At a two-and-a-half-hour in-person public hearing on March 4 at the LDS church on the proposed Burnt Fork Estates subdivision, the Stevensville Town Council heard from more than two dozen people, with only one – a real estate agent involved in the sale of the property – speaking in favor of the development.
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.
John Kellogg with PCI, the consulting firm representing developers Dwight and Ralph Hooley, gave a brief overview of the project. The project has been reviewed by town staff and the Planning and Zoning Board, both of which have recommended conditional approval of the preliminary plat. According to Kellogg, the project is still in the earliest stages of review, and additional conditions could be incorporated during the next stages of the process. Kellogg also mentioned a letter he had received from the school district, stating they were not interested in participating in a proposed pedestrian access trail between the subdivision and the school at this time, so Kellogg said the developers would reserve an easement for future pedestrian access. In response to previous concerns from the public about the commercial zone, Kellogg emphasized that commercial lots would improve the town’s tax base more than the residential lots.
Most of a letter – it was cut off due to a five-minute time limit – from Susan Brown was read into the record. Brown stated that “the developer has failed to provide proof of a proven water supply to meet its water demand.” She said that based on the proposed 78 single-family residences with 2.5 baths, 142 multi-family residences with 1.5 baths, irrigation of 28.2 acres, and commercial office spaces, the total gallons per minute during peak demand would be 600, rather than 239 listed. She also pointed out that there are no limitations on what is built, whether duplex, four-plex, 2.5 bathrooms or four bathrooms, which could make the water demand even higher. She also said that the plat map “must specify the exact type of ‘multi-family unit’ that is allowed on each lot.”
Brown said that when Creekside Meadows was being considered, the developer would not agree to pay the cost of a new water well required to meet the needs of the new subdivision although he did agree to provide a well site. The town council “placed a condition of approval of the final plat to insure water and sewer systems are adequate… to insure no adverse impact, shortage of water or sewer systems in the Town of Stevensville.” Brown wondered whether any condition of approval was ever met and makes the assertion that the taxpayers of Stevensville “may have picked up the bill” and that they might end up footing the bill for Burnt Fork Estates water as well. “Until all water questions are resolved this proposal is premature and must be denied,” said Brown. She also pointed out potential deficiencies with wastewater treatment facilities, proposed retention ponds, misstated traffic impacts, and the inappropriateness of commercial development. “Until which time all questions are answered, miscalculations are corrected, types of buildings are specified, and the developer exhibits how he will develop and bear the cost of water supply, the Burnt Fork Estates should be denied! There should be no conditional approval.”
Mel Cook, who lives on Park Avenue, told the council that he would fight any attempt to run a sewer line from the subdivision to town past his house, noting that he had previously had problems when the Creekside development went in. “I won’t allow that to happen if I have to be in court for the rest of my life.”
Bob Michalson, former council member, said he had serious concerns about the adequacy of water and wastewater systems, increased traffic, impacts on the school, and an unnecessary commercial district. He said he had talked to George Thomas, former public works director, who told him that to meet water and wastewater needs of the development would require a new water storage tank, land for the storage tank, another service line, another lift station, one to two well houses, and one major new water well, for an estimated cost of $3-4 million. Michalson also said there is no approved county road access and the increased traffic impacts have not been adequately addressed.
Gretchen Spiess, business owner, said she was there to explain “what it’s like to be a business owner in Stevensville” and why a commercial business district should not be allowed in the proposed subdivision. She said she has seen 109 businesses come and go during her 32 years on Main Street. She said it has been a constant struggle to stay in business. “I believe in my businesses and I believe in this town… If you decide to allow a commercial space in Burnt Fork Estates, I assure you it will kill Main Street.”
Jim Kalkofen, president of the Creekside Meadows Homeowners Association, said, “The Burnt Fork proposal should go back to the starting line until the track is clear of all obstacles.” He said there is no road easement onto Middle Burnt Fork Road into the proposed commercial area; the property does not have sufficient water rights; the Town does not have enough current water capacity; the Town’s current water wells have not been approved by the Department of Environmental Quality; it has not been determined what portion of the costs for water system upgrades would be paid by the developer; there are unresolved traffic and access issues; and the amount of the per-lot mitigation fee remains undetermined. “Just for the record,” said Kalkofen, “Creekside and Town residents are not opposed to progress. They are opposed to the Burnt Fork high-density 220-home subdivision with its 10-plex, 7-plex, 4-plexes, duplexes and commercial zone.”
Leanna Rodabaugh said that council members take an oath to serve the citizens of the community. “You do not represent those who wish to place an unbearable burden on the town… representing the residents is a sacred duty,” said Rodabaugh. “Nowhere in the oath you take is a sentence to represent those special interests who have monetary or other unwanted designs on the town of Stevensville. Ask yourselves what the developers want. They’re not planning this for altruistic reasons. It’s all about making a profit. You do not represent them. You are here to take care of and represent your citizens.” She said she ran a poll on social media and got 112 responses, with 101 against the proposed subdivision, 4 in favor, and 7 with no opinion. “We were a divided town before this issue,” said Rodabaugh. “Now it appears we are united. These people are your neighbors… to ignore them is to disregard the wishes of your ward members. Do so at your peril.”
Another public hearing – virtual only – was scheduled for Monday, March 8, after which the town council will review the full packet of material, including the conditions of approval from the staff and the planning board, as well as all the public comments, before meeting to deliberate on the proposal. That deliberation is on the agenda for the March 11 council meeting.
A public hearing on a proposal to adjust water rates to fund the Utility Assistance Program was held immediately following the Burnt Fork Estates hearing. That proposal met no opposition.
Victoria Howell can be contacted at [email protected] or (406)207-8793.