Larimer County commissioners took a unanimous stand in favor of commercial agriculture in late June, ruling on the side of Mountain View Feeder at 5200 N. Taft Hill Road (County Road 19).
Despite a staff recommendation that Mountain View Feeder be found in violation of the land use code, the commissioners decided on June 27 that the feedlot had not expanded since its inception in 1973 and therefore was not in violation.
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“There was very good documentation and support,” said Commission Chair Tom Donnelly, showing that the property was at the same level of use as in 1973. The commissioners’ decision is final, with the only recourse being court action.
Nonetheless, commissioners also agreed that the odor issue at Mountain View Feeder needs to be addressed, and they enlisted the aid of agricultural experts to help solve — or at least mitigate — the problem.
Residents from the Eagle Lake subdivision and other nearby neighborhoods had complained that the feedlot was in violation of two sections of the county land use code. They claimed that the feedlot had expanded, which is not allowed without county approval for a non-conforming use such as a feedlot; and that a building addition was constructed without obtaining a building permit.
The building permit issue was settled when the feedlot’s owner, Russell Schaefer, applied for a permit before the hearing date.
The major complaint from neighbors was that odor from the feedlot had increased significantly in the past two years, to the point that they could no longer enjoy being outside on their own properties.
Nancy Terry, president of the Eagle Lake Homeowners Association, said she was “surprised at the decision, given the evidence. It seemed like we were in a trial, and the other side had the benefit of counsel and discovery.” She said Schaefer and his attorney had access to the opposition’s complaints andarguments before the hearing and “we didn’t have that.”
Neighbors are uncertain about their next step, Terry said, “but we do not consider this to be over.”
Commissioners asked the Larimer County Agricultural Advisory Board and researchers at Colorado State University to help identify the cause of increased odor from the feedlot as well as possible mitigations.
Ag board member Jon Slutsky, owner of La Luna Dairy in Wellington, said the board has a lot of expertise in farm management, and a number of members have feedlot experience. La Luna has worked hard to solve its own odor issues, since it is close to Wellington subdivisions, but Slutsky said that dairies are managed differently than feedlots.
According to Dr. Shawn Archibeque of CSU, a group at the university is currently studying ammonia emissions from dairies and feedlots. The group plans to analyze Mountain View Feeder’s operation using a new computer model that could show possible areas of improvement.
Both the ag board and the CSU team will meet with Schaefer and look over the feedlot operation in the near future.
“We have a lot of folks who have a lot of expertise and want to help and see it be successful,” Donnelly said of the feedlot operation. “Not the least of them is Mr. Schaefer himself.”
Slutsky said the ag board’s mission is “preserving agriculture by supporting farms. That’s what we do.” He stated that when one farm operation fails, it affects other businesses such as feed providers and tractor dealers.
“We feel very passionate about preserving what we have and taking care of our own,” Slutsky said, adding that Larimer County is a right-to-farm county and Colorado is a right-to-farm state.
Neighbors at the hearing pointed to the fact that the feedlot used to be a seasonal operation, with cattle pastured during summer months, but it’s now operated year-round. They also showed aerial photos showing buildings that had been added in recent years. However, Commissioner Steve Johnson argued that the new buildings proved only that the property had been “reconfigured,” not necessarily expanded.
Terry said neighbors were not trying to shut the feedlot down, “but we have a right to enjoy our property as well. I like the rural nature of the area and I understand country smells, but this is not some bucolic family farm. This is a commercial operation.”
She said one neighbor who lives next to the feedlot “doesn’t know if he can sell his property” as a result of the odor and the feedlot wastewater that flows through his property.