Ravalli County has no planning board, and all three of the county’s salaried planners have resigned, but the county commissioners believe they have the planning situation under control in the fastest-growing county in Montana.
“We are complying with the law and moving forward,” says County Commissioner Jack Atthowe. “What needs to be done will be done.”
On Wednesday, the first phase of the largest subdivision ever proposed in Ravalli County, Brooks Creek Acres, was reviewed at a preliminary public hearing by the board of county commissioners and a panel of experts invited to assist in the review process.
The commissioners and the panel had plenty to consider. Panel members included outgoing planner Mike Cavanaugh, whose last day on the job will be Jan. 21; acting Planning Director/Sanitarian Jake Kammerer; Sheriff Perry Johnson; County Road Supervisor Mike Wiles; Stevensville Superintendent of Public Schools Linda Carlson; Stevensville Mayor Bill Meisner; Stevensville Rural Fire Chief Jane Ellis; and Tom Rufatto, representing the Bitterroot Conservation Supervisors, whose concern is that water rights may be affected by the subdivision. Many of the panel members expressed concerns in written letters to the planning office prior to the hearing.
Brooks Creek Acres, which is proposed by Questa Resources, Inc., will take more than a decade to fully develop and is planned for 337 homes on more than 260 acres. The subdivision is just north of the Stevensville Wye on both sides of Highway 93 and includes a section of river frontage. Plans call for single-family and multi-family units and a commercial area. When developed, the community will be as large—or larger—than the incorporated town of Darby.
Phase One intends to develop the center section of the property that lies east of Highway 93 and north of Stevi River Road. Only 5.42 acres of the 23.51 acre parcel will be used for roads and housing. The remaining 18.10 acres will become greenbelt and parkland. Thirty lots will hold 30 conjoined townhouses built in seven clusters around a loop access road.
The proposal estimates that 45 school-age children will inhabit Phase One at completion. That’s an area of concern for the Stevensville School District. Carlson wrote that the Stevensville School District is “overcrowded now and new housing developments are straining our facility beyond capacity.” She added that the district would like the county to award development fees to the schools to help ease that burden. At this time, with no growth policy of county fee schedule in place, the county has no power to comply with the request.
The proposal maps indicate that access to the initial phase would be directly off U.S. Highway 93 onto the proposed loop road. Montana Department of Transportation is requesting a traffic impact study for the entire development, with an emphasis on access points, right-of-way and setbacks for the coming highway reconstruction, realignment of existing public and private side roads, and mitigation measures.
The proposal calls for central water and wastewater systems and says that the Stevensville Rural Fire Department will provide fire emergency services. However, SRFD Chief Jane Ellis noted in her letter that the fire department is contracting with a private consulting firm to review the subdivision’s impacts on their department and they are also requesting impact fees. In addition, the fire department will require water sources that provide a water flow rate of 1,000 gallons per minute and fire vehicle access within 150 feet of all buildings.
The Bass Creek Lake Reservoir Company is concerned about the fate of two major ditches and several smaller lateral ditches that carry water across the property to neighboring irrigators. The property holds some water rights, and those will need to have a plan for future allocation and use. The district’s letter also stated that common land in the subdivision needs to be irrigated and tended so as not to go to weeds. The plan will need to address the use and care of the open areas. Finally, the letter expressed concerns about the potential danger of open ditches to children living in the subdivision.
Mack Long, regional supervisor for Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, added his request for covenants that will require homeowners to accept the responsibility of living with wildlife and being responsible for protecting their vegetation from damage, confining pets, properly storing garbage and other potential attractants. Covenants should also inform prospective homeowners of the potential problems associated with deer, mountain lions and bears.
Results of that hearing were not available by the Independent’s press deadline.
Two weeks ago, the county commissioners disbanded the present planning board after it was discovered that the 40-year-old board had never been legally created. Because, by state law, the planning board has the duty to develop a county growth policy if one is needed or desired, the body which creates that plan must not be vulnerable to a court challenge.
Later in January, the commissioners will hold a public hearing as the first step in creating a new planning board. In the interim, the commissioners will review all subdivision requests.
The three open planning positions, including the director of planning, have been advertised; the commissioners plan to review applications in the coming weeks.