by Ivan Foley and Alan McArthur
After nearly four hours of presentations, discussion and testimony, a controversial high-density housing development was voted down by the Platte County Planning and Zoning Commission Tuesday night.
The motion to approve a preliminary plat for the proposed project, known as The Lake at Tomahawke Ridge, was defeated by a 6-2 vote.
The developers immediately said they plan to appeal the decision to the Platte County Commission, which will have the right to uphold or overturn the planning board’s vote.
Tomahawke Ridge would consist of 655 homes on 320 acres at Hwy. 92 and Winan, about four miles east of Platte City. It would be constructed in 11 phases.
The outcome followed an extensive recommendation by the county’s planning and zoning staff to deny the application based on factors ranging from the fact the proposal is considered leap frog development, it doesn’t fit the goals and polices of the county’s land use plan which labels the neighborhood as a rural policy area, it does not conform to the requirements of the county’s subdivision regulations, and the development “will have a negative effect on the public,” presumably in the area of traffic safety.
It didn’t take long for the developers to announce their next move.
“We will proceed on. We’ll appeal. We are encouraged that we had some supporters in the audience and had two votes in favor on the board,” Chris Byrd, attorney for the developers, told The Landmark immediately after the meeting adjourned around 11 p.m.
Daniel Erickson, planning and zoning director for the county, said the development group, which is led by Tim Dougherty and Hal Swaney, will have 30 days to file an appeal with the county clerk. After that request for appeal is received by the clerk, the item will be placed on a subsequent county commission agenda.
“Obviously we’re disappointed. We have a lot of support for our development,” said Hal Swaney. “It’s very interesting that we meet all the requirements and are doing more than asked to make it a nice development and yet we were turned down. We’re obviously not through; we’ll continue to pursue this. Two commissioners thought it was a worthwhile project.”
Dean Krug and Bob Packett were the two zoning board members voting in favor of the proposal.
Members voting against were David Picco, Linda Cozad, Bernadette Youngblood, Dennis Stanton, Mike Schockey, and George Hoeffner.
The meeting was held before a packed house in the Platte County Administration Building. A standing room only crowd consisted of neighboring residents who are opposed to the development on one side of the room, while the other side of the room contained folks recruited for support by the developers. These included some real estate professionals and some people who make their living in building trades.
“I’m thrilled with the outcome,” said Kirby Holden, one of the lead opponents. “I don’t know how two people could vote for it when we have a denial recommendation from staff. I would have been happier if we’d had eight votes for denial. We will meet again at the county commission.”
After Erickson went through his detailed report outlining the staff’s opposition to the plan, Byrd took to the podium for the applicants.
“It’s gonna be an interesting night,” Byrd said as he began his presentation. “Platte County is in a transition phase.”
Byrd said homes in the development would range in price from $170,000 to $350,000. The development, he said would have 32% green space, though later that figure was questioned by officials who pointed out that ditches, gulleys and utility easements seemed to be included in the area the developer referred to as “green space.”
Erickson said anything that is not identified as a lot was counted as green space.
“We’ve complied with all specific regulations noted,” Byrd said, adding the developer would be agreeable to meeting 18 conditions lined out by zoning staff if the preliminary plat were to be approved.
Byrd emphasized the landowners already have the needed zoning in place to do the high density development.
“The land use plan is a guide to aid in rezoning. We are not rezoning so I would argue the land use plan is a tad bit irrelevant,” Byrd remarked.
Much discussion throughout the evening centered on traffic impact the development would have on Hwy. 92 and on nearby roads, most specifically N. Winan Road south of Hwy. 92. While the developer has agreed to add a turn lane at intersections required by MoDOT, the developer has not agreed to make improvements to N. Winan Road south of Hwy. 92, a narrow roadway with sight line issues. The road is the responsibility of the city of Kansas City, and Byrd later said if approved the developer would work with Kansas City to address line of sight issues. He did not commit to the developer being willing to improve the width and overall condition of the roadway itself.
In the staff report and in comments from opponents, the proposed development’s impact on Hwy. 92 was discussed in detail. According to the developer’s own traffic study, adding Tomahawke to the projected background growth will cause this segment of Hwy. 92 to exceed 7,500 vehicles per day, thus making the planned upgrade of this segment from two to three lanes insufficient.
“Based on the funding issue at MoDOT, it is reasonable to expect this segment of road will not be upgraded in the near future, thereby creating a situation that necessitates a four lane road only being served by a two lane road,” Erickson said in his report.
Later in a detailed presentation, Holden poked holes in the traffic study, questioning the methodology and collection times used to calculate the numbers. He claimed despite several revisions, the developers’ traffic count numbers are still understated.
It was pointed out by staff that the developer still has not submitted a traffic study that the county considers sufficient.
“We have not approved the traffic study,” said Nate Baldwin, county engineer. “It still has issues that need addressed.”
Another opponent, Dan Houlahan, gave a presentation from a group calling themselves Platte County Citizens for Sensible Land Use and Growth. He outlined what he said are “basic and common sense reasons for opposition.”
Houlahan was critical of the Tomahawke plan for its density, pointing out that at full build, two percent of the county’s total population would reside on those 300 acres of land. Further, he said, about 7.5% of the county’s unincorporated population would reside on the 300 acres of Tomahawke.
Swaney, who owns the majority of the property on the proposed site, took the floor late in the evening.
“Property rights do have some merit today. We’re trying to develop this to the benefit of many. These would be homes for people who can’t all buy 10 acres. We would be giving people the opportunity to buy affordable new homes,” Swaney said.
On the issue of property rights, board member Picco at one point noted that some land near the proposed site is zoned for planned industrial.
“You don’t want single family residential next to industrial,” Picco said.
“What if one year from now the planned industrial would come in to build next door, would you support it?” Picco asked Byrd.
“If they comply with the subdivision regulations they have the legal right to build,” said Byrd. “I may not be happy, but I don’t have the legal right to stop it.”
Rob Willard, attorney for the opponents, attacked recent public comments made by Byrd to the effect a preliminary plat could not be denied by the county if the developer has met a checklist of subdivision regulations.
Willard cited case law that upheld a county planning and zoning board’s right “to determine whether those regulations have been met.” He said several parts of county’s regulations in this instance have not been met.
“This board has the authority to deny the application. You are not a rubber stamp,” Willard remarked.
Mark Wittmeyer, a farmer who owns land directly adjacent to the proposed development, spoke in favor of the plan.
“Development must occur before long term improvements can be made” to Hwy. 92, Wittmeyer stated.