operations would take place before the subdivision gets built, but the lease agreement has a term of 15 years.

You can reach reporter Mitch Shaw at mishaw@standard.net. Follow him on Twitter at @mitchshaw23 or like him on Facebook at www.facebook.com/mitchshaw.standardexaminer/.

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