Decision comes as planned sale of site to developer nears close
BAYPORT — A developer’s preliminary plat for the third phase of the city’s Inspiration housing development was denied by the City Council Tuesday after residents and a planning commissioner said the proposal did not meet the development’s original 2004 plan.
The council heard almost five hours of discussion on developer D.R. Horton’s plans for the site before voting 3-2 to deny the preliminary plat request. Mayor Susan St. Ores and council members Connie Carlson and Patrick McGann voted to deny the request. Council members Michelle Hanson and Dan Goldston opposed the motion.
The vote denying Horton’s plat request came after a motion by Hanson to accept the preliminary plat with 21 conditions that included adding Inspiration homeowners to an architectural review committee and homeowners’ association died for lack of a second.
City officials told Inspiration residents at the meeting that Horton could still build on development lots under the final plat approved in 2004 despite Tuesday’s vote. And residents were also told they would have no input on the style or types of homes Horton or another developer could construct.
“Somebody could come in and build no questions asked,” said City Administrator Logan Martin. “They would operate under the existing planned unit development and plat.”
When approved by the city in 2004, Inspiration’s then-developer said the neighborhood would have houses with front porches and garages on alleys. Houses would have unique designs and no neighboring houses would be painted similar colors.
City Planning consultant Dan Licht of TPC said Horton’s preliminary plat and planned unit development request for Phase III in Inspiration called for reducing the number of lots to 109 from 116 and eliminate HOA-maintained alleys, but maintains green space, paved and unpaved trails and a traffic circle.
City Administrator Logan Martin said the council had a small window to act on Horton’s request because the developer has a purchase agreement for the site with current owner Bayport Main Street Holdings LLC that expires at the end of the month.
Licht noted that Horton’s request was tabled by the city Planning Commission in June, then approved in July by the commission with the 21 conditions.
City Attorney Andrew Pratt said the council had three options: approve the request with city staff conditions; approve with the Planning Commission conditions, or deny the request. He added that the council could not deny the request for “arbitrary or capricious” reasons.
Planning Commission Chairman Jason Obler urged the council to deny Horton’s request. He claimed the plan deviated from the development’s original PUD architectural requirements and city comprehensive plan and did not provide marketing studies.
“Why have an application if we’re not enforcing the original plan?” Obler said. “The city knew full well in 2004 it was dealing with a savvy developer and worked to protect itself.”
Obler’s stance confused some council members, since the Planning Commission voted to approve the preliminary plat.
“I’m disappointed with two Planning Commission meetings with no support,” St. Ores said. “I feel like it’s put the council in a difficult position.”
Horton representative Ron Mullenbach said the company’s proposed plan offers more efficient useof the existing lots.
“We feel good about the plan. We’ve received several positive comments about the plan,” he said.
But several Inspiration residents and former city officials criticized Horton’s proposal, saying it failed to maintain the vision of the neighborhood’s original developer.
“What’s been happening in Inspiration is not following the plan and it’s time to get it back on track,” said Jennifer Schneider, former Planning Commission leader when Inspiration’s original plat was approved. “I’m asking you not to approve this plan.”
Two other ex-city officials, John Novacek and Rick Schneider, also urged the council to reject Horton’s request.
“I would caution against tinkering around the margins,” Novacek said.
“This is a tough nut, no question. I also am opposed to this particular venture,” Schneider added.
Mullenbach said it Horton’s request is rejected, the company likely would construct homes in Inspiration under the existing PUD.
“We’re not in a position to sell off lots,” he said.
Mullenbach added that Horton officials wanted a council decision on it’s plat request for planning purposes.
“We prefer the benefit of a decision so we know what we’re dealing with,” he said.
St. Ores acknowledged that not everyone would be pleased with the council’s decision.
“We’re not going to make everyone happy,” she said. “We’re trying to remedy a situation that got away from us over the last eight years.”
Carlson and McGann both said they opposed Hanson’s motion approving Horton’s plat.
“I feel like there’s a lot of ifs,” Carlson said.
“I don’t feel confident enough that the motion as presented will satisfy residents,” McGann added.
But Hanson and Goldston both pointed out the Horton proposal offered Inspiration residents more input in subdivision development. Goldston also wondered how existing lots would be developed without the proposed conditions.
“If we deny, then what happens? Are you willing to take the chance,” he said. “You have 21 or 22 conditions. What do you want? Do you want a denial and see what happens?”
Although the council denied Horton’s plat request, St. Ores said her vote would be different if the company comes back to the council with another preliminary plat for Inspiration.
“They would have my 100 percent support,” she said.
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