City planning board votes to postpone Wheat Ridge decision

After a three-hour meeting, the Planning Advisory Board voted to postpone the decision on the Wheat Ridge development to April 24.

Anthony Houtz, planning board member, made the motion and said there were things he liked about the project that would start with the annexation of 20.98 acres as the first phase for 37 single-family lots and three mixed use lots.

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But, Houtz said, there were concerns outlined by city staff and speakers during the hearing that were worth considering.

Houtz said that the board should take the time to evaluate the details of the project before making a determination.

Kirk Timmer, a local builder, said he understands some of the concerns related to the project, but that the city should find a way to make it work.

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Are we not going to develop any further out because of emergency services response times, he asked.

“Do we draw a line in the sand that says Malmstrom is over here,” so the city can’t develop any further, Timmer said, or not going any further south due to the pending litigation related to stormwater runoff and groundwater issues in Gibson Flats.

David Weissman, chair of the Montana Defense Alliance, spoke in opposition to the development since it could negatively affect Malmstrom’s current and future missions.

“Ultimately there is no guarantee of a new fixed wing flying mission,” Weissman said.

But land use decisions made by local governments now could impact the fate of Malmstrom in future Base Realignment and Closure rounds. Congress has prohibited BRAC in recent years, but the Defense Department has been asking for several years to conduct a BRAC.

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The 1995 Defense Base Realignment and Closure Commission led to the inactivation of the 43rd Air Refueling Group with the 91st Air Refueling Squadron transferring to MacDill AFB in Florida, along with the remainder of the refueling aircraft at Malmstrom. On Jan. 1, 1997, the runway was declared inactive for the first time in the base’s history, according to a Malmstrom history.

“The Pentagon is watching,” Weissman said. “What we do matters.”

Spencer Woith, the developer, said he’s been planning a housing community on the property since about 2005. Changes in the economy and other factors delayed the project until now and protecting the runway has been a community discussion point since about the time it was deactivated.

“At what point does a community say it’s time to move forward,” Woith said. “We’ve been patient.”

Patrick Sullivan, planning board member, asked Woith what the price point would be for the houses in the development.

Woith said he wasn’t able to give a firm estimate at this point in the project. In later phases, he said he hoped to have some homes starting around $200,000, but that wouldn’t happen in the first phase.

Those first 37 single-family lots are planned as large lots with views of the mountains, so they’ll likely be more expensive, Woith said.

The city has expressed concern related to Malmstrom operations, public safety response times and access, stormwater, street naming since the developer is proposing to extend 57th Street South but call it “Wheat Ridge Parkway,” which is inconsistent with the city’s street naming policy. The proposal also indicates a large median for the extended 57th Street but the city Park and Recreation Department has indicated they do not have the staff or resources to maintain the medians. The developers have proposed that the medians be maintained by a homeowners association.

The city streets division is concerned about the medians as they complicate snow removal operations.

Great Falls Fire Rescue has concerns about response times and access to the parcel since the current proposal shows only a single public street access. The 2012 International Fire Code, which the city adopted, requires two separate and approved fire apparatus access roads when the number of dwelling units exceeds 30.

KYSO and Woith have begun the permit process with the Montana Department of Transportation to get an emergency access approach onto Highway 89. They haven’t formally incorporated the emergency access into the proposed flight plan and GFFR would require that it be paved.

Stormwater management is also a concern for the city since there are already stormwater issues in the area. The city is involved in litigation over stormwater drainage and groundwater impacts from previous developments in the area that were annexed into the city. The plaintiff in that case, L. Johnson Inc., owns property bordering the Wheat Ridge master plan area on the southern end.

The city engineering department has recommended that Phase I stormwater for Wheat Ridge either be retained completely through a lined pond or pumped into the next drainage basin to the north, but the applicant doesn’t favor either approach.