By Michael Howell
After years of wrangling the Town of Stevensville is making big strides toward acquisition of a well field as part of its major water system improvement project. Initially, the Town was counting on acquisition of a well field as part of the conditions of approval of the Twin Creeks subdivision. A productive well is already installed and DNRC has approved installation of additional wells on the site. However, transfer of the well field property to the town was held up by several factors, the main one being a lease agreement between the developer and a neighboring property owner who leased the land for cattle grazing. The Town Council was unwilling to accept the property without a clear title and wanted the lease situation resolved first.
Negotiations between the developer and the lease holder were not resolved and eventually the town began looking elsewhere for an alternative well field site. It settled on a site owned by Allen and Janice Kelley, entered into a buy-sell agreement for the site, and drilled a test well. That well turned out to be problematic due to large amounts of sand and a plan for an unconventional and more expensive well was being considered. In fact, it was on the council’s agenda to consider having NorthWestern Energy bring electricity to the site at the cost of about $15,000 in order to take advantage of a discount that would expire if the contract wasn’t made by the end of the year.
The Council decided not to take any action regarding the Kelley well field, however, after hearing about promising developments concerning the Twin Creeks well field. Mayor Gene Mim Mack informed the Council that, following the bankruptcy of the original developer, the new owner of the property, Missoula Federal Credit Union, had resolved the lease situation and would also consider the possibility of transferring the well field property to the town prior to filing the final plat for the subdivision. The bank asked the Town to extend the deadline for filing the final plat, which was set to expire on December 31, for another 18 months. The town agreed to extend the deadline which would set a new schedule for the completion of the various construction phases. Under the new agreement Phase I would be completed by July 1, 2013, Phase II by January 15, 2021, and Phase III by January 15, 2026.
Streetscape design ready for review
Jeremy Keene, an engineer for WGM, gave the council an update on the Main Street streetscape project and presented some design plans for the initial phase of the project.
Work on the project began almost 10 years ago, when meetings concerning the Highway 93 improvements and its potential effects on the downtown led to considerations concerning pedestrian traffic improvements. The town then got involved in the Walkable Community program and subsequently the Main Street Association, in particular the Design Committee, pursued the idea. WGM helped produce some preliminary conceptual designs for sidewalk improvements that led to County approval of a $500,000 Community Transportation Enhancement Program grant to fund the project. The Main Street Association was successful in raising $63,000 in matching funds to secure the grant.
Although the big picture involves much more, due to budget limitations the first phase of the project was reduced to cover only three blocks of the downtown, from where the Eastside Hwy comes in at the north to Fourth Street on the south, with a focus on sidewalk improvements.
An advisory committee was formed including Town staff, Main Street Association members, seniors, downtown business owners and school representatives to come up with a detailed plan based on the original conceptual design. The plan includes eliminating several old driveway openings where the pavement dips creating a hazard for pedestrians. It includes bulb outs at Second and Fourth streets similar to the ones currently installed at Third Street, to make it easier and safer for pedestrians to cross. It also includes some limited landscaping and improvements and possibly reducing the angle of parking spaces which could add an additional 35 parking spaces in the downtown. Some existing tree wells in the area of curb improvements will also be improved. Sidewalk improvements will also include some installations to accommodate future lighting changes if that should come to pass.
Some concerns were expressed by several citizens that included effects on businesses during the construction process, maintenance of the landscape amenities, potential obstruction of views by the landscaping and bulb outs, and increased parking difficulties and dangers associated with reducing the angle of the parking spaces.
Mayor Mim Mack noted that public meetings will be scheduled in the near future to allow the public a chance to weigh in on the design plans before a final design is adopted.
Dog Ordinance discussed
Despite the fact that a few “No Dogs” signs had been placed at the Town’s parks, Police Chief James Marble informed the Council that, following an inquiry from a citizen, he was unable to discover any ordinance prohibiting dogs from the parks. He decided to bring the issue to the Council for consideration.
Water Superintendent George Thomas said that he had some recollection that a few decades ago some park rules were developed stipulating that dogs, glass, and overnight camping would be prohibited. But Marble noted that he could find no such regulations in the Town’s records.
One concerned citizen stated that, “Stevensville is a dog town.” He noted that there were areas in town without sidewalks where people have to go into the street if they are walking their dogs. He said with proper fencing that there was enough space in the parks to even have an area where dogs could run free. A few other people also spoke in favor of allowing dogs in both Father Ravalli and Lewis and Clark Parks.
Marble stated that the Town does have a leash law requiring all dogs in the town limits to be on a leash. Without an ordinance explicitly prohibiting dogs in the parks they would be allowed in the parks on a leash under the current rules, he said.
No action was taken on the issue.
Conditional use permit denied
The Council denied a request to issue a conditional use permit that would allow a home at 515 Main Street to be used as a residence after sale of the property despite the fact that Main Street is zoned for commercial use only. A buy/sell agreement had been signed for the purchase of the property on the condition that it could be used as a residence instead of a business.
Town Planner Ben Longbottom told the Council that the Planning and Zoning Board had reviewed the request and unanimously voted to recommend denial of the permit. Longbottom said that zoning was a longterm plan and should not be undermined.
A few citizens and Councilor Robin Holcomb expressed the view that it made sense, given the current economic downturn, to allow residential use rather than have the building sit empty.
Longbottom countered, saying that allowing residential use during an economic downturn could possibly take the building out of commercial use until it sold again, which could even be another 40 years. He said it subverts the purpose of the zone.
Ron Klaphake, a Councilor-elect who will take office on January 3, said that in most cases a conditional use permit is issued for some compelling reason. In this case, he said, it is simply based on the wishes of a potential buyer.
With one councilor absent and Councilor Desera Towle abstaining for personal reasons, the vote was split with Councilor Holcomb voting to issue the permit and Councilor Dan Mullan voting to deny the permit. Mayor Mim Mack broke the tie, voting to deny the permit request.
In other business, the Council:
- approved a contract for services with the law firm of Garlington, Lohn and Robinson to handle water right issues for the town;
- adopted a resolution approving tax compliance procedures for the Sewer Bond;
- approved a few amendments to the engineering contracts for the water and sewer projects;
- created a Tax Increment Financing District Advisory Board and appointed Councilor Desera Towle, Max Downing, Randy Jones, Amie Cahill and RCEDA Director Julie Foster to serve on the board;
- discussed the need for a protocol for disposal of town property;
- heard a request for a waiver of water and sewer fees for the Stevensville Museum during the time that the facility is closed down over the winter;
- approved the Mayor’s action in requesting the resignation of some members of the Airport Board;
- discussed making a formal plan for sidewalk and street improvements.