The Stevensville Planning & Zoning Board met Wednesday, January 6 via Zoom to review the proposed Burnt Fork Estates subdivision. The board first met to discuss the proposal last September and had scheduled a public meeting at the school for October but a COVID-19 outbreak forced a cancellation of that meeting.
Last Wednesday the board, under acting chair Greg Chilcott, spent nearly seven hours going over the various aspects of the proposal. Bill Buxton, a consultant with HDR Engineering, helped the Town prepare a staff report outlining proposed conditions for approval which were included in a 217-page packet that the board received the night before the meeting. (The full packet, as well as the public comments that were submitted for the meeting, can be found on the Town’s website, townofstevensville.com under Agendas and Minutes.) According to Mayor Brandon Dewey, HDR and the town department heads evaluated the subdivision application and made 24 recommendations for the Planning & Zoning Board and the town council to review before preliminary plat approval.
John Kellogg of PCI, the developers’ consultant, gave an overview of the proposal. Kellogg is the chair of the planning board but has recused himself due to the potential conflict of interest.
The proposed 57.68-acre site of Burnt Fork Estates is located at the eastern edge of Stevensville adjacent to Logan Lane and Middle Burnt Fork Road, and adjacent to the south edge of the current Creekside Meadows subdivision. Owners Ralph and Dwight Hooley are proposing to develop the former Ellison Cattle Company land by creating 78 single-family lots adjacent to Creekside Meadows and 43 multi-family lots further to the south. For the 8+/- acres adjacent to Middle Burnt Fork Road, the developers are proposing to re-zone the property to allow 16 commercial lots, with one of those reserved for a fire station. The project is proposed to be developed in seven phases, with final commercial phase to be completed at the end of 2030.
According to Kellogg, the current process is the Preliminary Plat Review. Once the Preliminary Plat is approved, the construction plan would be reviewed for approval. After that, the infrastructure improvements would be installed, followed by the Final Plat filing, at which time the developers could start selling the lots.
Kellogg said approach permits from the county are required before construction plan approval. He said currently they do not have approval from Ravalli County. If they do not get it, they will have to resubmit the application.
During public comment, Jim Kalkofen, a resident of Creekside Meadows and a vocal opponent of the subdivision proposal, called in to say that the Town’s 2016 Growth Policy states that an additional 255 water connections would bring the system to capacity. He said the planning board needs to look at all water and sewer connections in totality to make an informed decision, not just the proposed hook-ups. He said 46 new homes were built in Stevensville between 2017-20, plus four new commercial buildings, and 16 apartments are being built near Ace Hardware. He said the new laundry in town uses the water equivalent of 16 homes monthly. With 220 family units planned in Burnt Fork Estates, 16 commercial units in C-2, 40-50 new homes in the build-out of Twin Creeks subdivision, water and sewer capacity will be exceeded. He said the cost of the required upgrades to meet capacity needs to be collected from the developers. “A promise or a condition is not enough.” Too many issues need to be resolved before this application should be considered, he said.
Regarding the proposed commercial development, Kalkofen said the Stevensville Development Code says that C-2 zoning is intended to serve as a transitional buffer between residential and more intense commercial use. “There’s nothing to buffer” as the town’s commercial district is one mile to the west, he said. This is “a lame excuse to put something on the corner that does not belong there.”
Kalkofen also referenced a communication from Jim Nave of DNRC stating that the Town has no water rights for the land where the subdivision is proposed and that alone should be grounds for denial. Chilcott said he hadn’t seen that letter and asked for a copy which Kalkofen said he would provide to all board members.
The mayor said later in the meeting that the water rights issue is ongoing and complicated. The Town has hired water rights attorney Ross Miller to help resolve the water rights issues. Dewey said the issue is that the Town built the current well field to replace the old filtration gallery which took water from town property further up Burnt Fork, treated it and shipped it to town. Four wells were drilled, but only one well was permitted by DNRC when the Twin Creeks subdivision was built. The other wells are providing water to the rest of the community technically outside the place of use. The application for that change hasn’t yet been submitted, said Dewey, but they are working on it.
The entire Bitterroot Basin is closed to new water rights, and the adjudication of the Burnt Fork Drainage just wrapped up in 2020. He said they couldn’t apply while the basin was being adjudicated, and Covid-19 is hampering things as well. The subdivision property has some water rights that will mitigate the rights being applied for. Hydrology has to be done by engineers and some historical data needs to be put together. “There are a lot of facets to this, these water rights processes are extremely lengthy and they move very slowly,” said Dewey. “The entire community of Stevensville is outside the place of use but no one is going to turn off the tap.”
Bill Buxton addressed the questions of water and sewer system capacity, saying the engineer has to demonstrate that there is capacity in order to get final plat approval. Additionally, if the place of use issue has not been resolved, the plat cannot be approved. Capacity will be addressed when the developer meets the conditions of approval, said Buxton. “All this will be addressed in time.”
Kalkofen also recommended an in-person public hearing by the board, as did Marilyn Wolff, who also lives in the Creekside Meadows subdivision. She said she was disappointed in the notice of the meeting, believing it to be insufficient. She also commented that she and other residents of Creekside Meadows had met with the developers in December 2019 and made it very clear that they did not want any access to the new subdivision through Creekside Meadows, but the proposal shows connections on Aspen Trail and Syringa. She also has concerns about retention ponds as potential breeding grounds for mosquitoes and algae.
In total, there were only four call-ins for public comments. However, about 30 comments were submitted prior to the meeting, with all but one of them expressing concerns over the subdivision and/or the process. Only one comment was in support of the proposal.
After a lengthy discussion on potential traffic problems on Logan Road and at the intersections of Logan and Eastside Hwy and Logan and Middle Burnt Fork, the board decided that a letter from the Montana Department of Transportation stating that the impacts of the subdivision wouldn’t require any immediate road improvements would be a necessary condition of approval.
The proposed commercial development at the corner of Logan and Middle Burnt Fork in the requested C-2 zone prompted discussion on whether commercial development was appropriate for the area, which is adjacent to large ranches on three sides. Kellogg emphasized that the type of businesses would not be high volume businesses. But new planning board member Trenis Hindle said, “My gut right now doesn’t really like commercial being part of the development at all… One of the reasons that makes Stevensville really appealing to me is the Main Street atmosphere… We’re also speculating on what type of businesses will go in there… Once granted that zoning, we don’t really have any control over what type of business will go in there long term… it could potentially take away from Main Street business.”
It was pointed out that conditions cannot be put on zoning but the issue could be addressed through covenants which the developers would be willing to offer if they knew specifically what the board’s parameters were, according to Kellogg.
Chilcott said he also didn’t like the fact that the commercial area is not connected internally to the subdivision as that would just increase traffic on Middle Burnt Fork.
The board ended up by concurring with the Town’s proposed conditions for approval with a few modifications. Here is the modified list:
1. This preliminary plat approval for all phases is valid for seven years for the proposed phasing plan from the date of approval by the Town Council. The preliminary approval may be extended by the Town Council for a mutually agreed upon period of time, if the applicant requests an extension of time prior to the expiration date.
2. If the applicant proposes to change the plat after preliminary plat approval but before the final plat approval, the applicant shall submit the proposed changes, all supporting documents, and required fee to the Town of Stevensville for review.
3. All water rights associated with the subject property shall be transferred to the Town of Stevensville before the issuance of final plat for Phase 1.
4. Each proposed lot shall be connected to the Town of Stevensville water and wastewater systems.
5. The existing water booster station located on Lot C-12 shall be upgraded before the issuance of final plat for Phase 4.
6. All future improvements to the Town’s water system and wastewater facility shall be designed in accordance with local and Montana DEQ standards and approved by the Town of Stevensville and the Montana DEQ.
7. All utility, irrigation, drainage, and public access easements shall be shown on the face of the final plat.
8. All storm water improvements will be designed in accordance with local and Montana DEQ standards and approved by the Town of Stevensville and the Montana DEQ.
9. The property owners shall be required to waive their right to protest the formation of a Special Improvement District (SID) related to any potential future improvements to Middle Burnt Fork Road and Logan Lane along the subdivision frontage or areas of benefit as required to bring these roads into compliance with the appropriate jurisdiction
10. The developer has offered to pay the appropriate jurisdiction $200/lot for payment of future off-site traffic related improvements as a result of the capacity being consumed by the proposed development. Payment shall be in conjunction with the filing of the final plat for each phase of the project.
11. Encroachment permits shall be obtained from the jurisdiction in charge of Logan Lane before the issuance of the final plat for Phase2 and for Middle Burnt Fork Road before the issuance of final plat for Phase 7.
12. Internal subdivision roads shall be designed in accordance to the Town of Stevensville Streets Master Plan.
13. The internal subdivision roads and related infrastructure shall be owned, operated and maintained by the Town of Stevensville.
14. Stop signs shall be installed at each intersection for the roads internal to the subdivision as required by the Town of Stevensville Police Department.
15. Traffic mitigation aids shall be installed at the intersections of Middle Burnt Fork Road and Logan Lane and East Side Highway and Logan Lane that notifies drivers as a vehicle approaches the intersection shall be installed as required by the appropriate jurisdiction before the issuance of final plat for Phase 2.
16. Adequate access to parks and common areas shall be provided for fire protection or emergency response as approved by the Town of Stevensville Fire Department.
17. Fire hydrant spacing shall be approved by the Town of Stevensville Fire Department.
18. Lot C-12 shall be donated to the Town of Stevensville for a future fire station at the time of filing the final plat for Phase 7.
19. Parks and common areas within the subdivision shall be owned and maintained by the Burnt Fork Estates Homeowner’s Association and shall be handicap accessible.
20. Structures within the subdivision shall not have basements or a crawl space.
21. Architectural standards ensuring a common architectural theme within the C-2 zoning shall be established before the issuance of final plat for the commercial phase.
22. The Town of Stevensville reserves the right to revoke approvals, terminate or enjoin the use of the property, and order any structures removed if the applicants violate any conditions of preliminary plat approval.
23. After the Town Council has approved the final plat, the applicant shall provide the Town of Stevensville Planning Department with a copy of the recorded final plat within five working days of its recording (including an electronic version).
24. The subdivision shall establish a Burnt Fork Estates Homeowner’s Association.
25. MDT shall provide a letter stating that no immediate improvements are required on Eastside Hwy 269 due to the impacts of this subdivision.
In addressing concerns about taxpayers footing the bill for the development, the mayor said if every single lot in the subdivision did a ¾ inch hookup, that would bring in $669,000 in infrastructure fees. Whoever builds the houses is responsible for those fees. The town uses that money to make capital improvements to the system. Right now, the land is taxed as a single property with very few improvements. Divided into lots it will bring in a lot more in taxes, he said. He also said that if a special improvement district does become necessary, the cost should be shared between the taxpayers of Burnt Fork Estates and Creekside Meadows.
The board decided not to make a decision on whether to recommend approval of the subdivision. Instead, they decided to continue the meeting to Wednesday, January 13 at 6:30 p.m. The staff report with the amended conditions will be updated for the next meeting.
One intrepid member of the public called in to make a final comment. Jim Kalkofen wanted to remind the board that the 2016 Growth Policy specifically calls for public hearings to be conducted by the Planning Board for any proposed subdivisions in Stevensville.