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A judge this week blocked Santa Rosa officials from requiring an asphalt plant to get a use permit for equipment installed more than a decade ago.

The city has long maintained the BoDean Co. did an array of work at its Maxwell Drive facility between 2005 and 2007 without the proper permits.

BoDean officials have countered that their special status as a facility that predates and is therefore exempt from current residential zoning code meant they either didn’t need any permits for such work, or didn’t need the more in-depth use permits. Such permits require a prolonged process that can involve hearings before the Planning Commission and restrictions on uses of the property.

This week, however, Sonoma County Superior Court Judge René Chouteau, a former city attorney, sided with BoDean, ruling that the asphalt plant, which has been operated continuously since the 1950s, had vested rights that the city needed to respect.

“I think the judge finally put it to bed,” said Dean Soiland, co-owner of BoDean.

The plant is located in the West End neighborhood, and area residents have for years tried to block its expansion plans or limit its hours of operation.

BoDean was being required to secure a minor use permit to legalize the construction of a large air filtration structure called a baghouse and a related structure, explained Santa Rosa City Attorney Sue Gallagher.

The lack of permits for the structures was flagged by code compliance officers about two years ago when the plant sought to add sound dampening panels to the base of the baghouse. The work was required because studies showed the plant, which at times operates at night, exceeds allowable noise levels.

Before the city allowed the panels and other equipment to be installed, however, it required BoDean to apply for permits for the structures themselves.

Such a use permit would typically be a simple hearing before a zoning administrator, Gallagher said.

But BoDean worried critics could have appealed any such decision to the Planning Commission or beyond, Gallagher said.

The company paid $80,000 in fines last year, and an administrative law judge ruled largely in the city’s favor, but the permit issue was not resolved at that point, Gallagher said. The city now considers the matter settled, she said.

While it disagrees with the ruling, the city will comply and only require building permits for the structures, she said.

BoDean’s operation is grandfathered in under current city code because its industrial use no longer conforms to the residential zoning that covers it. The exemption allows the company to continue operations but also imposes requirements for it to get permits when structures are moved or expanded, Gallagher said.

Soiland said he hopes the ruling will allow BoDean to proceed with the installation of equipment the company has already purchased to make the plant quieter.

“We’ve got an expensive muffle, and it’s been sitting on the ground for a year,” Soiland said. “There are many outstanding noise issues, we want to address them. We want to be a good neighbor.”

Vocal BoDean critic Allen Thomas said the ruling is unlikely to please neighbors because what they really want is limits on the plant’s operating hours.

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