By Michael Howell
Members of the Ravalli County Planning Board, along with several concerned members of the public, toured the site of the proposed Legacy Ranch Subdivision last week. The proposed subdivision site is located northeast of Stevensville off the Eastside Highway, between Porter Hill Road and Dry Gulch Road adjacent to the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge. First proposed in 2006, the 509-lot major subdivision lay dormant in the planning process for years before being recently revived by the landowner, Sunnyside Orchards, LLC, a development company located in Missoula. The Planning Board is scheduled to consider the proposal at a meeting set for Wednesday evening, March 6, at 7 p.m. in the Commissioners meeting room.
504 of the lots on the 368-acre project are proposed for single family residential use, three lots are proposed for condominiums, and two lots are proposed for mixed use condominium/commercial. The three lots proposed for condominiums would provide for a total of 115 residential living units and the mixed use would provide for up to 20 residential living units. Cumulatively, 639 residential living units are proposed, along with two commercial lots. Over 115 acres are proposed to be set aside as open space and common areas.
All lots will be served by an on-site community water supply system. Some of the larger lots will have on-site individual septic systems, whereas the smaller lots and the condo/commercial lots will be served by one of three community sewage treatment plants.
The project is proposed to be filed in 15 separate phases, over the course of 30 years. While it is challenging and time consuming to review a subdivision of this size and scale, phasing allows for, on the one hand, the cumulative analysis of all potentially significant adverse impacts of the entire subdivision on the state’s seven review criteria while, on the other hand, providing flexibility to the developer to time when lots and units will reach the market.
The Planning Staff report recommends conditional approval of the subdivision. The list of recommended mitigations suggested for conditional approval of the subdivision is lengthy.
According to Planning Department Administrator Terry Nelson, one of the issues that previously kept the subdivision application from reaching the sufficiency stage and being presented for public review was a subdivision regulation requiring connectivity with adjacent subdivisions in the area. The original plan called for establishing connectivity with some adjacent developments by using Porter Hill Road. It would have required bringing the road up to county standards. Nelson said that problems with slope requirements and acquisitions of the necessary right-of-way made that unfeasible for the developer.
However, in June of 2012, the County Commissioners amended the Ravalli County Subdivision Regulations, removing the requirement for connectivity from the rules. As a result, the new subdivision proposal involves only two entrance/exit ways to the subdivision, both on the Eastside Highway. Porter Hill Road is now included only as an emergency exit/entrance that will have a breakaway barricade to prohibit normal use but be accessible in an emergency.
Many concerns were raised about the original proposal including concerns over water availability, potential pollution from the septic systems, and negative impacts on wildlife, the Lone Rock School District and traffic. These concerns were expressed by Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks, US Fish and Wildlife Service, officials at Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge, Lone Rock School District Board members, the Town of Stevensville and several citizens.
Former County Commissioner Jim Rokosch, who attended the site visit last week, said that he expected to see significant public opposition to this subdivision proposal. He noted that the planned subdivision would add an estimated 320 children to local schools, and an additional 9,271 automobile trips per day to the road system.
“They are trying to place a development bigger than some of our existing towns in a rural neighborhood right next to a national wildlife refuge,” said Rokosch. He said it was the wrong location for such concentrated development.
One neighbor to the proposed development, Shaen McElravy, said that he is very concerned about potential pollution of his well. He said that he is especially concerned about pharmaceuticals, both prescription and over the counter drugs, showing up in his drinking water.
“I do not believe the wastewater treatment systems proposed have the capability of preventing pharmaceuticals from leaching into the groundwater,” said McElravy. He said it was unconscionable that he should be forced to drink his neighbor’s aspirin or other more potent prescription drugs.
The Planning Board is an advisory board only and can only make a recommendation to the County Commissioners who will make the final decision about the subdivision. The County Commissioners are scheduled to consider the proposal on April 22, at 9 a.m.