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Environmental Commission recommends a variance for 19 feet of fill

Tuesday, February 18, 2020 by Jessi Devenyns

A developer building a commercial storage facility project requiring a variance for 19.5 feet of fill to construct a driveway on slopes steeper than a 15 percent grade received a unanimous recommendation from the Environmental Commission at its Feb. 5 meeting.

The steep topography of the 5.4-acre site at 4229 N. FM 620 is located along Highway 620 within the two-mile extraterritorial jurisdiction of the city. Jonathan Garner, an environmental program coordinator with the Development Services Department, told the commission that the slopes are steep, particularly along the front of the property that faces the highway. Nevertheless, he said, “The only available access to the property … is by crossing the existing slopes with a private driveway.”

However, if developers constructed a driveway at any point along the frontage using the code-approved 4-foot cut-and-fill, “even just having a standard vehicle would bottom out if they stayed within the standard limitation.”

To prevent cars from bottoming out, the project needs over 19 feet of fill to build up the distance between Highway 620 and the privately owned parcel. Garner told commissioners that the property owner discussed the possibility of a shared-use driveway with neighboring properties but no agreement was reached.

Alternative entrance points from the highway to the property necessitate the drive to cross slopes that are even steeper with grades greater than 25 percent.

As a result, city staff supported the variance request in order to provide the landowner reasonable use of the property. Garner told commissioners that there is a storage facility directly to the north of the property that was developed similarly, including a driveway with a comparable amount of fill.

The distance between Highway 620 and the property is divided by a gully that has been largely cleared of vegetation. To allow for access to the property as well as erosion control, the project is proposing a concrete driveway with culverts bored through the construction to direct runoff. The fill needed to level out the driveway will be contained with concrete retaining walls.

In an effort to further prevent erosion, staff recommended that the developer revegetate the area near the structural containment with native shrubs and grasses.

The topography of the site not only affects the construction of a driveway, it also limits the amount of the parcel that is developable. Only 1.3 acres of the 5.4-acre property will be developed. “This is an area that is undisturbed,” Garner said, adding that the nearly three-quarters of the lot that is natural habitat will remain so in “perpetuity.”

With little discussion about the case, the commission voted 7-0 to recommend approval of the variance. Commissioner Kevin Ramberg recused himself and commissioners Curtis Smith, Pam Thompson, Peggy Maceo were absent.

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