The Stevensville Town Council held its first regular council meeting since March on June 4th at the North Valley Public Library’s community room. The change of venue was to accomodate for social distancing due to COVID-19 concerns. Meetings will continue to be held there for the time being.
The Stevensville Town Council balked once again at approving an annexation request from Jesse Reeves, owner of a 26-acre parcel of land adjoining the town’s well field on the southeast edge of town along Middle Burnt Fork Road. The last time the Council considered it, it was tabled until a contract could be completed with the landowner concerning an easement for the town to access the pond on the property and potentially place more wells.
The town had an opportunity to exercise a right of first refusal on the property and purchase it last November. The mayor, based on consultation with staff, recommended purchasing the property because it was a crucial piece in the town’s plans for future development of the well field. The council felt it was not affordable at the time. Reeves had also offered assurances that he would allow for some sort of easement in exchange for putting his home on the town’s water and sewer system.
However, state law requires the town to annex the property if it is going to provide water and sewer services. This led to the initial request for annexation and to the question of completing a contract between the parties concerning the easement.
The problem with completing the contract, Mayor Brandon Dewey told the council at its last meeting, is that the town is not prepared.
“At this time, the administration does not know how much land will be required for the easement and where on the 26.06 acres the easement would be located,” he told the council. He said that information would not be available until the 2020 Water System Preliminary Engineering Report (PER) was completed. The report will outline future needs for wells, where they should be, and a time frame for installation.
Dewey said that following the last council meeting he had worked with the Town’s attorney Scott Owens concerning the desired contract and been advised that any contract signed at this point would not hold sufficient legal basis because the town can’t tell what the easement would look like or even where it would be exactly located.
Dewey reminded the council that it decided to surrender its right of first refusal on the property in November with the good faith understanding that Reeves would honor a future easement for the town. He said, at this point the administration was recommending proceeding without a contract and allowing annexation with good faith of Mr. Reeves and determining an easement at a later date when adequate information is known by the town.
“There is a risk,” said Dewey, “but there is a risk either way.” He said that Reeves had stated recently that he was willing to work out an easement agreement when the town knows what they might need.
Council President Bob Michalson said, “I fully believe that annexation should not go forward without something in writing, something in a contract.” He said it was the third time that it has come forward and they have asked for a contract… We tabled this for a contract but I guess we still don’t have one.”
Mayor Dewey said that the town could do a contract, but that it wouldn’t hold any weight in court.
Town attorney Scott Owens, who was present at the meeting, said he agreed.
“There is no specificity of what we are contracting for,” said Scott. “Not knowing the location of the easement, I could put together a contract but I don’t know that it would do any good when we decide a year or so from now what we want to do and where. But Mr. Reeves could always say he didn’t agree with that.”
Michalson said, “I think that there should be something rather than a handshake and good faith.”
Councilor Dempsey Vick made a motion to “reject the idea of a contract before annexation.” A couple of members of the public expressed concerns about potential traffic problems and overburdening of the town’s water system if the property is annexed.
Councilors Vick and Jaime Devlin voted to reject the requirement of a contract before considering annexation. Councilors Robin Holcomb and Michalson voted against. They wanted a contract prior to annexing. Mayor Dewey broke the tie and rejected the need for a contract. This opened the way for considering the annexation request.
The proposed zoning on the property is C-2 and Reeves stated in the application that his plans are to build up to two homes on the property, as well as a possible building to house his home-based contracting business. He states his desire for municipal water and sewer services on the property and in exchange for annexation will provide an easement for the Town’s future well field infrastructure.
Dewey told the council members that they had options in considering the zone designation. They could place the C-2 zoning on the area as described in the town’s zoning ordinance or they could pass an “interim” zone with specific conditions of their own making. They could also include R-1 or R-2 zoning in the area. He said the adjoining land was zoned R-1 with some conditional uses.
Michalson said it should go before the Planning and Zoning Board for a recommendation and Mayor Dewey noted that it already had and the board had recommended the C-2 zoning.
Vick moved to annex the property under interim C-2 zoning with conditions.
When asked about his business and his specific intentions for using the property, Reeves said he was a “small, residential custom home builder with only three employees.” He said the employees do not generally show up at his home but instead show up at work sites. He said he does plan on building a shop, but that it will look like an old barn. He said he used reclaimed materials in his custom home business and it would stand as “a showpiece for what we do.” He said the business owns two excavators and a dump truck but does not do commercial work, only residential.
Public Works Director George Thomas expressed concerns about the number of homes being proposed and what looks like an ongoing gravel operation on the property.
Reeves clarified that the piles of dirt were left by the previous owner and that he was taking them down. He said he was screening the topsoil from the piles for his own use.
Councilor Vick said he wanted to approve an interim C-2 zone with the condition that there would be only one residence. The motion failed 3-1, however, as Vick was the only one to vote in favor of it.
The mayor then asked the council for some direction.
He asked if it meant that the application was closed and there would be no annexation, “or would you still consider the application if your concerns and some conditions were met?”
Councilor Devlin said, “I think some homework still needs to be done. I don’t want to prevent you from building your home. But we need some information and some direction to make an informed decision.”
Mayor Dewey said that he would try and get some answers to their questions and address their concerns about the annexation request at their next meeting scheduled Thursday, June 11 at the North Valley Library community room.
The Council approved an interlocal agreement between the Town of Stevensville Fire Department and the Stevensville Rural Fire District (SRFD) and a lease agreement which entails leasing the existing fire hall building to the SRFD and then leasing half the building back for use by the town’s fire department. The lease is for five years.
The interlocal agreement includes the joint operation of a Quick Response Unit (QRU) for EMS emergencies. The Town of Stevensville provides and maintains the primary QRU response vehicle, and both organizations share in the cost of supplies and portable equipment.
The Town allows the use of the fire hydrant system by SRFD and provides water at no charge. Response protocols and responsibilities for each other’s agencies are outlined in the agreement and it also allows for cooperative purchasing and use of supplies and equipment.
Having received a petition from the Stevensville School District, the Council vacated the existing right of way on Phillips Street and in a separate action authorized a new easement for the road to accommodate the relocation of the road to a safer place. In the new location children will not have to cross the road to move from the school building onto the playground. The new roadway will still cross the railroad tracks at the same location as before.
The council addressed ongoing concerns about the Mayor’s handling (or mishandling) of the town’s Internet Technology contract. The mayor has sought bids twice on the work and gotten only one response. The town is currently using that company on a month by month basis without a contract. Mayor Dewey was directed to advertise the contract once again for two weeks in three different newspapers.
The council agreed to start the process of drafting a contract with HDR Engineering to conduct the 2020 Preliminary Engineering Report for the Water System Project.
The council set the maximum number of police officers for the town at six full time employees. There are currently three officer positions filled (including the Chief) and one vacant position. By adopting a maximum of six, the town recognizes the need for another two officer positions and expresses the intention to meet those needs when the money becomes available. The adoption of the maximum was approved on a 3-1 vote with Michalson dissenting.
The council also approved a resolution allowing all appointed and elected officials the opportunity to purchase health insurance through Montana Municipal Interlocal Authority at their own expense if they so choose.