The Stevensville Planning and Zoning Board has recommended approval of the Burnt Fork Estates subdivision. The 220-unit subdivision, including single- and multi-family units as well as a 16-lot commercial area, is proposed to be built on 57 acres at the corner of Logan and Middle Burnt Fork Roads on agricultural land that was annexed into the town when the adjacent Creekside Meadows subdivision was approved nearly two decades ago. The planning board made its recommendation after going over the details of the proposal at two meetings that combined for a total of about 12 hours.
The Town of Stevensville had prepared a staff report, with the help of consultant Bill Buxton of HDR Engineering, which included a number of conditions for approval. The planning board amended those conditions at its January 6 meeting –detailed in last week’s Star – and then at the January 13 meeting the board incorporated amendments from the developers, represented by John Kellogg and Andy Mefford of the firm PCI.
The board had proposed a shorter time frame for the phasing plan, decreasing it from 10 years to seven years. The developers countered with a request for 15 years; in the end the original 10-year build-out deadline was left in. The board also eliminated a $220 per lot payment by the developer to go towards any required county road improvements in favor of a pro rata share assessed by the county for any road improvements. The board also added a requirement that the developers provide a letter from the school district stating that they had satisfied any negotiated mitigation with the school district.
The subdivision proposal also requests a change in zoning from R-2 to C-2 for the 16-lot commercial development which would be located at the corner of Middle Burnt Fork and Logan Roads. At first the board seemed hesitant about allowing a commercial zone in that area, but later their consensus was that high-density, multi-story housing with an R-2 zone would be even less desirable.
Board member Paul Ludington commented that the board could possibly recommend approval without the C-2 zoning change and that “the council seek some sort of mediation with the developer as to how they would like to proceed without the C-2 zone.”
Board member Meghan Hanson said she had a problem with the idea that the commercial buildings will face Middle Burnt Fork and be completely separated from the subdivision behind it.
“With this lack of integration, it doesn’t seem like it fits right now,” said board member Dan Ritter.
Terry Nelson, the Ravalli County Planning Director, said, “The board could recommend to the council denial of the zoning change but then also recommend that the subdivision as designed could be approved if the zoning does not get changed.” He said the town council “wouldn’t be able to deny the zoning and approve the subdivision, but as an advisory board you can hit both aspects of it.”
After hearing from Mefford that the alternative to commercial would be to cram in multi-family housing there instead, the board flip-flopped and decided that commercial would be the best option. Mefford said they would consider giving up a lot to allow for internal connectivity. But Mefford also said that if they didn’t get the commercial designation there, the offer of donating a lot for a future fire station would be off the table.
Hanson said, “Ultimately, it probably makes good sense to have commercial there. It’s just going to be a hard pill to swallow right now.”
The board consensus was that they would go along with the C-2 zoning as long as the commercial area was connected internally by road to the rest of the subdivision.
Public comment during the two meetings – which were held virtually – was much lighter than the planning board had anticipated. However, there were many written comments submitted prior to the meetings, the majority of which were from residents of the adjacent Creekside Meadows subdivision, expressing concerns over water rights, water and sewer capacity, density, stormwater drainage, connectivity to town and within the subdivision, access, increased traffic, and the proposed commercial development, among others. All the comments will be forwarded to the town council along with the planning board’s final report.
Jim Kalkofen, president of the Creekside Meadows Homeowners Association, summed up the objections of many of the public commenters at the end of his call-in comments:
“…Burnt Fork is not a good fit for Stevensville. The reasons have been highlighted many times: too much traffic, too dense with too many multi-family units, a strange commercial re-zoning request where the road access has been denied, water & sewer capacities will be exceeded, etc. It is not progress. In fact, it is a hot branding iron scorching each and every Town resident. If this was modified to reflect Arlo Ellison’s original plan, the Creekside residents might look at it differently…”
This time the final call-in comment was from Marilyn Wolff, another Creekside Meadows resident, who said she “just doesn’t see the C-2 adding anything to this area. Why not work out something where maybe you have a combination of housing units, not these 4-story apartments… but a combination of what’s already approved. I know it doesn’t make as much money for the developers, but it would be more compatible with the environment.”
In the end, the planning board voted unanimously to recommend approval of the subdivision, including 26 conditions provided by the town staff, the planning board, and the developers. The recommendation included the C-2 zoning designation with additional covenants to be approved by the town council, plus the added requirement of an internal connecting road.
The recommendation has been sent to the Town Council which will now schedule at least one public hearing on the proposal.
The board also elected John Kellogg as planning board chair, Trenis Hindle as vice chair, and Paul Ludington as secretary. Kellogg has recused himself on the Burnt Fork Estates project, since his consulting firm, PCI, is representing the developers.
Victoria Howell can be reached at [email protected] or 406-207-8793.