| By Billy Davis
A polite but passionate discussion among members of the county land commission cruised along for more than an hour Monday evening, concluding with a vote to turn down two variances for a proposed subdivision.
The land commission debated the pros and cons of a proposed high-density subdivision sought by developer Ted Stewart, who had requested two variances: minimum lot sizes of 8,000 square feet instead of 12,000, and a front yard setback of 25 feet for homes instead of the county’s minimum of 35 feet.
Stewart is cooperating with the federal government to build a multi-phase development that pairs low- and moderate-income applicants with their own homes. The property is located in a pecan grove that is located both inside and outside the city limits of northwest Batesville, where the city’s Patton Lane turns into Hadorn Road.
The commission’s vote Monday involved phase one of the development, which includes 20 total lots located just west of the city limits.
If the 8,000-square-foot requirement is allowed, the finished development on both sides of the city limits should include "at most" 90 homes, Stewart told commission members Monday.
The homes located in the county will number about 55, he said.
For an hour and 25 minutes, commission members wrestled with the variance requests and several other factors, including the lack of police protection just beyond the city limits, the density of nearly 100 homes, and likely traffic congestion along Patton Lane/Hadorn Road.
Regarding traffic concerns, commission members noted that the proposed development includes two main streets despite the large number of homes, and both streets connect to a single thoroughfare, Patton Lane and Hadorn Road.
"I drove around and looked at homes being built by Druetto and by Reeves Williams, and they’re all
R-2s, but my concern is the traffic funneling into a narrow corridor," commission member Bob Haltom told Stewart.
Responding to that concern, Stewart said he expected the county and city will address the traffic problems in the future if the development is allowed.
Pressed by commission member Donna Traywick about what specifically the county and city can do to help traffic, Stewart said a troublesome tree needs to be cut down.
"I’ve been trying to get that tree cut down since ’99," Stewart said, though he didn’t explain how cutting down the tree would help traffic flow.
The commission also acknowledged Stewart’s financial commitment to the project, namely that if the commission refused the 8,000-square-foot variance for the lot sizes, the number of lots Stewart hoped to sell would shrink roughly by one-third.
Civil engineer Byron Houston, who is working for Stewart, told commission members that plans for curbs and gutters, for example, would be tossed out if the lot sizes stay at 12,000 square feet.
"The curb and gutter runs up the cost," Houston said. "That’s why you see the density being proposed."
Houston said the minimum lot size in Batesville is 7,200 square feet in residential areas zoned R-2.
In the county, however, there is no provision in current planning and development ordinances for high-density subdivisions, leaving commission members to compare Stewart’s plans with the county’s R-1 designation for low-density developments.
As commission members mulled a decision, commission consultant Bob Barber and commission attorney Colmon Mitchell described the importance of a vote to allow the smaller lot sizes, suggesting that it would set a precedent for future subdivision developments in the county.
"If you do agree with the variance, you must explain it with justifications or you will hear, ‘You did it for him, do it for me,’ down the road," Mitchell said.
Barber had prepared a list of five scenarios for "determining justification," such as other developments that have received the lot size variance or allowance of the variance would improve the ordinances already in place.
As commission members read and re-read Barber’s list, and the meeting slipped nearly to the hour and a half mark, member Sledge Taylor made a motion to reject the pair of variance requests.
"I don’t see any conditions here that we can meet," said Taylor, explaining his reason for making a board motion.
Commission member Lana Douglas seconded the motion. Voting for Taylor’s motion were Danny Walker, Donna Traywick, Taylor and Douglas. Voting against the motion were Tim Holiday and Verna Hunter. Haltom and Danny Jones abstained.