Aug. 4--Prospective buyers at the new Harvest Junction subdivision in Longmont were shocked to find out the 347 acres directly to the east is planned for a large-scale gravel mine.
They were shocked because the sales associates at Richmond American Homes and Meritage Homes, the subdivision's developers, never told them.
"We just found out about it," Nancy Schmidt, who recently moved into her new Harvest Junction home, said. "I'm concerned about the heath hazards of all that dust because we have little kids."
With Colorado's real estate disclosure laws being fairly vague, Scott Peterson, general counsel for the Colorado Realtors Association, said this kind of thing happens all the time.
"I talk about disclosure obligations with brokers and sellers all the time," he said. "There are definitely some tensions in case law that make it more nuanced than just a simple yes or no answer."
Neither Meritage Homes or Richmond American Homes responded to several requests for comment. Ben Ortiz, a planner with the city, said Aggregate Industries, the owner of the property was required to submit plans to the surrounding land owners, which fulfilled the city's requirements for disclosure.
Some prospective home buyers are backing out of their contracts, hoping they will be refunded their $12,000 deposits, though they refused to be named in this story
"An 'adverse material fact' includes, but is not limited to, a fact that affects the structural integrity of the real property, presents a documented health risk to occupants of the property including environmental hazards, and facts that have a material effect on title or occupancy of the property," the Colorado Division of Real Estate wrote in a position statement.
Using this definition, it would seem Richmond American Homes and Meritage Homes would be required to disclose that Aggregate Industries has permits to mine 3.5 million tons of gravel from the adjacent property.
According to the Environmental Working Group, an activist group that specializes in research and advocacy in the areas of agricultural subsidies, toxic chemicals, drinking water pollutants and corporate accountability, "mining, processing and transporting sand generates large quantities of silica dust, which is notorious for the damage it does to the lungs and respiratory system when inhaled. ... Chronic or long-term exposure can lead to lung inflammation, bronchitis, and emphysema and produce a severe lung disease known as silicosis, a form of pulmonary fibrosis."
According to the site permit on file with Longmont Planning and Development Services, up to 200 truckloads of gravel will be hauled off-site each day.
However, Peterson said, the fact that the approval process for the Irwin Thomas Mine consisted of several public meetings, many of which were widely covered in the local media, means the information is public knowledge and the buyer has some responsibility of due diligence.
Brokers and sellers are further protected by the mysterious phrase "psychologically impact or stigmatize real property."
While the Colorado Division of Real Estate admits "there is little guidance as to what equates a psychological impact or stigmatization of a property," the law does give two examples. Sellers and brokers need not disclose if a murder or suicide took place on a piece of property or if someone with HIV/AIDs lived there.
When the city negotiated the permit with Aggregate Industries, it was agreed upon the gravel would be processed off-site in an attempt to minimize the health effects, and that mining would only be allowed as a temporary use.
Eventually, Aggregate Industries plans to turn all 347 acres into a giant park, similar to Golden Ponds Nature Area, which was a gravel mine reclamation project completed in 1990.
Aggregate Industries has no clear timeline for when the mining will beginor when the reclamation process will be done. Other permits in the area have been active for more than 20 years without starting operations.
For example, 881 acres outside Hygiene approved for a gravel mine in 1998, are still untouched. Though the special use permit allowed for a project that would unfold over "30 or more years," opponents cite a provision in the county's land use code that states if there is no activity related to the approved special use permit for five years, it lapses.
Boulder County Land Use Director Dale Case ruled the special use permit granted is applicable despite no work being done, a decision subsequently upheld by the county Board of Adjustment.
Those looking to buy a house can check what uses might be planned int the area by calling Longmont Planning and Development Services, which can provide plans for any surrounding properties.
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