By Caitlin Switzer
MONTROSE–When Ira Goldfarb officially opened his manufacturing business, Prairie Dog Treats, at 146 West Main on Feb. 1, 2013, he spoke about the warm welcome he received from City of Montrose officials.
“We are a growing company,” Goldfarb told the Mirror at the time, “and the City has been great to us. Montrose is a beautiful place, and the incentives to build our business here have been phenomenal.”
Two years after the company officially began operations on West Main as a manufacturer of smoked pet treats, however, neighbors in the immediate vicinity are less than thrilled. Though Goldfarb promised to employ at least 40 at the West Main location (in addition to approximately 30 employed at his other business, “We Buy Antlers” on North Townsend), no signage or landscaping appears to have been completed at the manufacturing facility to date, and issues with smoke and heavy aromas have generated repeated complaints from neighbors–as well as calls about possible fires.
Montrose Fire Protection District Chief Tad Rowan said the district has been called a number of times to 146 West Main this winter, though no concerns or fire safety issues have surfaced.
“The facility does put off a lot of smoke,” Rowan said. “We have been called there for possible structure fires, though we have no concerns and have found no issues from a fire safety standpoint. Whatever the manufacturing process is, the smoke appears to be coming from the building itself when really it is coming out above.”
Calls to company owner Ira Goldfarb, who is currently in Texas, were not returned. However, neighbor Robert Morales, who lives in an adjacent home purchased by his father in the 1930’s, believes that the facility has no business being located so close to a residential neighborhood.
Morales, who spent 44 years with the City of Montrose where he served as street superintendent, said he is quite familiar with the rules and regulations that should be applied to Prairie Dog Treats. He cites the City’s own municipal code, section 4-4-25, non-conforming uses, which dictates that non-conforming uses such as the Prairie Dog Treats facility are required to provide adequate off-street parking and must not generate light, noise, odor, vibration or other effects which would unreasonably interfere with the reasonable enjoyment of adjacent property. In addition, landscaping of the grounds and the architecture of any buildings must be reasonably compatible with that existing in the neighborhood.
“Two years ago, they were zoned B-2, and now they are B-2-A, a regional commercial district,” Morales said. “There are things you can do and build in that zone–and they apply only to that building. But regulations say it can’t be there if it is going to ruin lives.”
Morales contends that his own quality of life and that of his family–including his elderly mother–has been heavily diminished by the presence of a manufacturing facility next door that releases constant smoke and odors.
“I have been complaining to the City for two years, but nothing happens,” he said. “The first year, there was a heavy bacon smell. Then it was changed to sweet potatoes, and now it is chicken–when you go outside, it is constant. And there is so much smoke, the Fire Department has shown up two times this week–they came today at 6 a.m.
“You can’t see the smoke from West Main,” he said, “but here on First Street, it covers the whole sky–and there is something in the building that sounds like an airplane all night long.
“We have lots of veterans around here, and many are in their 80’s,” said Morales, who stated that he has even carried a petition protesting the negative impacts of the Prairie Dog Treats Company, signed by 12 neighbors, to City Council.
“We can’t go sit outside and enjoy it when the weather’s nice, because that smell is always there–and in the summer, there is a huge problem with flies,” he said.
Minutes from the Montrose City Council meeting of Nov. 5, 2012, reflect that initially the City’s request for a change of zoning from B-2 to B-2A of the 12,000 property, which is owned by Nevada Corporation B.I.G. Main Street Properties, LLC, was denied by Council after the City’s Planning Commission recommended denial, though Community development Director Kerwin Jensen recommended approval and stated that the zoning change would conform to the City’s Comprehensive Plan.
It was noted at the time that adjacent neighbors had registered concerns about parking. Among those who spoke out was Mike Thorpe of Summit West, which owns Sampler Square. According to the meeting minutes, Mr. Thorpe expressed concern regarding the process for conditional use approval and asked Council to consider stipulating that a public process would oversee the conditional use permit process. No rebuttal was offered to Thorpe’s comments, the minutes note.
Also according to the meeting minutes, “City Manager Bill Bell spoke on behalf of the applicant which is the City of Montrose. Mr. Bell stated that the staff report addressed the reasons behind the application but did not address the economic state of the City and the need to transform this section of the city for the long term. Approval of the rezone would bring other property owners out of nonconforming use. Mr. Bell emphasized that the rezone would not adversely affect the health, safety and welfare of the community.”
Testimony in favor of the request was accepted, and the minutes also state: “Scott Stephens, representing the property owner, explained the nature of the proposed business to manufacture smoked dog treats under the name Prairie Dog Treats. Mr. Stephens indicated that odor and noise would not be an issue and reviewed the economic benefits of the business including the addition of up to 60 jobs by the end of 2013 at the location in question. Mayor Smits recused himself due to his employment at Wells Fargo, a previous owner of the property in question, to avoid the appearance of a conflict. Mayor Smits left the meeting, and Mayor Pro Tem Judy Ann Files resumed the hearing.”
Despite the initial denial, however, the minutes of the Jan. 2, 2013 City Council meeting show that Council, which at the time consisted of Bob Nicholson, Kathy Ellis, Thomas Smits, Judy Ann Files and Carol McDermott, were asked to approve Ordinance 2313, amending the zoning district designation for the 146 West Main property from B2, Highway Commercial District, to B2A, regional commercial district. After a motion was made by Kathy Ellis and second by Carol McDermott, Council approved the request.
Storm drain issues have been a strong focus of City manager Bill Bell’s public information reports in recent months, with Bell repeatedly warning citizens not to shovel snow onto City streets.
However, the Prairie Dog Treats manufacturing facility repeatedly misuses storm drains in the neighborhood without repercussion, Morales said.
“They wash the grease out of the building and down the alley,” he said. “For the past two years, you have been able to smell sewage coming from the drains.
“We have a flooding problem here on some days,” he said, “When the water runs downhill, it floods the whole block–but do you see anything being done to our streets? Do you see any sidewalks for the kids here to walk safely on?
“As street superintendent, I was very involved with storm water drainage,” he recalled. “I once had to ask a local company to hand shovel mud they had gotten on streets at Cobble Creek. “I used to tell people they could not do certain things,” Morales said. “But I guess you can do anything you want in Montrose now.”