In a unanimous vote in front of a packed audience on Dec. 20, the Gila County Planning and Zoning Commission supported changing the zoning of two pieces of property owned by the Weeks family of Pine from Transitional Residential to Commercial 2.
The Weeks have run Pine Ice and the Kwik Stop gas station on a neighboring lot more than 40 years. They now want to add storage space on the lot next door.
The hearing showcased a deep divide about Pine’s future and the role of businesses like Pine Ice in that future.
Supporters of the rezoning said the community needs gasoline, snacks, ice and successful businesses. Neighbors also love the family’s customer service and support of the community.
Other neighbors have complained about the noise and light pollution. They feel the county has ignored their complaints and violated their own zoning laws.
In response, Laura Miranda, daughter of the founder Tom Weeks, said the business has tried to work with the community.
“Our store closes (and) we try to shut down our refers (trucks with engines running to keep the ice cold) at night,” said Miranda. “We try to be a good neighbor, but sometimes we have to meet in the middle ... it’s gotten to the point, where it’s difficult ... at what point is it going to be enough? At what point is it going to stop?”
The commission did accept staff recommendations to put certain conditions on the operations to address the complaints of neighbors. The Weeks family would have to limit engine noise between the hours of 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. Any lights would need some sort of hood to keep them from shining onto neighbors’ property.
“We are a complaint-driven county,” said Mickie Nye a member of the Planning and Zoning Commission. “It pits one neighbor against each other.”
This means the county generally won’t enforce its nuisance and zoning codes unless someone lodges a complaint. Even then, the county doesn’t have nuisance codes common in incorporated cities — like a noise ordinance.
Those with concerns include Patrick Gleason-Moore of the Beeline Guest House and the minister of the Baptist Church.
Those in support include neighbors such as Richard Crowe, co-owner of Tymeless Antiques and Ken D’Arcangelo another property owner near the Kwik Stop.
Pine Ice has repeatedly increased the number of refrigerated semi trucks it uses to deliver ice. The family now owns so many semis they have to park them end to end on every square inch of the property not used for other purposes.
The rest of the semis are stored in Rye — miles away from the business.
Most agree the semis need to move — and the new property that butts up to both the Beeline Guest House and Tymeless Antiques could house those semis.
But Gleason-Moore worries his guests would not only see the semis, but listen to the hum of refrigeration motors during all hours of the day and night. He has complained to the county repeatedly in the last two years about the noise and light during the quiet hours required by the current zoning. He said neither the county nor the Weeks family have responded to his complaints.
Gleason-Moore presented a 40-page PowerPoint outlining the issues, including his concern the six-foot fence the county would require the Weeks family to build to hide their semis would not be adequate.
Lori Brown, a member of the commission, guessed a retaining wall would be necessary in order to grade the new property to house the semis, which would increase the height of the fence.
“Would you be willing to meet half way and make an eight feet high fence?” Brown asked the Weeks family. “You’re going to have to have a retaining wall. If you meet halfway, it might solve the problem.”
The minister of the Baptist Church also said access to the new property was inadequate, especially if semi trucks often turned out onto the highway.
“As those trucks go out onto the highway ... I’ve had five accidents ... it is the worst corner, it is totally blind,” he said.
The minister also had doubts that the access for the semis to the new property provides enough room.
“My question is what is going to happen if they cannot use that easement?” he said. “They will have to go out and around a power pole and ... the alleyway is only 15 feet wide. If you take those semis around that pole, there’s not enough room. I hope you consider that.”
The commissioners and staff believed there was enough room.
The Planning Commission’s conditions would require Pine Ice to come back to the county before actually expanding its operations.
Gleason-Moore insisted the county must enforce the existing rules. “Back in 1984, the BOS when they approved this, they didn’t see any problems,” he said. “The stipulations from that meeting have not been enforced.”
He said it’s taken him two years — along with complaints going back to the early 2000s by other neighbors — to get the county to enforce limits on the hours of operation of the lighted signs. “Basically the county has not looked at enforcement equally.”
The recommendation of the Planning Commission will now go to the Board of Supervisors.