GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - Juanita Trujillo and some of her neighbors in the El Poso neighborhood are not happy with a proposed development on two parcels of land at the corner of West Ouray Avenue and Mulberry Street. That corner is the entrance to their neighborhood, and they say a proposed storage yard for the Department of Interior would be an eyesore for the predominantly Latino area.
Opponents say it will look industrial, and might draw criminal activity into their community, situated just south of the recently closed Gene Taylor's Sporting Goods store, 445 W. Gunnison.
"We're a safe neighborhood. Kids ride their bikes. We're always watching over everyone," Trujillo said. "A storage yard would invite crime. So it's not only an eyesore to us; it will decrease our property values."
Leah Rowe, who lives across the street from the currently empty lot, said she would welcome development.
"We see transients walking through it, and cars drive across it like maniacs," she said.
El Poso is an old neighborhood comprised of about a dozen Anglo and 33 Latino families.
As Trujillo, 48, walked with a reporter through the area, neighbors stopped to chat, and people in cars waved after turning onto West Ouray from Mulberry Street.
Trujillo's sister lives next door to her. Her parents reside two doors down. A cousin lives a couple blocks away on Maldonado, a street named after her late grandparents who also settled in the neighborhood.
Trujillo is the neighborhood leader, and a meticulous keeper of records from various community meetings dating back 10 years or more.
El Poso residents have worked hard for the past 90-plus years to make improvements and bring the city residential area up to date, she said.
"In 2006, we finally got gutters and sidewalks," Trujillo said. "We're taxpaying citizens like everyone else."
In 1976, residents petitioned the city for sewer services, Trujillo said.
It's not uncommon to close streets for high school graduations and other celebrations, where Mexican music is played and potluck dinners shared.
"We celebrate those things," Trujillo said.
When her parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary 10 years ago, 350 people came to the block party, including the late Gene Taylor, owner of the nearby sporting goods store and a friend of the community, Trujillo said.
Asked if she ever thought about moving away from the low-income neighborhood, Trujillo said: "Why would I want to move away? Why would I? It's safe. There's a history, a culture that is respectable, protective.
"That's the beauty of my neighborhood."
Frank Cordova has also lived in El Poso for 50-some years. His three daughters and a son and their families reside nearby, and his mother, Lucy, did as well until she passed away recently.
Cordova was present when Van E. Rapp, a Greenwood Village real estate developer and owner of SBC Archway VIII LLC, met with neighborhood residents and city staff in December and January to talk about his project. Residents claimed Rapp declared it a "done deal" at one of those meetings.
"I was wondering why the city (staff) sits with the developer," Cordova, who attended both meetings, said. "They stay with them, seem to support them, not their residents. They should be neutral. I get the sense they support them more than us."
A storage yard at the corner of West Ouray and Mulberry is not a good idea, he said.
"It's the entrance to our community here. It's not going to be helpful for us," Cordova added.
The current controversy between some El Poso residents and Rapp, the developer, stems from a proposed project that never happened.
In 2007, the late Gene Taylor applied to rezone from residential to C1 light commercial the two parcels he owned abutting West Ouray and Mulberry. Taylor wanted to build a community center where seniors could come to play bridge. Plans also included an adjacent kitchen building to be used for catering events.
Initial opposition to the idea dissipated as Taylor described his "residential-friendly" project, and his promise that if the project did not come to fruition the land would never be developed as industrial, according to Trujillo, and notes taken at the 2007 meeting. The neighbors agreed to the C1 light commercial rezoning.
The community center was never built, however, and Taylor died last year.
Rapp, the new property owner, submitted an application to the city planning department last week to build a storage yard in conjunction with a remodel and expansion of the old Gene Taylor's retail store, which would be used as office space for the DOI.
Rapp's initial plans were to surround the site with a 6-foot chain-linked fence topped with barbed wire around the parcels abutting Mulberry and Ouray.
It would look like a prison fence bordering their neighborhood, Trujillo said.
Rapp then modified the fence plan by offering a solid masonry type fence with barbed wire on top.
Residents didn't like that idea either. Rapp then offered to eliminate the barbed wire. While that is an improvement, many residents still remain opposed to the storage yard.
Two nearby businesses also differ in their opinions regarding the proposed development.
A manager at Bassett Home Furnishings, 325 W. Gunnison, said the store owner attended the neighborhood meetings and is generally in favor of the project as long as it's kept neat.
"It will cut down on transients passing through," the manager said. "It's been an issue."
Mike Jacobs, who owns Inside Story Carpet One Floor and Home at 360 W. Gunnison, said he would prefer to see another retail store, similar to Gene Taylor's, built on the property.
Storage yards tend not to be well-maintained for extended periods of time, Jacobs said.
"They seem to get rundown. I worry about what it's going to look like five to 10 years from now," he said.
As far as the fence covering up the "wareyard," even the developer agreed at a meeting that no matter how high the fence is, the site will be visible due to the topography of the area, Jacobs said.
The elevation of Hwy. 6 and 50, as it passes through Mulberry toward First and Grand, changes and becomes much higher.
"Everyone will be peering down into the wareyard," Jacobs said. "It doesn't matter how high the fence is."
It could be an eyesore for people traveling from Mesa Mall to downtown, he said.
The application for the project is currently being reviewed, and the next step will be a hearing before the City of Grand Junction planning commission - a meeting not yet scheduled, said city senior planner Brian Rusche.
"The decision on the conditional-use permit rests with the planning commission," a volunteer citizen advisory council appointed by city council, Rusche said.
Rapp said he's "not surprised" at the neighborhood opposition, but that "the city has a nice way of doing business," and that his company has "modified its development plans to try and address neighborhood concerns."
Rowe, the neighbor who lives with her husband, Randy, across the street from the currently vacant lot, said she hopes the project goes forward.
"Why not build something there?" she asked. "All we see is dirt. It would have a wall around it. It's better than what we see now."
The developer has said he'd landscape a buffer area in front of the fence, she added.
Her neighbor, Doug Murphy, said he remembers Gene Taylor as a "nice guy" who never intended for the rezoning to allow for a storage yard.
"If anything, they should turn it back into residential," he said.