Planning Commission recommends approval of Arbor Ridge rezoning
Five hours into the De Soto Planning Commission's special meeting last week, Commissioner Bob Friday's response to a question ended suspense surrounding the fate of two rezoning requests for the Arbor Ridge subdivision.
The meeting was scheduled after the Planning Commission's 2-2 October deadlock over Lambie-Geer Homes' rezoning requests for the proposed subdivision southeast of the 83rd Street/Kill Creek Road intersection. The developers were requesting 56 acres be rezoned from R1 to R-1A and another 20 acres to R2 so they could build a 181-home, 58-duplex subdivision on the property.
Friday was absent at the earlier meeting and with fellow Planning Commissioner Roger Templin recusing himself because of his law firm's association with the developer, those in the packed City Hall council room understood he would determine the fate of the rezonings.
"I keep going back to the comprehensive plan," Friday said. "A lot of forethought went into the writing of that document. The comp plan provides a controlled and well thought-out method for growth in the community.
"From that point of view, it (the rezoning) does represent good planning."
Seventy minutes after Friday made his midnight comment, the meeting ended after the Planning Commission voted to recommend the De Soto City Council approve both rezoning requests by identical 3-2 margins.
As the meeting moved into Thursday morning, Planning Commission Chairman Kevin Honomichl methodically questioned commissioners on the eight points of the Golden criteria, which Kansas judges use when considering appeals of zoning decisions. Planning Commissioner Gary Pannell responded to Honomichl's questions, but he said his decision was based on people.
"I had a few choice words for courts, judges, lawyers and the Golden criteria," he said. "I've been instructed I can't go by anything but facts and figures. I think we have to listen to the neighbors."
For two hours, neighbors and other Arbor Ridge foes spoke out against the rezonings, citing the increased demand for city services, traffic, noise, lighting and storm-water runoff that would come with the development.
Their views put them at odds with the developers' spokesman, attorney Chase Simmons, and city staff, who found the subdivision would have positive or neutral consequences on the Golden criteria's eight points.
City Engineer Mike Brungardt found that the city's water and sewer departments could handle Arbor Ridge's added demand. The assessment was qualified with the city engineer's admission the existing capacity at the city's sewer plant would be consumed should Arbor Ridge and other residential projects be built. However, it stated the city had started the process that should have a new sewer plant operational in 2007.
As for streets, Brungardt estimated 83rd Street would have 3,380 more trips to and from the proposed development per day. That would put 7,380 vehicles a day on a roadway designated as an arterial street in the city's comprehensive plan but which is not yet built to collector street standards, he said.
Despite that estimate, Brungardt said with upgrades such as turn lanes, sight-line improvements and -- in the future -- a traffic light, the streets would handle the traffic.
"The impacts could be mitigated with reasonable measures imposed on the developer," the city engineer said.
As he had in October, Simmons said the Planning Commission shouldn't view the choice as between the developers' proposal and the current undeveloped site but the 212 homes that could be built on the property with its current R-1 zoning. In a choice of words that would be exploited by his foes, Simmons called the increase a "tweaking" and its consequences "incremental."
The area to the east and south might retain its rural residential character, but that to the west and north were mixed residential uses, Simmons maintained. With Valley Springs Homes senior apartments on the site's doorstep, the townhomes would serve as a buffer to the residential homes, he said.
The site plan left 13.62 acres undeveloped, which buffered the subdivision from neighboring homes, Simmons said. R-1 zoning would increase pressure to develop more of that untouched land for homes, so the developer's investment could be recouped, he said.
Simmons and city planning consultant Sean Ackerson noted Arbor Ridge would open other property in the Kill Creek basin to development.
Like many other issues at the hearing, the desirability of growth in the Kill Creek corridor was dependent on the speaker's association with the Arbor Ridge property line. Toni Caldwell and other foes said the possibility that the subdivision would spur future development in the basin was one of their principle concerns.
Expanding on her effort in the October meeting, Stacy Zarr challenged Brungardt's findings. The proposal would increase De Soto's population 22.5 percent, put 60 percent more traffic on 83rd Street, and increase water and sewer demand by 44 percent, she said.
"I don't see that as tweaking," she said.
Zarr and former City Councilman Duke Neeland said that by eliminating sewer capacity, the Arbor Ridge proposal would prevent the city from attracting the commercial and industrial development it needed to broaden its tax base.
The Arbor Ridge opponents said they would accept R1 zoning and the 212 homes Brungardt estimated it would bring. It was, they said, the lesser of two bad alternatives with fewer negative consequences for the rest of the city.
The city should strive to maintain the qualities that make De Soto unique from the Johnson County norm, Caldwell said. Large-lot development like that at Timber Trails allowed homebuilders and property owners to be more creative, she said.
"Are we willing to look like every other town in the county?" Caldwell asked. "We were told when R-1A was passed it would not be the norm. Right off the bat, we have an applicant. Standards must be set for De Soto's growth."
Pannell referenced the Planning Commission's consideration of the R-1A classification in voting to recommend denial by reading a letter from Mayor Dave Anderson recommending its use be limited to a tool for redevelopment in old-town De Soto.
In the end, Pannell and Randy Canaan voted against the motion to recommend approval. Richard Moberly joined Friday and Honomichl in supporting the motion.
In response to the residents' testimony, Honomichl strongly urged the city to address 83rd Street improvements and water plant upgrades, but he said the Planning Commission couldn't reject a proposal to save sewer and water capacity for speculative future applications.
The vote means the City Council could approve either rezoning with a simple majority unless there is a protest petition. Caldwell said such a petition, which would require the Council approve the request by a super majority, would be forthcoming on the R-1A zoning. However, a protest petition can't be filed on the R-2 zoning allowing the duplexes because that property is surrounded by the developers' property or Valley Springs Homes.
The rezoning requests would likely be scheduled for the City Council's Dec. 18 meeting.