Santa Rosa's decision to allow an asphalt plant to add three new storage silos did not violate zoning laws or require additional environmental review, a judge has ruled.
Sonoma County Superior Court Judge Elliot Daum upheld his previous tentative ruling in a case that had residents of the West End neighborhood demanding additional environmental review of the project at the BoDean Co. plant on Maxwell Drive.
A group called Citizens for Safe Neighborhoods had argued that the project to install the new 82-foot storage silos represented an expansion of the industrial use of the property and never should have been approved without full environmental review.
A divided City Council approved the new silos last year, they were installed in the early summer and became operational earlier this month.
Daum, in a ruling issued Oct. 16, agreed with BoDean's position that the upgrades would not increase the plant's production capacity, but rather would improve its efficiency and reduce energy usage by allowing larger batches of asphalt to be made and stored instead of turning the plant on and off repeatedly.
"The record is clear that the project will not actually increase production ability," Daum wrote, calling claims to the contrary "speculation lacking in evidentiary support."
The judge's ruling found the project was exempt from more environmental review because it amounted to a "minor alteration of existing … structures, facilities, or mechanical equipment, involving negligible or no expansion of use."
BoDean general manager Bill Williams said he was pleased with the decision and knew the city had done a proper analysis before approving the $1.5 million project.
"We were confident that the city did adequate environmental review and based their decision for a categorical exemption upon that review and analysis, and the judge agreed," Williams said.
The new silos and system for dispensing the warm material into waiting trucks is working as expected to reduce odors associated with the operation, he said. The upgrades are also accomplishing their primary goal.
"It's helping us run more efficiently and saving us money," Williams said.
Neighbors are disappointed by the ruling but determined to keep the pressure on an operation they feel doesn't belong near a residential area, said neighborhood activist Allen Thomas.
"We're far from done fighting," Thomas said. "We're not going away."
The latest zoning over the property, instituted to direct growth around the downtown rail station, recognizes the industrial use is inappropriate for the area, Allen said.
"The bottom line for us is we consider this an expansion of a non-conforming use in an area that is surrounded by schools, homes and parks," Allen said.
They are considering an appeal and will continue press the city and regulatory agencies like the Bay Area Air Quality Management District to enforce existing rules about plant operations.
"We're not giving up, because one judge or one city council said that it was an appropriate land use," Allen said. "At some point there will be leaders out there who will find that unacceptable."
(You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter@citybeater)