The Castle Valley Town Council voted unanimously to ban on-site vehicle repair shops, and a number of other businesses, from operating within the town at their meeting on Wednesday, March 20.
The town council’s decision to amend land use ordinance 85-3 came after a unanimous recommendation for the change from the Castle Valley planning and land use commission at their Mar. 6 meeting.
The decision follows months of debate within Castle Valley.
“It’s good to have worked through the process,” said Castle Valley mayor, Dave Erley. “It was a hard decision. But we have to look out for the best interests of the community.”
The contentious debate over this amendment began last year when a neighbor complained about auto mechanic David Rhoads running his business from his home.
Rhoads has had a permit to work as a mobile mechanic in Castle Valley for the last five years. However, after the first few years of operating his business he began fixing vehicles at his home, as it was difficult for him to carry his tools with him.
He operated out of his home for three years, making efforts to control noise and pollution. It was not until he made public his intentions to legalize his business six months ago that his neighbor complained, Rhoads said.
Many of Castle Valley’s residents, including Erley and the Castle Valley Fire Department, used Rhoads’ services and were very pleased with them. However, once they realized that Rhoads did not have the proper permit to work from his home both Erley and the fire department stopped patronizing his business, Erley said.
Letters from those who supported Rhoads cited his high standing in the community and his willingness to work with the town’s government as reasons why he should be allowed to continue running his business out of his home. Rhoads’ supporters also asserted that he provides a valuable resource to the community and that passing this amendment would force him to travel elsewhere to find work.
However, those who supported the amendment believe that this issue is bigger than any individual or business.
“It’s not about any one person. We have to do our diligence as far as everyone in our valley,” said Jazmine Duncan, a member of the Castle Valley Town Council.
The primary concern cited in the 34 letters residents wrote in favor of the amendment was contamination of the aquifer. Eleven citizens sent letters opposing the amendment.
“The citizens overwhelmingly consider aquifer protection to be their number one issue,” Erley said.
Castle Valley’s aquifer has been designated as a sole source aquifer by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This means that the aquifer is the only viable water source within the community and that nothing can realistically replace it, said Laurel Hagen, the director of the Canyonlands Watershed Council.
Darcy Campbell, a staff hydrologist with the EPA, wrote in a letter dated Aug. 6, 2001 that the EPA “determined that the Castle Valley Aquifer System and the immediately adjacent recharge area is the sole or principal source of drinking water for the region” with no reasonable alternative source due to the complexity and limitations of water rights in the region. The letter continues, stating that the “aquifer is exposed at the surface which makes it extremely vulnerable to contamination” that “can move quickly downward through the alluvium” and into the aquifer.
The concern was that if even a small amount of the gas, chemicals or solvents regularly stored at the types of businesses listed in the amendment were to spill, it could have disastrous consequences to the area’s water supply. There are many examples of this happening in other communities, Erley said.
Another concern was that by allowing Rhoads to continue to operate his business, Castle Valley would be opening the door to other businesses moving into the valley. This is something the vast majority of Castle Valley’s residents are opposed to, according to five surveys done by the town over the last 25 years.
The town cannot pick and choose which businesses it allows in if they are not explicitly prohibited by law, said Mary Beth Fitzburgh, the planning commission chair.
To deny an application the town would have had to demonstrate that the business’s mitigation plan was inadequate; a costly endeavor for a town with an annual budget of around $140,000.
The costs of monitoring the business would also have to be covered. Since “we have a gone very hard not to raise our taxes” that would mean that the costs would have had to be transferred to the applicant, Erley said.
The liability of the town of Castle Valley in the event of some kind of spill was also a major concerned expressed at last weeks meeting.
If the town were to allow the businesses mentioned in the amendment “we would have to regulate the heck out of them just to cover our liability,” said Alice Drogin, a member of the Castle Valley town council.
By passing the amendment to land use ordinance 85-3 and explicitly prohibiting repair shops, junkyards, mortuaries and other businesses, Castle Valley will not have to worry about such regulations.
A compromise several residents proposed was grandfathering in Rhoads’ business then passing the amendment to prohibit any similar businesses in the future. Erley and the town council refused the idea, saying that it would be equivalent to spot zoning and would not address the other concerns.
Erley believes that the debate over land use in the valley has been valuable in showing the government where it needs to work on educating residents.
“One thing that has come out of this process is the lack of understanding that the people of Castle Valley have about their watershed. It’s scary,” Erley said. “We as a government should probably do a better job of educating.”
The unanimous support for the amendment by the Castle Valley town council means Rhoads will now have to determine what his next step will be. He does have the option of returning to work using his mobile repairs permit, though he has said he is too old for that to be a viable option.
“They could have a really good mobile business or go to (Moab to open a shop), because we all do go to town,” Drogin said.
“I’ve had a lot of people tell me that if (Rhoads) opens a shop in town they would patronize him,” Erley said.
Rhoads and his family declined to comment for this story.