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Various subdivison applications raising issues of water/wetland protection, swan habitat, and impact of development on farming

Highlights from

Hays Ranch PUD
P&Z approved 23 lots on 41 acres for the Hays Ranch PUD, located south of 100 South and East of 175 East, with all in favor and Commissioner Hopkins abstaining for lack of time to review the new plat. A new plat (e.g new design, same amount of lots) was submitted the night of the hearing. The changes in plat from filing date and the meeting at the concept level makes it difficult, if not impossible for the public to provide meaningful comment. The concept level is the ONLY public hearing at the P&Z level. Overall, the density is too high for this area in the county. Some concerns from the P&Z were in relation to meaningful open space, buffering for adjacent landowners, and lack of a staff report.

Lonesome Dove Conventional Subdivision
P&Z voted 7-0 to approve the Lonesome Dove Conventional Subdivision of 13 lots on approximately 79 acres with average lot sized of 5.76 acres on individual wells and septics. The landscape is rolling pastureland that is currently flood irrigated with some sections being consistently wet. VARD spoke on the reduced density with a conventional subdivision instead of a PUD and requested that the county require a better vicinity map to examine the development in the area. Concerns from the commission were in regard to: 1) ability to build in lowlands with seasonal high water, 2) if the property is in an area of critical concern particularly the wetland overlay,3)  how irrigation will be managed if not flood irrigated and the changes in the land when less and less flood irrigation occurs. 

Paradise Springs 2 PUD
The P&Z voted 4 to 2 to approve the concept of Paradise Springs II PUD, with Commissioners Steele and Hopkins opposed, consisting of 8 lots on 30.6 acres.  This is the third subdivision by P&Z Chairman Andy Richardson while on the P&Z Commission. Paradise Springs II is located on the property currently containing Miller Pond that has historically been Trumpeter Swan habitat. With an underlying zoning of Ag. 20 and an average lot size of 1.5 acres this speaks clearly to the problems with the PUD ordinance and its ability to change the landscape and character of the rural parts of the county. A new plat design was proposed the night of the meeting that pulled the lots away from the wetland areas, however with the short amount of time to review the new plat, it is difficult to ascertain if the new design is better. Staff recommended approval because it met the requirements of the PUD. Mr. Richardson indicated that he was in the process of conducting a Nutrient Pathogen Study to address vulnerable groundwater because the property is so wet. He also indicated he was in the process of conducting a wetland delineation.

A number of adjacent landowners provided comment opposed to the development. Mike Reid, an adjacent farmer, spoke to the difficulty of farming when surrounding land gets continually subdivided, particularly the challenges of moving livestock. He spoke to the community costs of residential growth in agricultural areas and how farming operations have much lower costs to the community then servicing many residents located far from service centers. Many of Mr. Reid’s concerns pertained to water.  The location of the subdivision’s drainfield is on a spring outlet that feeds many of the adjacent landowners. The test wells dug on the property for high groundwater took place in March, one of the driest months. Mr. Reid indicated that groundwater rises rapidly in the area in just a 2 month period. He asked the commission to address the various issues with water that had not addressed during the approval of the first Paradise Springs. He summarized his comments with a plead to the commission, “Don’t give them whatever you can, you give them what is sensible.” 

During the commission’s deliberation, some noteworthy comments were made. “If what you really want is to help swans you should bury power line,” said Commissioner Bagley. Simply put, but if the pond habitat is compromised for the swans, they won’t fly there making the power lines moot. The two farmers on the commission, Commissioners Bagley and Arnold expressed empathy for Mr. Reid but also stated, “There’s not a lot of money in ag, don’t know what the answer is. It’s going to be a tough road for all of us,” and “If you want to farm/move dirt, there are other places to do that.” 

Commissioner Nickell, who was chairing the meeting while Chairman Richardson represented his application, asked the commission if there were any other studies they wanted to see besides the wetland delineation and nutrient pathogen study, such as a natural resource inventory. Amazingly, none requested the study even though the property contains important swan habitat.

Milk Creek Estates
In a 6-0 vote the P&Z recommended approval of the Milk Creek Estates PUD proposing 7 lots on nearly 70 acres in Ag. 20 zoning with a clustered design and significant open space. Commissioner Nickell recused herself from the process because of a conflict of interest. VARD spoke in support of the application based on its reduced density to what is allowed and its harmony with the rural landscape.  VARD pointed out the differences of this application that contained 3x the amount of land and a lower density than the prior application (Paradise Springs 2 PUD), both of which in the same underlying zoning of Ag. 20 Rural Reserve. Milk Creek fit the intention of the PUD in the Rural Reserve, Paradise Springs 2 did not.

Commissioner Bagley stated that these developers did on their own what the county’s target was in this area. VARD encourages the P&Z and the county to adopt standards and guidelines that reflect the “target” or goals for development in the county instead of leaving it to the discretion of the developer who may have a different target. This, we believe, would make a more fair and consistent process for all. 


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