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County board moves ahead with divisive subdivision

County board moves ahead with divisive subdivision

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WAHOO – On Sept. 1, the Saunders County Board of Supervisors held their weekly meeting, but this meeting deviated from the normal happenings of the board. The assembly was located at the Russell Shanks 4-H Exhibition Hall and it had 15-plus audience members. 

The rationale for the change in scenery and additional listeners was due to the public hearing scheduled in regards to the Whispering Ridge Estates preliminary plat approval. 

The project has been in the works since July 2019 and plans to create a roughly 50-home subdivision near the intersection of Highway 64 and County Road 8 in Saunders County. 

On Aug. 3, the preliminary plat was presented to the Saunders County Planning Commission during a public hearing. After the hearing was closed, the commission motioned to deny recommendation for the application for several different reasons, per the commission meeting minutes. The planning commission makes recommendations to the county board, which has final approval.

These reasons included lack of a water source for both personal and emergency use, no drainage study or grading plan provided to the commission, street plan issues and no plan for a deceleration lane on Highway 64. 

These topics were all points of discussion in the board’s decision to approve the plan, including the issue of not receiving information in a timely manner from the Whispering Ridge Estate representatives and not having support from the Mead Fire District. 

Since the commission’s denial, Whispering Ridge Estates representatives have provided a drainage study and grading plan and indicate they are willing to add a deceleration lane if the state requires them to do so. This requirement is based on how much traffic accidents occur on the turn-off from Highway 64. If the state calls for the lane, the subdivision will be responsible for covering the costs, according to Saunders County Zoning Administrator George Borreson. 

When planning a subdivision, the applicants are required to send a letter informing certain agencies of the preliminary plat, including area schools, natural resource districts, fire departments and the Army Corps of Engineers. Since this subdivision falls within the Mead Fire District, a letter was sent to them. 

Borreson said that when these letters are sent it is assumed that if the organization does not reply, they approve of the project. However, Mead Fire District did reply, denying approval of the project due to the fact that not only are they nine miles away, the subdivision is also five miles away from the closest fire hydrant located in Douglas County near Valmont Industries. 

The planning commission did not receive this letter until its Aug. 3 meeting despite the letter being sent at the end of 2019, Planning Commission Member Pat McEvoy said. 

“It’s almost like this was purposely left out to conceal opposition from Mead,” McEvoy said. 

This is one of several examples McEvoy made when discussing uncooperative behaviors by the applicants. According to McEvoy and fellow Planning Commission Member Eric Nelson, many of the major aspects of the application, like the drainage study, grade analysis and letter from Mead Fire Department, were not given to the commission until the very last minute.  

“We all have jobs,” McEvoy said. “We can’t just stop to look at it.”  

While attorney Jovan Lausterer of Bromm Lindahl Freeman-Caddy and Lausterer did not have any comments on the applicants’ tardiness, Lausterer said that he and Whispering Ridge Estates investors are willing to work with the Mead Fire Department in order to get the subdivision approved. In this preliminary plat, it includes outlots that Lausterer said could be used as access roads for emergency vehicles, like fire trucks. 

Lausterer also explained that for the investors, the goal of the public hearing was to get approval of the preliminary plat so that they can make the adjustments that the commission and county board both recommend before presenting the final plat. 

“This development is going to change the area and change is always scary,” Lausterer said. 

However, according to Nelson, approving this preliminary plat gives options to others looking to build subdivisions that have little access to water for both personal and emergency uses. 

“You’re going to set a precedent that water doesn’t matter,” Nelson said. 

In Lausterer’s rebuttal, he spoke about the issue of water access in the proposed subdivision. He cited that the drainage will have a slight decrease with homes, per a study by Dwight Hanson of Ithaca. Lausterer also said that the well study done by Horizon Envirotech, LLC also showed that water would not be an issue for personal use by drilling two test wells. 

The report also stated that wells that pump 10 gallons per minute (gpm) were sufficient for personal use and that there are several domestic wells in the area that produce 20 to 40 gpm successfully. 

To Gary Zicafoose, a farmer to the west of the proposed subdivision, water is an issue, especially when he has a 900 gpm irrigation system that could be affected when the residents of Whispering Ridge Estates pump water. 

Zicafoose also commented on the planned outlots in the plat. He felt that these lots would not be used for its intended purpose – access roads for emergency vehicles – but as another area for the subdivision to build more homes. 

“It’s an invasion,” Zicafoose said.

According to Borreson, if the applicants were to build homes on these outlots, they would have to endure the entire approval process once more with another preliminary plat showing the additions on the outlots. This would also mean the applicants would need to do another grade and drainage analysis. 

Supervisor Dave Lutton said if there isn’t adequate water, the applicants will have issues even selling the lots and wondered if individual wells were even in the jurisdiction of the board. However, Supervisor Chairperson Doris Karloff said the board needed to consider the health and safety of the citizens of Saunders County. 

After hearing from all those that wanted to speak for or against approval, the board closed the hearing and began discussion. 

In the discussion, the board considered a few topics that they want to see the applicants work on, including fire and roads. 

Lutton said the concern about adequate water for fire protection can be solved by working with the Mead Fire Department. 

Supervisor Scott Sukstorf said he preferred having the homes grouped instead of scattered throughout the area and agreed that the applicants need to work something out with the fire department. 

“It doesn’t matter if it’s one house or 28 houses, you have to talk to Mead,” Sukstorf said.

Supervisor Larry Mach, suggested the developers also work with fire departments nearby such as Yutan, Valley or Waterloo in case there is a fire that calls for additional aid. Lausterer reported already being in contact with Waterloo. 

Mach also said the prominent concern is the lack of transparency from the applicants and that they are not providing adequate time for the commission to go over important paperwork. He described it as shameful and not neighborly.  

“That’s what it’s all about people, being good neighbors,” Mach said. 

Lutton also recommended an amendment in regards to widening the road specifically before the first home for a turn around. The preliminary plat has allotted a 20 foot wide road with a rock shoulder. 

Sukstorf and Lutton said that the road should be 24 feet across with no shoulder. Karloff said that this is required of other developments in the area and agreed to the amendment. 

For Karloff, the commission denying the application and recommending that the board deny the application was an issue for her because of the work they have done in relation to this application. 

“I want the planning and zoning board to know that we appreciate what they do,” Karloff said.

Despite the planning commission’s recommendation to deny Whispering Ridge Estate’s preliminary plat application, Lutton motioned to approve the application with certain stipulations pertaining to fire protection, widening the roads and making a turn-around area. 

In a 5-2 vote, the board approved the preliminary plat with certain requisites with supervisors Ed Rastovski, Craig Breunig, Frank Albrecht, Lutton and Sukstorf voting yes and Karloff and Mach voting no. 

In other action, the board approved two emergency amendments to the agenda including the approval of payroll for the Sept. 11 pay period and a union agreement between Saunders County and the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 48 for July 1, 2020 until June 30, 2023.

The board also approved the cancellation of the county board meeting on Sept. 8 due to absence of three supervisors. The board will next meet Tuesday, Sept. 15 in regards to a public hearing for the 2020-2021 fiscal year budget.

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