Volume 105, Number 6 - February 7, 2008
brought to you online by Pinedale Online
‘Workshop’ sets up new BloomField showdown
Although the Pinedale Planning and Zoning Board’s informal workshop on the BloomField Subdivision on Monday night began as a tirade against the subdivision, an hour and a half of blowing off steam finally settled into civilized discussion between the board, BloomField developer Matt Harber, and members of the community.
The meeting was held only a week before the Town Council’s slated third reading of the ordinance to annex the subdivision, tabled from last week’s meeting.
At the very least, Harber seemed to put some minds at ease about the potential impacts of the 926-unit development, which would span 240 acres just north of town.
The board decided to hold the workshop during its regularly scheduled meeting time because there were no other agenda items this week. Because the board members failed to announce their decision to the Town Hall in advance, P&Z Administrator Meghan Jacquet couldn’t announce it officially, restricting the community workshop to only the members of the community who heard of it through the Planning and Zoning board.
Jacquet had originally intended to lock the Town Hall doors Monday night after seeing there were no agenda items, which Planning and Zoning Chairman Paul Rock interpreted as a plot to prevent the board from repeating criticism it voiced against the subdivision at last week’s Town Council meeting.
“It was an unwarranted and shameful attempt to stifle public discussion of this BloomField Subdivision,” Rock said at the workshop.
Jacquet pointed out that according to the town’s historic records, which she confirmed with Town Attorney Ed Wood, any Planning and Zoning Board meeting without an agenda is automatically cancelled.
“It’s not something I made up last minute,” Jacquet said. “If you wanted to hold a workshop, you should have given me a detailed description and we would have put it in the paper.”
The workshop began with Rock and Planning and Zoning member John Fogerty airing the same complaints they had spoken of at the Town Council meeting.
The board’s principal concern, Rock said, was that Harber has proposed the subdivision with residential and commercial zones already in place, which Rock said would allow Harber to build “whatever he wanted,” so long as his preliminary plats fit town building regulations.
“(The pre-zoned proposal) is in no way what came before us at Planning and Zoning in October,” Rock said, referring to the Planning and Zoning meeting where the board recommended that the Town Council approve the BloomField Annexation Petition.
“It was not mentioned at the first or second readings of the Town Council on the annexation. It only came up for the board in an email from Ed Wood on the 24th, and we went to the meeting on the 28th to say ‘what’s going here?’ We were accused of ‘11th-houring,’ but we did that because this issue came up at the 11th hour.”
He also criticized Wood for presenting the Annexation Agreement, describing the annexation, shortly before the third reading.
Rock found the document didn’t mention details like revoking the mobile home park if the park “goes to hell and somehow becomes a Methamphetamine Acres,” he said.
Jacquet informed Rock that though local law enforcement could arrest drug-producing residents, revoking the zoning as a punishment was illegal.
The Annexation Agreement, she continued, holds no new information and was intended simply to emphasize the points already addressed in the annexation ordinances, so its late arrival wasn’t pivotal to the reading.
As for the pre-zoning, Jacquet said, proposing property with already prepared zones is a basic requirement of any annexation. When the town annexes a piece of property, the land is automatically stripped of its county zoning and must be given new town zoning before the Town Council can approve it. The board should have been well aware that the zoning it viewed on the BloomField Subdivision’s preliminary plat was how the property would be incorporated into the town, Jacquet said.
“Paul, I believe you’ve been on this board for more than six years, you’ve had the opportunity to go through several annexations, and all of those had a master plan prezoned,” she said. “It’s not a new concept, and that should’ve been made aware in the ordinance books that you have sitting around the board and that you should probably re-read.”
Fogerty isn’t against the development, he said, but he would prefer to see the land annexed with agricultural zoning, so every separate residential or commercial district would be proposed one at a time as it appeared to be needed.
When Harber asked if he could address board members’ concerns, Rock told him not to waste time discussing the need for affordable housing, as there were enough issues to address already and the Planning and Zoning Board had been trying to deal with housing issues for years.
“So how much time do I have, since we’re kind of short on it and we don’t really want to hear from me?” Harber asked.
“Well, you go ahead, we’ll see how it goes,” Rock said. “We’re not prepared for some 20-minute dissertation.”
“You mean like the one I requested in the e-mail responding to your invitation to come here tonight?” Harber said, adding that so far the meeting appeared to be a “press release for the complaints” of the board members.
But he did respond to the board’s request to annex the property as agricultural land, which Harber said would result in spot zoning and limit the town’s ability to plan infrastructure. “I’ll tell you, if we do this the way you guys are suggesting, this annexation proposal would be eliminated,” Harber said.
“There’s no way that we as a developer can get investors involved, get banks to lend us the money needed for development, get other developers and builders interested in coming out here to do anything — there’s no way those things will happen if we say, ‘well, it’s all agricultural land at the moment, but we’re pretty sure the Planning and Zoning Commission is going to be in a good mood this week, and we can get some apartments pushed through.'"
He pointed out again that even with the property pre-zoned, the Planning and Zoning Board and the Town Council have to recommend approval to the Town Council on every detail of the development’s preliminary plats.
Harber also assured that studies show that 10 years from now after the Jonah Field “peters out,” a housing need will still exist for the hundred of permanent production employees and their families.
He also said the Planning and Zoning Board needs to have more faith in the appeal of Pinedale.
“What is really pushing the growth right now is the gas fields, but most of the people moving here aren’t gas related, they think Pinedale is a great place to live,” he said. “If we can create an actual economy past the gas boom and get people to keep moving here, it’ll keep that growth chugging along.”
“But not everyone wants that,” interrupted local Talli Manning.
“I understand that, but those are the realities,” Harber said. “What’s a sad thing for the old timers is that the secret’s out — everyone knows where Pinedale is now. You may not want people to move here, but the reality is people want to move here now because they realize this is what they’ve been looking for all their lives.”
“But we don’t have to accommodate them,” Manning replied.
One woman worried that the subdivision would attract large commercial districts that would draw customers away from downtown Pinedale.
Harber responded that downtown Pinedale is hardly flourishing, however, with most commercial space on Pine Street occupied by real estate agents and law offices that have nowhere else to set up shop.
The commercial zones in BloomField will give the real estate brokers a more appropriate place to operate, he said, leaving Pine Street open to shops and restaurants that could transform downtown into a hub of recreation.
Local Barbara Pfaff liked that idea, she said.
“We used to have tons of businesses in town 18 or 20 years ago — there were gift shops, multiple clothing stores, bookstores, and two grocery stores, a big one and a little one,” Pfaff said.
Now all that remains are empty lots, she added, as the business owners couldn’t afford rent increases, or lost all their employees to gas companies, once the energy boom hit. “What I want to know is how do we get all those businesses back?”
The BloomField annexation is only the first of many steps to come, Harber said, and the town will continue to discuss how the development can benefit everyone affected.
“It would’ve been good to have this type of meeting a lot earlier on,” Harber said. “But then again, there’s a lot more to this, too. This isn’t the end of it at all, it’s the very beginning. (The subdivision) is going to continue going through all the processes, and hopefully people will continue to show up.”
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