Archive for Thursday, May 29, 2003

Rezoning for large housing development rejected

Planning Commission recommends denial of request for 187 homes, 61 duplex Arbor Ridge Subdivision

May 29, 2003

Despite a majority of its members voicing support for the development, the De Soto Planning Commission voted Tuesday to recommend denial of a rezoning request that would make way for a large residential subdivision.

The vote was popular with neighbors to the proposed development who packed the meeting room in City Hall, but planning commissioners made it clear their problem wasn't with the proposed 187 homes and 61 duplexes on the 90-acre site southeast of the 83rd Street/Kill Creek Road intersection. In fact, the Planning Commission never considered the plan for the housing subdivision that would be located to the south and east of the Valley Spring Homes senior apartment complex just now getting started.

Attorney Chase Simmons explained that unlike a number of other cities in Johnson County, De Soto's planning regulations require property be rezoned before preliminary plats can be considered. Simmons, who represented the development team that included lead developer Jim Lambie -- the developer of Canyon Creek in Lenexa -- and Tim Zarda, said that meant the Planning Commission had to consider the rezoning application with the developer's assurances that Arbor Ridge would be built as shown on an unapproved preliminary plat.

The developers requested the property be rezoned from its current R-1 designation, which restricts land use to single-family homes on lot sizes a minimum of 10,350 square feet, to R-2, which allows duplexes and single-family homes on smaller lot sizes.

Planning commissioners balked because of the possibility their decision would open the entire 90 acres to duplexes. Simmons tried to assure planning commissioners that the developers would find such a drastic alteration to the proposed site plan counter-productive. The developers, he said, would come back before the Planning Commission and City Council during the approval process and Lambie was investigating other development possibilities in the city.

"We're going to be back before you," he said. "We're not goingoing to do."

Planning Commissioner Danny Hall said, however, he was forced to consider the rezoning request on its own merit and the consequences approving R-2 zoning could have.

"I would agree it's a good plan," he said. "In an imperfect world if it's approved R-2 and they sell the property, it's R-2. That's the reality."

The developers didn't simply ask for R-2 zoning for the duplex portion of Arbor Ridge because they needed the greater density that zoning classification allows for single-family homes, Simmons said. Greater density was needed to compensate the expense of the city's excise tax, cost of installing internal improvements such as curbs and guttering and acreage lost to the flood plain, he said.

The 13 neighbors who spoke against the development at the public hearing found little to like in the proposal. They said the development would change the character of the neighborhood east of Kill Creek, increase traffic and noise in the area, and -- in rare point of agreement with Simmons -- spur further development.

"We moved to De Soto three years ago because of the atmosphere," said Julie Baldwin who lives to the east on Corliss Road. "If you approve R-2, it will change that. We don't want to see roof tops; we want to see treetops."

Sherry Grimm of West 83rd Street also said the development would remove the appeal that she sought when she moved to De Soto 18 months ago.

"I moved here to get away from the noise and traffic," she said. "The maximum use of R-1 at 220 units is more development than we need. We don't need the extra duplexes in the area."

Others, like J.D. Austin, questioned the consequence of the development on the school district and the likelihood the need for new classrooms would make De Soto unaffordable for seniors.

A common theme of the opponents was the undesirability of duplexes.

"My concern is not development, but putting in lower income duplexes," Marie Caldwell said. "If you look at who lives in duplexes, they're transients who don't care about quality of life."

Dan Gulley, president of the De Soto Chamber of Commerce, spoke in favor of the development, saying the growth would encourage the retail and industrial development that would improve the city's quality of life and increase the tax base. Those sentiments were also expressed in two letters the Planning Commission received in favor of the development.

Although many of the neighbors voiced concerns about Arbor Ridge's consequences on surrounding infrastructure, City Engineer Mike Brungardt ran projections of Arbor Ridge's effect on city streets, water utility and sewer system based on the worst-case scenario of R-2 for water and sewer and R-1 zoning for streets. The proposal, he said, would not put an unacceptable load on city streets or water and sewer capacities.

However, he did add an Arbor Ridge completely given over to duplexes and other approved or pending developments in the city would consume De Soto's existing sewer capacity. But he said the city's capital improvement plan does assume a new sewer plant in 2007.

As for streets, Brungardt said Arbor Ridge's immediate access would be limited to 83rd Street. Should the subdivision be developed solely as single-family homes, which generate more traffic than duplexes, it would increase the daily traffic load on 83rd to 10,000 vehicles a day. That was under the 12,000 the street could safely carry, he said.

City planning consultant Sean Ackerson made the Planning Commission's vote to deny harder with a finding that the development was compatible with the surrounding neighborhoods and consistent with the future land use plan.

Simmons said the proposal would be beneficial because it would strengthen the downtown business section, unlike other development on De Soto's fringe.

The developers have proven themselves elsewhere in the county, Simmons said, and Arbor Ridge would be of the same standards. Duplexes would sold be, not rented, at a $150,000 price. Homes would range from there to $250,000, he said.

The five planning commissioners making the decision found it hard to craft a denial that satisfied statutory requirements (Planning Commission Chairman Roger Templin recused himself because his law firm represented one of the investors in the development group). Finally, they voted to recommend denial because the R-2 zoning could create a housing density for the area incompatible with that shown in the city's comprehensive plan.

After the vote, Simmons said the developers would watch with interest another item before the Planning Commission Tuesday -- a proposed text amendment to city zoning regulations that would allow smaller lot sizes in R-1 zoning (see related story below).

Simmons said, however, the developers faced the possibility that their contract with the landowners would expire. Developers would test the Planning Commission's recommendation for denial before the City Council he said. But because of the Planning Commission's recommendation, the developers would need the City Council to approve the rezoning with a super-majority vote of 4 to 1.

The developers indicated they wanted to start construction on Arbor Ridge this fall with the goal of completing the subdivision in three-and-a-half years.

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