The Churchill County Planning Commission met on Wednesday, April 14th, and approved a zone change application made by Kim McCreary related to a proposed housing development on Birch Lane. Despite much opposition from residents neighboring the area, the application narrowly passed with a four-to-three vote.
The proposed development area is located on the south side of Birch Lane and extends west of Allen Road and totals 59.92 acres in an E-1 zoning district (Assessor’s Parcel Numbers 008- 831-02, 008-831-19 & 008-831-77). E-1 is a zoning designation referring to First Estate District, allowing for one house per 1-acre parcel with septic & well; if community well or wastewater facility, one house per ½-acre parcel; Planned Unit Developments (PUD) are allowed. R-1 zoning is a Single-Family Residential District, with one house per 7,000-square foot parcel; PUDs are allowed, and small lot sizes are contingent on connecting to sewer and/or water systems.
McCreary applied for the zone to be changed from an E-1 classification to an R-1 to facilitate a future PUD, which would allow the construction of single-family residential homes, workforce, or multi-family/apartment residential homes, or some combination thereof. According to the application, the PUD would also preserve open space and allow for community-type improvements such as parks, walking trails, and other open-space reserves.
The property was previously the location for the proposed development, Willow Park, with 190 homes planned. That project received the concept and permit approval, as well as a Subdivision Tentative Map. However, the Improvement Plans and a Subdivision Final Map were not approved, with over 100 neighbors opposed at the time.
Several neighbors addressed the Board during public comments and expressed concerns over increased traffic, over-development, environmental impacts, over-taxing of the sewer and water systems, and non-conformance with the County’s 2020 Master Plan.
Opposing neighbors expressed concern that there may be a detrimental impact to the area due to anticipated increased traffic on and off Allen Road as the traffic on Birch Rd is already overbearing. Increased traffic will come with higher-density housing and could add another 300 cars to the neighborhood, making it “overly busy.”
Steve Moon, with Lumos & Associates, engineers speaking and on behalf of McCreary, addressed most of the concerns raised. He reported that road improvements are currently under consideration to improve safety, and traffic flow through the neighborhoods and would need to be evaluated. He also stated that they may consider adding speed humps to slow traffic to 20 mph and other options to lessen traffic impacts.
Water and Sewer Capacity Concerns:
McCreary is planning to connect to County water and sewer services. His application stated that water infrastructure is available on Birch Lane. The sewer infrastructure is located approximately 150 feet to the north, and there is adequate infrastructure to support the proposed change in land use.
Concerns over water and sewer were also addressed during public comments as neighbors appeared unconvinced that the sewer and water systems would be able to support the new development. One nearby resident stated they have lived across the street from the property since 1997 and lived with sewer stench since moving there.
Moon attributed the sewer smells to an old treatment plant that is now closed. Moon said, “Sewer capacity should be fine, but if capacity is determined to be undersized, the developer would have to upgrade or expand it."
One neighbor, whose property borders the proposed project area, expressed concern about the drainage ditch and the shallow wells in the area. He pointed out that the drainage ditch recharges his well, and he would be negatively impacted if the ditch is eliminated. Another nearby resident who owns the 20-acre parcel just south of the proposed development stated, the drainage ditch is there for irrigation purposes and needs to stay there for his use. Moon explained that they would have to look into the drainage ditch issues and may have to deal with the Bureau of Reclamation but there are no plans to touch the ditch so irrigation should flow as it does today.
Other residents raised concern over the value of neighboring properties from the perspective that the smaller the proposed housing parcels would drive down the value of larger homes and properties in the area. Additionally, some residents stated that they were worried that a multi-family home/apartment development would negatively impact the area and overtax emergency services.
Bruce Breslow, an Independent Contractor for Churchill Fallon Economic Development, stated that a traffic study should be done to determine the potential for road and traffic controls at the intersections. He also believes that the development should increase the surrounding property values. Further, said Breslow, “There is a dire need for all types of housing in town, but development must be done responsibly,” and noted the high cost of rentals in Fallon, with residents paying $1,400 - $1,600 even for older homes. Chris Spross, public works director said, “The current water and sewer systems can handle the new demands.”
Moon stated that the application was only for a zone change, and a secondary application for the PUD would come later if the zone change is approved. McCreary and Moon told the Board that it would be more economical to develop the parcels with R-1 zoning than with the current E-1 zoning and allow for higher density construction to meet the existing housing demand. “More housing - up to 300 units to meet perceived housing demands.” Further, they explained that more open space may be allocated within the PUD, depending on what product is built. Twelve acres could be used for buffering apartment residences and zero-lot-line single-family homes.
According to Moon, PUDs generally require about 20 percent open space and this development has plans for 300 to 400 units. Although industrial uses are also permitted in an R-1 zoning district, Moon stated there were no industrial uses planned at this time. However, they may decide to provide a commercial use storage facility in the PUD for storing RVs and fifth wheels to avoid having those vehicles parked on the streets.
“What are the chances that the property will be sold, and the next developer doesn’t meet the conditions set today?” asked one planning commissioner. McCreary replied, “The property is designated for multi-family homes and apartments will be sold for development at a later time, but only after the PUD is approved by the County. The new developer would have to meet all conditions set by the County.”
Despite reassurances given by Moon and McCreary, neighbors still appear to be opposed to the proposed housing development. On April 20, Amanda Hammond posted on Facebook's Fallon 411 that she created a Facebook group for "those affected by the potential zoning change on the Birch Lane property." Within less than 24 hours, 72 users joined the group.
Planning commissioners will address any further applications related to the project during their next meeting on May 6 at 8:15 a.m. All public comments regarding the PUD are included in the record.