Wheat Ridge proposal back on planning board agenda Tuesday
The proposal to annex 20.98 acres into the city for the first phase of a housing development is back on the Planning Advisory Board agenda this afternoon, April 24. The board meets at 3 p.m. at the Civic Center.
The consideration of the annexation and zoning for the portion of a larger 227.63 acre property owned by the KYSO Corporation. The property is located behind the east side Wal-Mart at 10th Avenue South and 57th Street.
The annexation and zoning request was on the March 27 agenda, but the board voted to postpone their decision after several hours of testimony. City staff is still recommending denial “as annexation of this particular property is not in the City’s best interests,” according to the staff report. City planning, public works, legal, the fire department and the city manager’s office all support the recommendation to deny.
City staff have said that the proposed project would strain city resources, particularly the fire department, and expand the infrastructure the city would be responsible for maintaining in perpetuity. Staff has also expressed concern over stormwater management as the city is currently in litigation related to stormwater impacts in Gibson Flats.
City staff have indicated that the response time to the proposed development from Great Falls Fire Rescue would be 6-7 minutes. The applicants have argued that GFFR’s response time map doesn’t support that estimate, but staff says that data for that map is from 2014-2016. Around the time Wal-Mart opened, GFFR conducted a test run to determine response time to the area and it was 7 minutes and 20 seconds, according to the staff report. There have been eight calls to the Wal-Mart store so far in 2018, two of which were non-emergent, and the average response time was 6.5 to 7 minutes, according to staff.
For the last several years, GFFR has been more vocal in noting when new development proposals would strain their resources and when GFFR doesn’t believe they will be able to provide adequate services to the area with the current available staffing and fire stations.
Public safety access is also a point of contention on this project. The 2012 International Fire Code, which was adopted by the city, requires access roads with an asphalt, concrete, or other approved driving surface capable of supporting the weight of a fire apparatus weighing at least 75,000 pounds. The code requires that the city must approve the roadway and has the discretion to determine the impact to public safety services.
City staff has recommended an asphalt roadway, but the applicant has proposed an asphalt milled roadway that would be seeded with grass to prevent non-emergency access. The applicant’s proposal of asphalt milling would have less capacity to bear the weight of a fire engine, impacting public safety, according to city staff.
The requirement has been in the code for several years, but staff has been paying closer attention to the access roadway for fire engines since the Vinyard Fire of 2016 during which it was difficult for the city fire engine’s to maneuver to the area of new construction that the blaze threatened at the northern edge of the city.
The applicant has suggested that funds are in escrow for the future construction of 13th Avenue South as a connection to the city roadway system, but city staff says that is untrue.
“There are no such funds, as the Wal-Mart developer simply agreed to pay for such development subject to later reimbursement by parties who may develop later and who benefit from the roadway,” according to the staff report. “The construction of 13th Avenue South from 57th Street to another viable connection point into the city limits would require the cooperation of other private parties, over which the city has no control.”
The city could levy impact fees on development, if the city deemed annexation in the best interest of the city, but the City Commission has been opposed to impact fees for the last 30 years, according to staff.
The property owner, Dan Huestis, and the developer, Spencer Woith, have argued that the project would support economic development and would not strain city resources or impact operations at Malmstrom Air Force Base.
Huestis wrote letters stating that the runway has been closed to fixed wing aircraft since the late 1990s. The 40th Helicopter Squadron operates UH-1N Huey helicopters from sections of the runway, but Huestis argues that they don’t fly over his property.
He asserts in his letters that if the city prevents development because of the base, they should use eminent domain, or purchase a restrictive easement, and compensate Huestis for the inability to use his land.
Since the land is not in the city limits, the city countered those claims saying they currently have no jurisdiction over zoning or use of his property and therefore aren’t restricting his ability to use the land. The county recently approved a waiver so the land could be subdivided, allowing this 20.98 acre parcel to be considered for annexation into the city.