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Many residents of Santa Rosa's West End neighborhood wish Bodean Co.'s asphalt plant was somewhere else.

The six-acre site produces thousands of tons of the hot, black material used to make roads smooth and durable, a process that can be noisy, dusty and stinky.

So the company's plans to erect three, 82-foot-tall storage silos have neighbors fretting about air quality and urging the city not to allow a more intense industrial use so close to a residential area.

They argue the silos, which can hold 280 tons of asphalt each, will lead to increased production and will further entrench Bodean in their neighborhood when the city should be finding a way to eventually phase out such an industrial use.

"We're not asking anyone to leave. We just don't want them to enhance or fortify what we consider, what the city's owns staff considers, a non-conforming use," said Allen Thomas, a leader of the neighborhood association and strong opponent of the project.

But Bodean's general manager, Bill Williams, said the $1.5 million project is being misrepresented and actually would reduce many of the impacts that concern some neighbors. The project will help the plant operate more efficiently by increasing its storage capacity, not its production capacity, he said.

"We're not talking about intensifying our use or increasing our production," Williams said.

The rate of production is limited by other factors on the plant, such as the capacity of the tower that mixes the sand and gravel with a hot oily binder to make asphalt and the size and speed of conveyor belts that move the material into a single existing silo.

The real benefit of the project is not in increased sales but from lower energy costs and operational efficiencies, he said.

He likened the upgrades to cooking for a dinner party: It's more efficient to cook one large casserole ahead of time than cook lots of small casseroles after each guest arrives.

Similarly, the upgrade will save energy — mostly through lower natural gas use — by allowing the plant to operate less frequently and to make more asphalt at a time, something only possible with increased storage. He likened a storage silo to a large thermos that keeps the asphalt warm until the mixture is ready for dump trucks bound for road projects around the county.

The project will lower greenhouse gas emission, reduce night operations and, therefore, cut noise and odors, he said.

The whole debate, which has been raging behind the scenes for nearly a year, heads Thursday to the Planning Commission for a consideration of a use permit for the silos.

City planning staff members are recommending that the project be approved. The plant's site has a history as an industrial use dating to early 1950s, and the city considers the upgrades to be akin to an equipment upgrade. A permit for an asphalt plant at the site was issued in 1961.

Bodean Co. was founded in 1989 when Belinda "Bo" and Dean Soiland took over Mark West Quarry on Porter Creek Road. The company added Blue Rock Quarry in Forestville in 1997. Sand, gravel and other aggregates from the quarries are used to produce the company's asphalt. In addition to huge mounds of aggregate at the plant, it has piles of torn up roadway that gets recycled.

Key to the debate is whether the upgrade constitutes an expansion of the industrial use.

The plant is in the Maxwell Court industrial area, which is about 30 acres bounded by College Avenue to the north, North Dutton Avenue to the west, West Ninth Street to the south and the railroad line to the east. There are about 57 businesses in an area considered "a critical component to the city's overall mix of land uses," city planner Bill Rose said in a report.

Zoning for the area was changed in anticipation of the arrival of the SMART rail station in Railroad Square to the south. It is now called Transit Village-Residential, which envisions mixed-use developments catering to residences and businesses with up to 40 residential units an acre.

Despite the new zoning, the asphalt plant has a legal right to continue operating as a "legal non-conforming use." That use can only be expanded with a permit if it "would not increase the degree or the detrimental effects of the nonconformity," according to the city's Station Area Plan, the which outlines the zoning rule for the area through 2035.

Some neighbors don't believe the new silos won't result in more production.

Neighbor Stacia Okura noted the company is proposing to cap production at 760,000 tons a year, more than three times last year's production level and six times that of 2006.

"The operators clearly plan to increase their production with the proposed added equipment," Okura wrote to the city.

Others argued the city wouldn't even be considering the request if the plant was proposed in a more politically influential neighborhood.

"I suspect that the residents on the eastside of town or Fountaingrove would not tolerate a large asphalt plant 100 yards from their house," wrote neighbor Rachel Lumberg.

Not everyone is opposed.

"In my eyes, if they want to do more to make the plant cleaner, quieter and more energy efficient, then let them!" wrote Michael Dremann, who manages a metal fabrication company nearby.

He noted he lives near Howarth Park and doesn't much like the park's miniature train's steam whistle but accepts it and doesn't try to get the popular ride closed.

Thomas said he first grew concerned when he learned that the plant had a host of building and fire code violations that the city was not enforcing.

"We basically found out that use permits are about as good as the paper they are written on," Thomas said.

Williams acknowledged wrangling with the city for two years regarding several code violations and said those issues were resolved last September with a settlement that recognizes Bodean's right to operate the plant but that under which Bodean agreed to obtain necessary permits.

Chuck Regalia, director of community development, called the issue before the commission a simple one, but doubts it will end there.

"This is going to the (City Council), no doubt about it," he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com.