Council sends subdivision back to drawing board

By Mo Moore

As Exeter City Planner Greg Collins gave an overview of &#8220the Grove” project at the April 24 City Council meeting, the tension seemed to mount for council members who interjected concerns throughout his presentation.

The proposed 68.75-acre development located west of Belmont Street and south of Visalia Road would include a 242-lot residential subdivision and a 3.6-acre park. The project proposed by Contour Development would be developed in five phrases: Phase I, 81 units; Phase II, 44 units; Phase III, 39 units; Phase IV, 52 units and Phase V that would include 31 units.

The Grove was approved by the Exeter Planning Commission as part of the city's Southwest Specific Plan. After numerous public hearings and taking testimony for and against the applications the Planning Commission recommended the city approve the project across the board. But at the city council meeting the project seemed to collapse under the weight of the concerns it evoked.

It was issues like the housing market, traffic, lot size, phasing time, width of streets and energy conservation that raised red flags among council members. The decision to consider multiple resolutions that would inevitably expand Exeter's Urban Development Growth line and usher in an ample amount of growth to the city wasn't being taken lightly by anyone present.

One by one, city council members addressed their concerns. Mayor Pro-tem Jon Stearns cited Belmont's present traffic congestion that would only increase when development begins. Councilmen Jack Allwardt noted the empty lots in developments like Willow Glen, Rocky Hill Haciendas and Park Place that still exist.

&#8220We're looking at 80 plus empty lots that are still buildable. I'm not willing to open up a new division until we fill up what already exists. We need to finish what we started first,” Allwardt said.

For others it was just the mere size of the project that became alarming.

&#8220It's way too large of a project. All of a sudden this seems to be going totally away from what Exeter is,” said Mayor Ted Macaulay. &#8220Looking at the subdivision map the average house is on a sixth of an acre. We're cramming 10 pounds of coffee in a five pound coffee can.”

Contour Development began working with Greg Collins on the Southwest Plan in 2004. It was recommended by a citizens committee that had been meeting once a month and preparing the document for review by the commission. The Southwest Plan instantly became controversial due to area residents' anxieties about urban sprawl, water issues and the area's quality of life. It outlines growth policies that would lead to the development of about 1,300 homes on 320 acres located on the southwest side of Exeter over 20 years.

In order to begin &#8220the Grove” project, Contour Development requested a zoning ordinance amendment, a conditional use permit for a planned unit development, a submitted tentative subdivision map and land annexation that must be approved by the council.

&#8220We're here to try to figure out the best plan for the property. We're happy to redesign whatever the council wants,” said Representative for Contour Development David Storer in response to the questions and concerns. &#8220We know the housing market has tanked, but the phasing of the development is key to make sure that the development doesn't grow too fast.”

The council voted to address the issues concerning the annexation and phase lines at the next meeting and appointed Ooley and Macaulay to act as sub-committee members who will work with Contour Development to resolve the remaining issues before the next hearing. The public hearing will be held at the next City Council meeting at 7 p.m. May 8 at City Hall. For more information call 592-9244.

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