Two major development proposals in the Stevensville area have been slowed for now—one voluntarily and one due to action by the Ravalli County Commissioners.
The Brooks Creek Acres subdivision proposal, planned for 337 homes on more than 260 acres just north of the Stevensville Wye on both sides of Highway 93, has been pulled by its developers, Questa Resources, Inc., until major groundwater problems can be addressed. The proposal will be resubmitted at some unspecified time in the future, but the first phase of development may move across Highway 93 to the west, according to Ravalli County sanitarian Jake Kammerer, who is serving as temporary planning director.
Meanwhile, the Overlook Trail Estates subdivision—41 lots planned on 85 acres on the Eastside Highway north of Stevensville—also ran into a problem with groundwater concerns at its preliminary hearing. Part of the large development had been proposed as a smaller subdivision a year ago, and test holes on a number of the lots had failed the groundwater monitoring requirements.
In the past, a developer’s proposal for lot numbers and sizes was considered prior to groundwater testing. If some lots were found unsuitable for septic systems, the numbers of lots were reduced without returning the project for additional review. The septic issues were left to the state Department of Environmental Quality.
But, citing public health and safety concerns, Kammerer is now adamant that groundwater testing be done as part of the initial application process and that lots be approved based on each lot’s ability to support a septic system.
Speaking for the developers, Terry Nelson of Applebury Survey asked for a waiver of such initial testing, saying it would be prohibitively costly to conduct such tests on all 41 proposed lots. The commissioners, who now serve as the county planning board, did not grant a waiver.
A number of other concerns must be addressed before a public hearing is held on the proposal next month. The Three Mile Rural Fire Department has asked the developer for a $500-per-lot contribution to the department. The Stevensville School District is concerned about a potential 65 new students in the schools. The Lee Metcalf Wildlife Refuge is downstream from the development, and refuge manager Pat Gonzales is concerned about groundwater pollution from having 41 new residences in the area. More significantly, the subdivision occupies a major migration corridor of deer leaving and returning to the refuge each day. Narrowing the area where deer cross the Eastside Highway will increase the chances for more deer/vehicle collisions on a stretch of road already identified as one of the county’s worst for such accidents, Gonzales says.