RIPPON – A former chairman of the Jefferson County Planning Commission says the 2005 panel missed an easy solution that would have prevented the current crisis in the Ryan’s Glen subdivision, which is currently threatened with the possibility of multiple eminent domain seizures to make way for a bypass around Rippon on U.S. 340.
“In my view, the county Planning Commission completely dropped the ball on this in 2005,” said Maxey, who served as a commission member for two years and as chair in 2010. “I’m absolutely certain … that the Planning Commission could have required that Ryan’s Glen be moved out of the way of that highway.”
While Maxey does not dispute that the commission would have been legally unable to deny a subdivision request on the basis of a plan by the Division of Highways that had not been fully approved, he says the commission could have required that the subdivision be moved to a different location. This is because Ryan’s Glen was a so-called “clustered subdivision,” he explained.
“Under the zoning ordinance, if a property owner was in the agricultural zone back in 2005, that meant that they could have one home per 10 acres of ground. But, if they instead chose to cluster the 10 homes into a smaller space, they could get greater density,” Maxey said. “Ryan’s Glen was a clustered subdivision, meaning that (Lou) Athey, the property owner and developer, had 10 times the amount of property available to him as was used for that actual subdivision. The subdivision was placed right in the path of that highway, and the Planning Commission … had an obligation to consider the impact to the surrounding community, including the cost of placing a subdivision on a highway.”
That cost, Maxey explained, could come not only in the form of seized and demolished homes but also the “fair market value” payments DOH will have to make using taxpayer dollars to homeowners whose houses are seized.
The easy solution, explained Maxey, would have been for the Planning Commission to require Athey to move the subdivision around a quarter-mile to the east, which would have placed it out of the path of the highway.
“Nobody is saying that it should have been denied. It should have been moved,” he said. “The community impact statement should have been ‘accepted with conditions.’ It is a very common procedure. You say, ‘Yes, developer, we will accept the plan that you are proposing on the condition that you move your subdivision a quarter mile to the east, out of the route of the proposed highway.’ If they had done that, they would have been on very, very solid legal grounds,” Maxey said, adding that a 2002 Jefferson County Circuit Court decision involving the Huntfield subdivision established a clear precedent for such an action.
“The Planning Commission not only had the right, they had the obligation to protect the community from this waste. They failed in that obligation,” Maxey said, adding that the commission was hampered because they were “not provided with the information that they should have been provided by the Planning Department. It was staff’s responsibility to provide that information in the staff report.”
“This is going to cost state taxpayers millions of dollars that could have been avoided,” Maxey said.