Lynn Parker’s Colorado roots go deep. Seventy-two years ago he was born on a ranch on the eastern prairie, west of Sterling. “There were no amenities,” he said.
A fourth generation Coloradan, Parker hasn’t strayed far from home. For fifty years he operated Parker Construction and Machine out of a base on Wood Street in Fort Collins, building and repairing control systems for headgates on reservoirs and irrigation ditches. It’s a specialized business that requires an array of vehicles and equipment. About half of his work is responding to emergencies and takes place on site.
Today he finds himself in a predicament he believes may result from a determination on the part of some Wellington residents, and perhaps landowners, to develop property close to his. As the owner of a business based on agriculture, he’s feeling squeezed and uncertain about the future.
When the land he was leasing for his business in Fort Collins sold several years ago to make way for a residential development, Parker was forced to move his business and home of 50 years.
He began the monumental task of transporting buildings, equipment and vehicles to five acres of land leased from ranch owner Tom Moore at 7805 N. County Road 9 west of Wellington. By spring 2014, evidence of his new location was visible from Highway 1 (also CR 9). As 2014 came to a close, Parker still had a few pieces of equipment left to move.
Anticipating that there might be problems because of the volume of his possessions, Parker had been careful to solicit and receive approval for the relocation of his business from the town of Wellington well before he began the move. “They welcomed me,” he said indicating that he’d spoken with town officials. “Legally I didn’t need to consult them,” Parker said. He just wanted to inform the town of his plans in hopes of receiving their blessing.
Parker also worked with Larimer County Planning and Zoning Department who he described as helpful. He was aware that there were stipulations on the number of square feet of space he’d be allowed to occupy — 5,000 feet inside (as in open-faced sheds) and 2,500 feet outside for vehicles.
He knew that he’d need about 7,500 feet of outside space and perhaps 10,000 feet for inside storage (buildings), and he planned to apply for an expansion of the square-foot restrictions as his move neared completion and he had a better idea of his specific needs.
“Planning and Zoning worked with me in good faith,” he said. “They wanted a letter of intent and I gave them one that stipulated what I was planning to move and informed them that it would take some time.” Parker assumed he had sufficient time to complete his move and assess his needs.
Early in 2014, as buildings, equipment and vehicles began to accumulate on his leased property near Wellington, neighbors became concerned. “They seemed offended by it,” Parker said. The Wellington Area Chamber of Commerce and both the Wellington Planning Commission and the Board of Trustees took note as well and sent formal opposition to Parker’s move, saying that moved buildings and vehicles exceeded the property’s use by right.
At their Dec. 8 meeting, county commissioners unanimously agreed to deny Parker permission to exceed established county standards for storing his equipment at his new place of business. He was given six months to comply or face legal action.
“The strange thing is, if I claimed my vehicles and equipment were for personal use and the vehicles are older than 1975, which many of them are, there would be no problem,” Parker said. He also indicated that if his location were 35 acres or more, the restrictions would not apply.
He came away from the meeting with the commissioners not altogether clear on what he is allowed. He holds no animosity for the commissioners but does wonder whether or not they had read and digested the material provided to them before the hearing. He isn’t sure that they made their decision with knowledge of all the facts.
At this point, Parker said, he is not technically in violation. He’s done a great deal of work toward compliance and believes he can eventually deal with the issue of inside square footage. He’s not sure how to deal with the restriction on square footage concerning the buildings on the property. “The buildings that were on the property before I came are in poor condition and I plan to upgrade them,” he said. He plans to apply for a building permit for a second dwelling on the property to accommodate a son with health issues.
“I have no bone to pick with any of them,” he said, referring to the commissioners and citizens who registered complaints. “I’d rather get along with these people.”
Where to go from here? Parker does not know. He says the move cost him $160,000 which he hoped to recoup by operating his business for another four or five years. He cannot afford to move again. He cannot conduct business without the use of all his vehicles and equipment. A large part of his work is responding to emergency situations that arise in relation to water storage structures and the tools he uses for repair need to be close at hand.
Parker likes what he does and he likes his customers, many of whom are farmers. He says there is no one in the area with his engineering background and the experience needed to do the kind of work he does. His hope was to stay in business until his health or an opportunity to sell makes it necessary or possible for him to retire.
At this point, his future looks murky.