Overflow Cascade Township crowd decries quarry expansion
Before voting on whether to approve a rezoning request from Milestone Materials, Cascade Township Board Chairman Lenny Laures had a message for the packed town hall.
"This isn't easy," he said. "I know you think you've won, and I hope you're right."
Laures joined township supervisors Arlen Heathman and Harold "Corky" Atkinson in voting against a rezoning request from Milestone Materials in front of more than 100 town residents on Monday night at Cascade Town Hall. Milestone Materials had wanted to rezone a parcel of land from A-3 agricultural to Agricultural Resource Commercial District-Aggregate Extraction and Reuse. The company quarries 140 acres of land near 55th Street Northeast and U.S. Highway 63, and hoped to expand its operation to the north.
The three board members publicly stated their difficulties in coming to a decision. They often reminded the overflow crowd that rezoning the land would allow the township to work out a conditional-use permit with the owners of the quarry.
By denying the request, there's nothing the town board can do to prevent Milestone Materials from mining the northern part of the quarry. The quarry has grandfather rights since it has been operational continuously since the 1950s, well before new rezoning laws were enacted in the 1970s.
If Milestone Materials decides to mine the parcel in question, the township could take the company to court. But if the township loses — a possibility shared by Cascade Township Attorney Peter Tiede — the company would not have to agree to a conditional-use permit and could mine 24-hours a day, seven days a week. Tiede said a court battle could cost "deep five figures" and would be a battle over facts, which are always "quite expensive."
Even with that worst-case scenario in mind, the majority of the crowd was willing to take their chances in the courts.
"We aren't looking for a conditional-use permit," said River Bluffs resident Julie Anderson."We want to stop them from mining (the northern part) altogether. The courts are our only chance."
For a second straight town board meeting, residents packed the hall. For almost two hours, residents shared quarry concerns, which included lower property values, noise, water quality and health concerns. In the end, board members listened to the residents.
"(The board members) came to the right conclusion," Anderson said. "The biggest issue is that all of these people here relied on the zoning that was in place since 1976, when they bought all of the houses that have been built since then. They relied on the zoning when they invested their life savings in their homes, their biggest asset.
"The (quarry) owners aren't horrible people. They're businessmen, but they sat silent about their intentions for this property, and now, all of these people who relied on it to be agricultural are now looking at becoming more of a mining use or really heavy industrial," Anderson said. "Everyone here could see their quiet, enjoyable properties going away."