by Rick Langenberg:
Plans for a large, permanent and more secure full-service recycling center, just outside Woodland Park, have cleared their initial hurdle. However, city officials concede that the project, proposed by Teller County Waste (TCW), still has to undergo an array of hearings and the property must get annexed by Woodland Park.
Under a best-case scenario, local residents probably won’t be hauling their newspapers, plastics and glass products to a specific location until later this fall or next year.
Last week, the Woodland Park Planning Commission voted unanimously to approve the needed zoning changes to permit Teller Waste to operate a recycling center, scheduled to operate six days a week, and to use the property for company offices, operations and for storing equipment. The fate of the project will now be decided by the Woodland Park City Council, who will decide if a nearly 2-acre parcel at the outskirts of town should be annexed and finalize the planned zoning changes and approve conditional and special use permits. The council will discuss the annexation petition on June 6, with the first major hearing slated for June 27.
The planning commission hearing, according to officials, generated much public comment, both pro and con for the project. The decision was hailed by proponents of recycling as a big victory. “This was a critical and important first step,” said Mike Perini, a consultant for Teller County Waste, who conceded that the company faced tough scrutiny from some neighbors and residents and the city staff. And in detailed fashion, Perini noted that Teller County Waste responded to local concerns and remains committed to operating a top-rate site and providing Woodland Park with a needed service. No one, in fact, denies that the community is in need of a major recycling hub.
For months, Woodland Park area residents have not had any access to recycling since a central drop-off area, located in the Woodland Park Wal-Mart parking lot, was shut down due to continual abuse by trash violators, who reportedly used the site as a garbage dump. This center was manned by both TCW and Waste Management at different times, but it encountered the same unfortunate fate. With the lack of security to man the area, both companies had to cease their operations there and resort to curbside recycling for regular customers.
Under the proposed plans, the new recycling, part of an overall proposal by Teller Waste to establish a permanent local headquarters and operations hub, would be located at 1000 and 1050 West Street. “We have been committed since we started our business to giving back to the community by constantly working to protect public health and the environment,” said Jay Baker, president of Teller County Waste, in a recent announcement. “Having a recycling center available to citizens is another example of our being a good steward of the community and responsive to feedback from our customers.”
The new proposed recycling site, planned within a 2,000 square-foot area, would feature a very controlled environment and would be heavily screened, according to the recommendations and findings of the city staff. The recycling hub can’t have more than 10 containers, according to the city’s report. Also, officials stress that the site can’t be used as a trash or transfer site. The recycling items would be taken to a location in Colorado Springs.
But some local residents, who live near the property, aren’t thrilled about TCW’s recycling and operational pursuits. In a letter sent to the city, Jay and Elizabeth Turner questioned Baker’s previous track record and cited an ongoing legal dispute between TCW and the Teller County government. “The neighborhood has endured Teller County Waste’s lax operations for the past 13 years,” stated the Turners in a letter submitted to the city on May 15, and endorsed by some residents in the area. “The company is currently a party to a court action in the District Court…for violating land use regulations. In fact, this is the second lawsuit (between TCW and the county) in the past 10 years. The company’s reputation precedes itself,” added the residents, who displayed pictures of violations occurring at a previous Teller Waste operation about 10 years ago.
Both Teller Waste and Waste Management were involved in a previous trash controversy with a group of local residents in the Woodland Park area. This occurred when both companies operated temporary facilities right next to each other, adjacent to Hwy. 24 and close to many homes. The Turners and other nearby residents also question traffic impacts from the planned recycling center and whether the city has the expertise to monitor the proposed operation.
However, many residents at last week’s hearing came to Baker’s defense and cited TCW’s pro-environmental track record and strong commitment to the community, “For several years now, Jay Baker has provided recycling support to residents in the community who use Teller County Waste service,” stated Chris Enger, in a letter. “I applaud Jay’s free market solution and his dedication to local environmental stewardship. Jay has also been a solid supporter of our community in our local senior center, Boy Scout Troop and other individuals in need.”
Perini, in a detailed presentation, noted that Baker and Teller Waste have been involved with nearly 30 community organizations and special events. The commission gave the okay for the zoning change, which designated the property as community commercial zoning. But this approval is equipped with a laundry list of conditions, including limitations on hours of operation, noise restrictions, type of materials accepted at the planned center and the projected monitoring activities and inspections by the city.