The Stevensville Town Council voted to approve the Burnt Fork Estates subdivision at a special meeting on April 1st after the consultants for the developer said they were withdrawing their request for a zoning change which would have allowed some commercial development. The subdivision will be located on 57 acres at the corner of Middle Burnt Road and Logan Lane and is designed with a combination of single- and multi-family lots planned for development in seven phases spanning 10 years.
At a previous meeting the council was split on the proposal, with council members Dempsey Vick and Jaime Devlin voting against the proposal. The council then took a week to work towards some type of consensus. At the April 1 meeting, Vick said his reason for voting no was based on public comment. “As far as I’m concerned, the majority of the people right now do not want this subdivision.”
Andy Mefford of PCI, the developers’ consultant, said that the people heard from at public hearings are usually the people who are against the proposal. “Who you don’t hear from are the people who are neutral or the people who are in favor.” He said they have only heard from about 100 of the potential 1500 voters in the community.
Devlin said she was struggling with her dual role as a council member and a judge on this subdivision. She said she was struggling with the idea that the public, and even the council, don’t really have a say because legally if the developers meet all the criteria for approval then the subdivision has to move forward. Mayor Brandon Dewey agreed that in a subdivision review, the council has to consider the developers’ interests as well as their constituents’ interests.
At last week’s meeting it was determined that the traffic study was flawed. Because of that, Devlin asked that a new traffic study be done for every phase of the development and that was added as a condition of approval. The council also added a few other final conditions of approval, including a condition that all conditions must be satisfied before final plat approval for each phase.
Devlin said that what makes her nervous about this subdivision has nothing to do with the developers. In fact, she commended them for their “willingness to bend and be flexible” regarding the community’s concerns.
Mayor Dewey told the council that the Town’s current policies are outdated but they are what the developers have to go by, so if the council wants better policies and development codes they need to move forward in putting new policies and codes in place. He said, “In 20 days we’ll hit 365 days of having this subdivision on our desk… I’m afraid we’re stuck on the hamster wheel, of, well, we don’t really like the problem, we don’t know how to deal with the problem, and so we’re going to overstep what the town can actually do in a subdivision review in order to maybe try and fix it… right now there’s a very positive, or at least a working, relationship between the developers and the town of Stevensville. I hate to see that relationship deteriorate because of a lack of patience in a drawn-out process.”
Council member Paul Ludington once again defended the process and said that the council and the administration has to move forward and do the best they can in monitoring the development as it moves through the phases.
Devlin had a laundry list of possible conditions for things that members of the public had brought to her attention. Most of them were discussed and dismissed.
Mefford said that the developers had already made many concessions. “We feel like we have done a lot of concession with Creekside and neighbors, the downtown business district, dropping the C-2. We’re kind of to that point that we don’t have a lot of concession left in us.”
“This is unbelievably frustrating at best and it really makes me upset,” said Devlin. “There is an absolutely no win situation here. If we vote no against the subdivision we’re going to court and we’re costing our taxpayers money. If we vote yes to the subdivision we have a whole lot of issues that the town hasn’t addressed and is not ready for. That’s going to cost our taxpayers a lot of money.”
The mayor said he shared Devlin’s frustration. He had planned to work on code reform and preparing for the development that he knew was coming, but time was “wasted on power grabs and infighting. We pissed away three years literally on absolute baloney.”
In the end, the motion to conditionally approve the preliminary plat for Burnt Fork Estates subdivision was approved on a 2 to 1 vote. Council members Patrick Shourd and Ludington voted in favor and Vick voted against. Devlin abstained.