LONGMONT — From 200 feet above, the scope of the tangled mess that is the former Great Western Sugar mill and surrounding land becomes clear.
Dozens of junked cars sprawl to the west, abandoned boxcars line unused railroad tracks to the north and above it all looms the crumbling red-brick factory and mill that once turned turnip-like sugar beets into pure table sugar.
“From up here, it kind of looks like a rathole,” said Lonnie Johnson, terminal manager for the Western Sugar Cooperative, while standing atop the 200-foot-tall white sugar silos north of Rogers Road. “But they could really put (sugar) out back in the day.”
Today, most of the mill property lies abandoned, its industrial buildings, silos and smokestacks dominating the city’s skyline.
Western Sugar still uses the 200-foot and 120-foot silos to store millions of pounds of sugar after it has been processed elsewhere and delivered by rail car over the winter.
During the spring and summer, Johnson and other workers load as many as five tractor-trailer trucks daily with sugar, sending it to bakeries and candy factories across the West.
The silo areas Johnson is responsible for are scrupulously clean and stand in marked contrast to the rest of the buildings, where generations of vandals have broken windows, set small fires and gone wild with spray paint.
Johnson said he doesn’t go into the main mill building, since the floors are rickety and there’s a large skunk living inside.
But city leaders have a vision for the mill, and it doesn’t include that skunk. Playing off the $4.7 billion RTD FasTracks proposal passed in November, and the newly opened and nearby Ken Pratt Bypass, officials envision a factory of a different sort, one that creates jobs, homes, shops and transportation.
They call it a transit-oriented development, and hope to transform the sugar mill and surrounding area into a new neighborhood complete with loft-style homes, a large grocery store, offices and an end-of-line RTD commuter rail station built by 2014.
Tonight, members of the Longmont City Council will discuss their visions for the development with the general manager of RTD, Cal Marsella.
Voters in November overwhelmingly approved the FasTracks proposal, a portion of which will pay to bring commuter rail service to Longmont through Boulder.
Tonight, council members are expected to seek promises of support for developing the sugar mill as the city’s major RTD station. RTD has two sites for stations under consideration: the sugar mill, and the area around the old Golden West flour mill at First Avenue and Terry Street.
Another station location at the intersection of Hover Street and Pike Road has been dropped from consideration, as was a potential site at First Avenue and Martin Street.
Both mill sites offer large amounts of land that is currently occupied by largely abandoned industrial buildings, and city leaders want to use an RTD station to spark redevelopment of one or both sites.
Stations could built on both sites, and RTD consultants tonight will suggest doing just that. But a major concern is the cost of cleaning up both locations.
The sugar mill in particular is considered contaminated, with lime left over from beet processing, with asbestos used as fire insulation, with coal tailings from the boiler furnace and by the detritus that has been dumped on its grounds for decades.
Mayor Julia Pirnack has been a longtime and vocal backer of the sugar mill site, which RTD consultants say could one day be developed into homes, shops and offices.
Specifically, the consultants said the existing red-brick mill buildings could house 220 loft-style apartments, with a further 180 apartments available for rent and 231 to be sold as condominiums.
The city hopes that RTD would pay to build the station and train-storage yard. In return, Longmont could use tax incentives and the power of municipal government to persuade developers to build coordinated projects before the station is ready.
Monday, RTD spokesman Scott Reed said the transit agency is committed to bringing commuter rail service to the city but declined to commit to specifics.
“There will be a passenger rail component that will include Longmont. Exactly what precise alignment and station locations will be constructed has yet to be determined,” Reed said. “We have to complete the planning process to make the final determination of the alignment and station locations, but included in FasTracks is a passenger rail component for Longmont.”
Trevor Hughes can be reached at 303-684-5220, or by e-mail at email@example.com.