City Commission to consider setting public hearing on east side Wheat Ridge development
During Tuesday’s meeting, City Commissioners will consider setting a public hearing for Sept. 18 on the first phase of the proposed Wheat Ridge Estates subdivision.
City staff is recommending denial of the developers request for annexation, zoning and a preliminary plat but staff does recommend setting the public hearing.
The first phase of the project includes 37 single family homes a 21.1 acre parcel south of the east side Walmart. The parcel is part of a larger 227.63 acres owned by KYSO Corporation that Spencer Woith is hoping to develop over time.
Over the last six months, staff have indicated in staff reports and public meetings that they have significant concerns related to the development’s impact on public safety resources, ongoing litigation over stormwater in the area and conflict with Malmstrom Air Force Base operations.
“Staff believes that the stormwater issues alone are sufficient for the city to exercise its discretion to deny annexation of this property, in light of the unique characteristics of applicant’s property,” according to the staff report.
The larger property is bordered by Walmart and vacant commercially zoned property to the north, the KOA Campground and vacant property to the west, vacant property to the south and vacant property to the east.
The northeast portion of the 227.63 acres adjoining U.S. Highway 89 and Malmstrom Air Force Base contains a 10.21 acre airfield restrictive easement that cannot be disturbed for development, decreasing the total potential development area to 217.42 acres, according to city planning.
The entire property is located within the county’s jurisdiction and are currently zoned agricultural, restricting development to single family detached units or two-unit dwellings on parcels that must be at least 20 acres in size.
Since the 21 acre parcel is contiguous to the Walmart property, it’s eligible for annexation, though city staff argues that annexation is discretionary not mandatory.
During a March planning board meeting, Woith said he’s been planning a housing community on the property since about 2005, but changes in the economy and other factors delayed the project until now.
Protecting the Malmstrom runway has been a community discussion point since about the time is was deactivated in 1997.
Air Force officials told The Electric on numerous occasions this year that there are no plans to reactivate the runway.
“At what point does a community say it’s time to move forward,” Woith said in March. “We’ve been patient.”
The overall 200+ acre development would be a master planned community with a mix of residential types and mixed use parcels near the existing Walmart complex, as well as pocket parks and linear greenways. The first 21-acre phase being considered includes three mixed use lots.
The Planning Advisory Board/Zoning Commission held a public hearing on the annexation and zoning request in March but postponed the decision until a late April meeting. The two meetings combined took about six hours. The planning board voted 6-3 to recommend that the City Commission approved the annexation and zoning.
Though much of the public discussion about the project has centered around potential conflict with Malmstrom and military operations, the city’s main concerns relate to public safety and stormwater litigation.
City staff has indicated concern over access points and emergency response times to the proposed development, specifically for Great Falls Fire Rescue.
The Wheat Ridge team has suggested that the city impose a development impact fee, but city officials said state law prohibits those funds from being used for maintenance or operations and the commission has been unwilling to assess impact fees for roughly the last 30 years.
“In consideration of the already stretched public safety services, this would be an additional unfunded burden that the city is not equipped to undertake at this time,” staff wrote in the agenda report.
The city is also concerned about stormwater impacts as the city is currently involved in litigation and defending itself against claims of more than $2 million in damages from L. Johnson Corporation in the Gibson Flats area. The claims are due to alleged damage to the corporation’s property from drainage issues from prior developments in the area within the city limits.
An attorney for the plaintiff attended the planning board meetings and requested additional information from the city causing the city to expect “that the plaintiff will claim there are increased damages in its case, potentially resulting from this development,” according to the staff report.
The Wheat Ridge team submitted a preliminary stormwater drainage plan to the city for the entire property and includes a series of detention ponds designed to hold the post-development rate of flow to slightly less than the pre-development flow rate currently occurring. The plan also includes a large detention pond that would temporarily remain i the county’s jurisdiction and would capture and detain storm water drainage.
City staff has concerns with that plan since it creates a concentration of stormwater rather than dispersed points of natural flow and doesn’t account for the potential of that causing an increase in groundwater flows, according to the city staff report.
Staff holds that, as proposed, the developer’s stormwater plan increases the likelihood of addittional isuses in the downstream area, “potentially exacerbating an issue already in litigation.”
The city proposed that the developers use a stormwater retention pond for the development, but the developers argue that then becomes a water rights issue if they deprive anyone downstream of surface or groundwater.
Abigail St. Lawrence, an attorney for the developers, said during the planning board meetings that in regards to the stormwater issue, the city was holding the developer liable for a issue that hadn’t yet occurred.
Spencer Woith, one of the developers, said in April that the first phase of the project is a small portion of the master plan, allowing them to address storm water issues over time before the full project of an estimated 400 lots is complete.
Woith said that construction on the first phase likely won’t start until next year.
City staff said that when the east side Wal-Mart was approved, the hope was that properties between the retail center and the city limit to the west would develop first to allow for better connectivity in the area.
Loren Smith, owner of the KOA campground, attended the April meeting and said he supports the project.