WHETSTONE— Quail Ridge RV Resort owner Gary Miller is appealing a Special Use Authorization that allows a recycling center to operate in a Whetstone neighborhood despite many residents opposing the authorization.
Cochise County Planning & Zoning Commission approved a special use request for Bolstering Buffalo Inc., a leased property located at 202 W. Oak St. in Whetstone, during a July 8 public hearing. Commissioners approved the special use application submitted by Bolstering Buffalo owner Eric Holeman despite 37 letters in objection as well as a petition bearing 99 signatures from permanent residents living in Miller’s RV and mobile-home park.
The application was approved by a 5-2 vote, with commissioners Nancy Welch and David Koch voting against the special use authorization.
In his statement of objection to the commission, Miller described his property as a “35-acre mobile home and RV Park located from Highway 82 to Oak Street.”
Miller noted that his park is 80 feet from the Bolstering Buffalo property line, and he contends that Holeman’s recycling project will have tremendous impact on his park — a property with a population of “207 senior citizens 55 years and older” who have chosen to live in Quail Ridge for its quiet environment and rural setting.
“We are not a simple 15-home community on Oak Street, but a full, living community of 207 seniors,” said Miller. He also noted that “Mr. Holeman has been in operation illegally for the past four months” because he had failed to apply for a special use authorization prior to starting the recycling operation.
While Miller and other Whetstone residents expressed concerns about noise from the facility’s operation, the potential for attracting insects and vermin, odor, and additional traffic on Oak Street, three people — two from Sierra Vista and one from Hereford — spoke in support of the special use, citing a need for recycling opportunities in Cochise County. The three supporters are Bolstering Buffalo customers who praised Holeman for bringing recycling back to the area after it had been discontinued in Sierra Vista.
Eric Holeman and his wife Rebecca started the recycling operation at the Oak Street site last March on property zoned as general business. A recycling center requires a light industrial zoning in order to be in compliance with Cochise County code regulations, the reason the business needed a special use authorization.
Lucinda Earven, whose property borders the recycling business, filed a complaint with the county on April 1 after she started hearing “ear splitting noise” from glass being dumped into roll-offs.
“I share a fence line with the Bolstering Buffalo recycling business,” Earven said in her remarks to the commission.
“They (Holemans) came out here one or two times daily and dumped 32-gallon trash containers filled with glass and cardboard. When I filed my complaint with county Planning and Zoning, they didn’t even know the business was here,” Earven said.
Following Earven’s complaint, the county conducted an investigation and Bolstering Buffalo was found in violation of county zoning regulations and advised to apply for the special use.
“Approving a special use permit in a residential neighborhood sets an alarming precedent,” Earven said in her statement. “There are a lot of rural areas in this county with the proper zoning where they can set up their business. Please don’t allow this noisy, dirty, unsanitary industrial business in our neighborhood.”
County response to public input
According to a document provided by the Cochise County Planning, Zoning and Building Safety Division, letters of objection from Whetstone residents regarding the recycling center included the following concerns:
Bolstering Buffalo was in operation prior to acquiring a special use
Storage of trash is undesirable
There are health and sanitation concerns
Potential increase of traffic on Oak Street
The business does not serve Whetstone, but brings recyclables from other areas to the Whetstone site
The business is not compatible with the neighborhood
Cochise County Planner Robert Kirschmann explained that county staff evaluated the special use request along with the community’s concerns and recommended a list of conditions to mitigate potential impacts.
Staff then recommended a conditional approval of the special use request, based on those conditions. Bolstering Buffalo has one year to come into compliance with the following:
The roll-up doors of the 2,400 square-foot building Bolstering Buffalo is currently using to store recyclable materials and equipment need to be insulated to lower noise levels.
Glass is not to be unloaded, crushed or handled outside of the storage area, also because of the noise level.
The facility’s outside storage area will need to be screened with a solid wall or fence.
There will be no baling, crushing, forklift work or other loud operations conducted on the property’s outside area beyond the hours of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The applicant (Holeman) is required to enter into a contract with a pest control company and have regular inspections and proper disposal of rodents.
Any refuse generated onsite will need to be stored in an appropriate receptacle and disposed of regularly.
Another concern that residents expressed is that a special use authorization stays with the property, even after the applicant leaves at some point.
“The special use sets a precedent,” said Maurittia Bardwell, Quail Ridge property manager. “Once Bolstering Buffalo’s special use request receives county approval, what is stopping another recycling or transfer center from starting up after the Holeman’s leave the site, which is what they say they plan to do.”
However, Kirschmann said the county is recommending that “the Special Use shall become null and void” after the applicant ceases operations. If another proposed recycling center comes to the location, it will be subject to a new special use application and process.
While the mitigating conditions may appear equitable on the surface, they do not sit well with Miller, Earven or Bardwell.
“I challenge the county staff to visit our park during Mr. Holeman’s regular business hours when he is onsite and listen to the backup alarms, breaking glass and trash being moved around and compacted,” Bardwell said. “I question whether this is an environment they would like to retire in.”
Bardwell added that the county’s decision to approve the special use permit could diminish the quality of life for the RV park’s retired community.
“My fear is that our park will lose the very thing that makes this a great place to live,” she said.
Holemans address Commission
The Holemans decided to launch a recycling business when the City of Sierra Vista and other municipalities ended their recycling programs, Eric Holeman said.
Unlike most recycling operations, Bolstering Buffalo operates a quiet, clean and small facility, Holeman noted in a letter he sent to surrounding property owners. Bolstering Buffalo recyclables are sorted curbside at the time they are picked up by the Holemans. They refuse to pick up items that are not clean or fail to meet certain standards, Holman noted.
“We do not utilize garbage trucks, front end loaders or large dump trucks, which is what you see with most large-scale recycling companies,” Holeman said.
When questioned about the “operating illegally” reference, Holeman said because the property he is leasing is zoned as general business, he did not know the recycling center required a light industrial zoning.
When commissioners asked why they are serving Sierra Vista and Hereford but not Whetstone, Holeman responded with, “We have more than 620 customers with only myself and my wife.” Holeman also noted that he expects the business to continue growing, as public support has been positive.
“We can’t wait to service the whole area, but a husband and wife team is all we have right now,” Holeman said.
County staff recommended a conditional approval of the special use request, with 12 months for the Holemans to comply with the conditions set by the county.
Meanwhile, Miller hand delivered the appeal to Kirschmann on Wednesday at the county building.
“When I asked Robert (Kirschmann) how long it would take for the appeal process, he stated that the county has done very few of the appeals and he has no idea how long it will take,” Miller said.
“My park manager, Maurittia (Bardwell) and I worked on the appeal together after conducting a tremendous amount of research. Both sides are anxious to hear what the appeal’s outcome will be. The bottom line is, we support recycling, but not in a residential neighborhood.”