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Oak Hill plan amendment put on hold after neighbor’s complaint
Friday, May 27, 2011 by Kimberly Reeves
The Planning Commission this week chose to put an Oak Hill plan amendment on hold after a last-minute protest from a neighboring landowner over an existing easement.
Agent Ron Thrower, with the blessing of the local contact team, asked Planning Commissioners to change two lots in the Oak Hill future land use map from high-density single-family to multi-family residential. That change, in advance of re-zoning, is being sought in anticipation of developing the property in the 6800 block of Covered Bridge Drive as a 100-bed Alzheimer’s care facility.
Neighboring landowner William Crow, however, told commissioners he had grave concerns about an existing private 60-foot easement his own grandfather had negotiated with the neighboring property owner almost 30 years ago, prior to the land being annexed into the city and prior to any development plans.
Thrower’s client would have to cross Crow’s private drive to access his lot. For now, that was fine, but it might be different with hundreds of trips a day.
“This is my road,” Crow said. “It is a private drive. It’s zoned rural residential. I’m concerned about the additional traffic, and what this development will change concerning the status of that road.”
Crow’s family settled Oak Hill, and the land had been in his family for three generations. Crow, however, was only a child at the time the original easement was negotiated, and he said he couldn’t imagine his late grandfather agreeing to a high-density development next to his own property.
Two issues, common to Planning Commission, rose to the surface in the Covered Bridge case: First, Commissioners Saundra Kirk and Mandy Dealey were particularly concerned that agreement to the FLUM change would be tacit agreement to sign off on any future zoning case.
“If we change the FLUM now, it automatically presumes an entitlement to a zoning change,” Kirk said.
“Well, yes and no,” Chair Dave Sullivan said.
“What? You mean 75 percent yes and 25 percent no?” Kirk shot back.
Thrower argued that Crow was gaining a benefit with the zoning change. The land originally was zoned for 82 condominiums or apartments with a traffic level of 1,000 trips per day. The less-intensive Alzheimer’s care facility was expected to generate only 300 trips a day.
Thrower might have seen the change as decreasing traffic from 1,000 trips a day to 300 trips a day. Kirk saw it as going from no trips to 300 trips a day.
The second issue was how to weigh the issue of the easement in the decision. Dealey, in fact, suggested the commission might consider language that instructed the landowner to negotiate possible alternatives to the easement.
Such a decision, however, would be highly unusual: making a future land use choice on two lots contingent upon negotiations related to a third adjoining lot.
Crow’s objection came only an hour before the hearing, so Assistant City Attorney Judd Leach told commissioners he could offer little guidance.
“This sounds like this easement is between two private parties,” Leach said. “It isn’t appropriate for me to comment. I haven’t read the easement, and I don’t know what it says. It’s a private issue that the parties need to resolve with their own legal counsel. I can’t say legally one way or the other.”
Sullivan suggested that commissioners craft questions for city staff that pinned down exactly what the commission might and might not decide.
Dealey, for her part, pressed Thrower for alternatives to the existing easement, possibly along Covered Bridge Drive. Thrower argued that the portion of the property along Covered Bridge Drive was deep in Williamson Creek, inside the existing flood plain and inside the critical water quality zone.
“There is frontage on Covered Bridge Drive,” Dealey pointed out. “Would it be possible to build a bridge?”
“I would certainly say yes, anything is possible, but it would probably cost multiple millions of dollars,” Thrower said.
And to throw a bit more information on the table, contact team member Bill Schultz, who was at the hearing, was the prior owner of the Covered Bridge property. Schultz, who still owns a portion of the larger tract fronting SH 71, said he had had preliminary discussions with Thrower about using his property as an access point for the Alzheimer’s care facility.
Some commissioners remained unswayed by Dealey and Kirk’s arguments. Commissioners Alfonso Hernandez and Richard Hatfield, in particular, agreed with Thrower’s rationale that the existing easement was a costly entitlement that came with the property’s purchase and remained an issue between private landowners. They were inclined to grant the FLUM request.
Hernandez and Hatfield lost a motion to grant the FLUM. Commissioner Tina Bui then made a motion to leave the public hearing open and take up the case again at the Planning Commission’s next meeting, on June 14.
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