By Michael Howell
The Ravalli County Planning Board held its third meeting to review the proposed 639-residential-living-unit Legacy Ranch subdivision between Florence and Stevensville on the Eastside Highway last Wednesday, March 20. Planning Board Chairman Jan Wisniewski announced that since the first two meetings were set aside for public comment, this meeting would be only for board deliberation.
Former county commissioner Jim Rokosch disagreed, stating that since the last meeting was not officially continued, this was a new meeting and every public meeting must allow for public comment. Wisniewski hesitated and the developer’s consultant, Jason Rice of Territorial Landworks, said that in his opinion the board had heard plenty of public comment. Several members of the public disagreed and Wisniewski had to swing the gavel to quell the protest.
In the end, the board decided to allow another 30 minutes of public comment with those who had not already spoken getting the first chance to speak. Rice first spoke for about an hour, addressing many of the preceding public comments and the public was allowed to speak for over an hour after that.
Rice noted that the land was already divided into 41 ten-acre Orchard Tracts and that these could each be developed with multiple housing units without any subdivision review at all. He also noted that there was little chance that the 36-year phasing plan could be accelerated very much even with a major turnaround in the economy. He stated that nutrient contribution to the groundwater would be less once the ground was developed than it was under agricultural use. He mentioned that the lot layout and road system were designed to leave open space and wildlife corridors, mitigating the impact on wildlife and wildlife habitat.
Rice stated that when the subdivision proposal was first considered back in 2006 that they had started working with DEQ for approval of the water and septic systems. He said they also began working with the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge officials. He said that concerns were brought up at the time about pharmaceuticals from the subdivision homes polluting the Refuge waters. He said they were looking at a $50,000 cost to study the issue and instead decided to let the application to DEQ die. He said the developer would be asking for conditional approval from the Planning Board based on final approval of applications with DEQ.
In relation to concerns about resorting to single wells and escaping review under the state’s “exempt well” provisions, Rice said that the propose development “was not feasible without a public water system.” He said that requiring a public water system could be made a condition of approval. He noted that currently there was no standard governing pharmaceuticals and called it “a problem for everybody.” He said that the establishment of a Water Quality District by the homeowners would allow these concerns to be addressed in the future.
Members of the public, for the third meeting in a row, spoke unanimously against the subdivision proposal. Many of the same issues were raised concerning potential ground water contamination, availability of water, negative effects on wildlife by dogs and cats and lighting related to the development which is immediately adjacent to the wildlife refuge, and effects on traffic and public safety and emergency services.
Members of the public specifically asked for review of the potential impacts on Bull Trout in the Bitterroot River and submitted information on septic density in the area as well as soil profiles.
The next meeting, which will include Planning Board discussion of the proposal, is scheduled for April 17 at 2 p.m. in the Commissioners’ meeting room.