Residents apprehensive of future impacts
Blaine city manager Gary Tomsic had to coax testimony out of a reluctant group of east Blaine residents and property owners attending a public hearing on changes to the east Blaine annexation agreement that would smooth the way for development in their now mostly-forested area.
“If you have questions that need to be answered, we really want to know,” Tomsic prodded at the February 28 city council meeting, after silence greeted mayor John Liebert’s request for input from the two dozen people attending the hearing.
A third of the audience was staff members and consultants with the two development companies proposing large subdivisions in east Blaine. Blossom Development bought 450 acres between H Street and the border, roughly between Harvey and Valleyview roads. They are proposing 600 to 700 homesites in a planned unit development to include 150-200 acres of open space, but they want changes to the developers agreement included with the 1996 annexation before they proceed. To the west, Connelly Company has submitted an application to the city for a 353-unit development on 90 acres, mostly single-family homesites mixed with some smaller cottage-style neighborhoods.
The remaining two-thirds of the audience were property owners and residents of east Blaine and when they did start talking many brought up concerns expressed during the 1992 hearings preceding the original annexation that led to the agreement developers now want changed: the cost to homeowners for connecting to city utilities as development brings them to the area, impact of development on the city’s watershed just south of the proposed developments, traffic, improvements to existing roads. “These developments look nice but when the other shoe drops who’s going to pay for all of this,” said H Street resident Mike Kelly, asking if current residents would have to pay for sewer extensions, water extensions as the utilities were extended past their properties, on top of higher taxes for road improvements and other burdens of a population boom, such as more children in the schools. “This will be almost an additional 1,000 new units in Blaine,” said Diane Palmason.
City attorney Jon Sitkin said looking at impacts on roads, schools, public safety and other city services, and steps to mitigate those impacts, would be part of the normal review process for the development proposal, not the changes to the annexation agreement now being considered.
Tomsic stressed to audience members that changing the agreement didn’t let the developers off the hook but eliminated duplication from other city rules put in place since the 1996 annexation. “Most of the things would be covered by the normal development process,” he said, “We’re not giving up anything and they’re not getting away with anything.”
Tomsic said the developer would be responsible for putting in appropriately-sized water and sewer mains, but would not be required to pay for hooking up other properties. “The utilities to serve the area will be paid for by the people who use them. That’s as it should be,” he said. However, the city had ways to mitigate the impact of hookup fees for homeowners the sewer passed by. “We’ve come up with some mechanisms that do not force people to immediately hook on,” he said. “Our intent is not to burden you.”
Mayor John Liebert also reassured audience members concerned about the development’s impact on the quality of the city’s water supply. “That is the main concern we’ll have through all of this,” he said
Sitkin said the city staff was ready to accept most of the changes Blossom is proposing to the developers’ agreement, presenting two draft ordinances that would eliminate conditions from the annexation agreement and change the developer agreement.
However, the city would address some residents’ concerns by new provisions for a subarea plan to address land use, transportation and utilities in the entire east Blaine area. “City planning staff has wanted to see a subarea planning process for the whole area,” Sitkin said. “If there’s a future condition it’s that there be a future subarea process to go forward.”
Blossom attorney Philip Serka said they had not had time to review the proposed new agreement in enough detail but that, “at first blush I’m a little concerned there are conditions in here where when we’re done there’s not a clear message we can go forward,” he said.
Serka said he felt the planning needed to move through the planned unit development permitting was all his company should be required to do, and that responsibility for an area plan was going too far. “It is zoned residential and it is assumed we could go forward without having another master planning process,” he said. Serka also wanted separate developer agreements for Blossom and Connelly, which city staff supported.
Blossom might not want a subarea plan as a condition of development but owner Ken Hertz said he and Connelly had met and committed themselves to “proportionately share in the cost of the master plan for east Blaine.”
Hertz also said during the year he expects it will take for planning and approval of the development he has employed 17 consultants so that at future hearings and meetings he will have answers to questions about the projects impact on wetlands, aquifer recharge, traffic patterns, wildlife and other areas of concern.
“The budgets are going to be substantial so when the questions come up we’re going to be able to answer them the best we can,” he said, adding public meetings would be a hallmark of the planning and design of the project. “We’re not here to hit and run, we’re here to put together a project we can all be proud of,” he said. “It’s going to take give-and-take on the part of the city, us, and other parties but hopefully we can get rid of this cumbersome arrangement we have with the annexation agreement.”
Tomsic said some of the orphans of the changes to the 1996 annexation agreement would be dealt with separately by the city, such as the dilapidated roads in the Jerome Avenue area. The agreement compels east Blaine developers to help get the roads into city ownership, and therefore under city maintenance – a condition that was never met and that Hertz maintains is not feasible. “Here we are today with the same kinds of problems,” Tomsic said, proposing neighborhood meetings to get a solution rolling. “We need to get you folks together who are affected and address the issue head on.” City council agreed to keep the record open for another public hearing March 14 and to accept any written comment on the changes to the annexation agreement and developers’ agreement.
“I want to make sure as a group you don’t feel shortchanged,” Liebert said. “There will be future meetings. There’s no way we’re trying to keep the public out of this process.”