A plan for a 170-acre housing subdivision on the north side of the city got a no-confidence vote from the Plan Commission on Monday, July 1.
Forward Development Group could still have gotten what would be a final approval for its Whispering Coves subdivision from the Common Council on July 22. But the vote did not bode well for what essentially is the sixth version of the plan for 266 single-family homes along winding streets and a possible school on the southwest corner of County Hwys. PD and M.
As a result, the developer withdrew the application and asked for a 60-day extension, interim city administrator/planning director Adam Sayre told the Press in a July 5 email. That could put its plan to have lots ready to sell this fall out of reach.
The commission was shorthanded at the July 1 meeting, with just four of seven members present on the holiday week, including the mayor and the council’s representative to the commission, Ald. Sarah Gaskell (Dist. 2).
Commissioners who spoke were irritated some of the changes they had requested in earlier stages of the process had not changed for this version. Those included a stormwater plan that required significant changes, terraces too thin to hold all the snow the city gets and a parks plan that was not updated and considered insufficient.
“I’m really frustrated, because I like this project,” Mayor Luke Diaz said. “I’m frustrated that I can’t vote yes to it because ultimately I do want to vote yes for it. But in the condition it’s in, we have to recommend denial to the council.”
The developer showed frustration, too, particularly with what the delay could mean.
The plan has been more than two years in the making, and the principal landowner brought his first concept to the city more than a decade ago. Developer representative Ron Henshue said all along the project has been timed so it would have lots ready when the sewer main was installed for the County Hwy. M project and that a delay of a month or two would scuttle those plans to have them this fall.
A previous version of the plan got no recommendation from the commission in February after city staff listed off several concerns, including about a mile’s worth of retaining walls, roads that didn’t match up with the city’s plans, six “pocket parks” using cul-de-sacs the city typically pushes snow onto, inadequate stormwater facilities and the skinny terraces.
Many of those items had changed by April, but some had not or were still there in part. At that point, commissioners voted 7-1 to recommend moving the subdivision to the final step in its process – the final plat and general development plan – but expressed reservations about those items while doing so.
In the meantime, the Parks, Recreation and Urban Forestry Commission reviewed the plan Wednesday, June 19, and recommended approving the plan with several changes. Those included expanding its central park that connects all the “linear parks” – along a 12-foot-wide trail – to make room for recreational facilities; not accepting pocket parks within the developer’s required parkland dedication; and providing half credit of parkland dedication for a restored kettle pond.
Those changes were not on the plan reviewed Monday. But Henshue brought a six-minute 3D flyover video to show the commission the scale and scope of some of the items, and in doing so, he tried to persuade commissioners the cul-de-sac parks were large enough to be worthy of parkland dedication and that the central park was big enough to not heed the Parks recommendation.
Gaskell and Diaz said the stormwater problems alone were enough to prevent them voting in favor, particularly in light of last year’s flooding and continued complaints from residents about water problems around the city.
Planning director/interim city administrator Adam Sayre said the plan could return for another hearing at the Plan Commission level when the items are fixed.
At the time, Diaz said the application would still go to the council July 22 despite the commission’s recommendation against it.
“I would encourage the applicant to take staff concerns seriously and come back with a completed application,” he said. “Based on Alder Gaskell’s comments, I think we can all guess how it’s going to end up at the council.”