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Trail Ridge Estates stalled

No super-majority to overturn P&Z decision

SOLON– Trail Ridge Estates is one vote short.
As is, the proposal to annex and rezone a 130-acre residential subdivision west of Solon’s city limits on Highway 382 has only three of four city council votes needed to override a Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission decision.
Mayor Steve Stange conducted the informal poll of council members at a Feb. 17 meeting.
Council members Steve Duncan and Lynn Morris supported the P&Z decision against the application, while John Farlinger, Dan O’Neil and Lauren Whitehead favored moving ahead with the latest concept presented by the Watts Group. The developer has proposed converting 131 acres into 114 single-family homes, 166 units of duplexes and 18 four-plexes over an estimated 15-year build out.
Council and P&Z members have been discussing Trail Ridge Estates since November, including at a joint session Jan. 14. P&Z members voted to deny a formal application for annexation and rezoning at a Jan. 26 meeting, citing the number of overall dwellings and a preference for more standalone homes, as well as objections to the use of private drives.
Although the application was denied by P&Z, the developer would like to move forward with council consideration, which would require a super-majority.
Council members took public input during a special session Feb. 10, where Stange told council members to be prepared to discuss their position at the next regular meeting.
“I do need to know how the council feels, whether it’s support P&Z and ask Watts Group to work with them, or supporting the plan as-is,” Stange noted Feb. 17.
He warned against getting to a point where the land has been annexed but the city and developer can’t agree on a plan.
“And we’ve wasted a bunch of time and expense,” he said.
City Administrator Cami Rasmussen explained the plans presented by the Watts Group were conceptual, and the P&Z vote was for annexation and rezoning.
“I understand that,” Stange responded, “but it still comes down to the density issues and things of that nature which everybody’s aware of.”
After reading a statement from Duncan, who was absent for the meeting, the mayor asked for each council member’s opinion.
Duncan maintained his opposition to the number of four-plexes and the use of private streets. He indicated he was uncomfortable overriding the P&Z recommendations, but wanted the Watts Group to know he welcomes continued discussions regarding Trail Ridge.
Morris also urged the developer to reflect on input and work with P&Z members to find an acceptable solution.
Solon has changed for the good in the last 17 years, she said, and the city has managed growth perfectly. Morris supported the P&Z decision.
Council members Farlinger and O’Neil focused on the density issue.
Both were in favor of the Trail Ridge proposal, and pointed to discrepancies between city code and the city’s comprehensive plan regarding density and housing types.
Farlinger asked City Engineer Dave Schechinger whether duplexes (R-4 zoning) are considered multifamily or single-family units.
“That’s an interesting question,” Schechinger replied. “It has to do with how we define that. The comp. plan looks at it slightly different from single-family to multifamily than the zoning code does.”
The zoning code says it’s single family-attached, he stated, while the comprehensive plan looks at duplexes as having higher density based on the number of units per acre.
“Depending upon how you want to evaluate that, there’s a little bit of a difference of definition in those two documents,” he noted.
Considering the duplexes as single-family pushed Farlinger in favor of the proposal.
O’Neil said since the city’s comprehensive plan allows for different types of medium-density housing and the definitions don’t necessarily line up, he asked Schechinger to review the density of recent developments to provide guidance.
The developments were similar, he observed. “There are pockets of higher-density areas in a couple of the developments, including Trail Ridge.”
“Three-hundred fifty-two doors is a lot of doors. There’s no discounting that,” he continued. “About 130 or 115 acres that we are calculating for density is a lot of land– essentially, if we were to combine a couple of the previous developments. As far as number of doors, I feel like it is in line given the acreage that this covers.”
Although private drives have not been addressed, he said, Watts Group should be given credit for decreasing the number of four-plex units.
Lauren Whitehead had the last word, and she commended city staff, council, P&Z members and the developer for a great process.
“I feel like this has been handled really well and above board,” she said.
“This is a tough call, but I am in favor of this plan as it stands right now,” she continued.
Whitehead said concerns about the proposal made sense, but city staff was up to the task of addressing them.
“I think there will be growing pains no matter what, and we are ready to tackle those as a community,” she stated.
A strong theme in a recent survey, even among those opposed to the Trail Ridge Estates development, was the need for more affordable housing in Solon, Whitehead reported.
“We can’t make that happen without more density, with smaller homes, smaller lots and attached dwelling units,” she said. “I strongly believe we need space for this in our community.”
With the 3-2 split, Stange asked Ramsussen to relay the council’s stance to the developers and asked for suggestions on how to proceed.
City Attorney Kevin Olson recommended reaching out to the Watts Group to continue the dialogue.
Stange took him up on the offer and thanked council members for their comments.
“I know these ones where we’re split are tough,” he said. Everyone wants what’s best for the community, he said, and council members have been respectful of each other and of residents.
“This is a great group of people and we all have a lot of care towards this town,” he added.