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Corinth grants developer ordinance variance

Profile image for By John D. Harden
By John D. Harden

CORINTH — The City Council granted a housing developer an ordinance variance Thursday night despite widespread opposition from residents, who said the developer’s vision doesn’t fall in line with the city’s master plan.

The variance gives the developer leeway to replace fewer than 50 percent of the trees to be removed to grade and develop land for 42 new homes in the Larkspur neighborhood.

The issue was discussed for more than three hours.

The first phase of the Larkspur development was completed more than 10 years ago, but the second phase was postponed after a previous developer suffered financial difficulties that prevented it from getting off the ground, officials and residents said.

The residents, who live in phase one of the neighborhood, said they aren’t against new development, but they feel that the council should stick to city ordinances, fight to save more of the city’s trees and preserve the area’s natural topography.

Many said they felt that the project could be done without flattening the land and removing many of the area’s older trees. More than 30 people from the Larkspur neighborhood attended the meeting in an attempt to persuade the City Council to listen to residents.

Tom Juhn, with JBI Partners, told council members that the tree removal is necessary, but under current city ordinances, he said the development would be impossible to develop. Instead of replacing 50 percent of the trees, Juhn asked for approval to replace only 36 percent.

The only people supporting the project who were present at Thursday night’s meeting were council members and development company representatives.

“They elected to listen to total strangers who don’t even live here. All we want is to have phase two to be better than phase one,” said Larkspur resident Kristie Nader. “Now, the developer got what they wanted, and guess what, the residents have to live with it. Not the council.”

Former council member Bruce Hanson spoke on behalf of the Larkspur residents and stated that ordinance variances should be granted only when minimal changes are needed to ensure that a project can be completed.

Hanson, who doesn’t live in Larkspur, said the proposed ordinance variance shouldn’t be granted because he would “hate to see something of lower quality developed in the area.”

Council member Lowell Johnson said the city regularly grants ordinance variances to developers and homeowners. He said denying a variance could create a precedent that could hurt the city.

“The [ordinances] are a road map and sometimes they can change,” he said.

Attendees scoffed at Johnson’s comment, and one person shouted, “Why does the city even have ordinances if you can change them at any time?”

Other council members said they listened to the residents’ concerns and that they tried to find a middle ground.

But attendees said they felt like they got nothing in return.

Mayor Paul Ruggiere said that although the residents didn’t get everything they wanted, he felt the council and developer made enough changes to make both sides content with the project.

During the meeting, the council voted for the variance but added that the developer must add a specified 262 caliper inches of trees by either saving existing trees or planting more trees.

Council member Randy Gibbons said amendments give the city more enforcement power to ensure that the developer saves as many trees as possible.

In previous meetings, the developer’s plans also met with opposition, and the variance request was denied in a June planning and zoning meeting.

However, things changed when the request went before the council in mid-August. The council directed staff to facilitate a meeting between the residents and the developer to find a reasonable resolution to the concerns.

Changes were made, and the Planning and Zoning Commission approved the developer’s proposal, to the dismay of the Larkspur residents, who said the developer did not meet any of their requests.

Since then, Juhn said he’s tried to resolve some of the residents’ concerns. He told council members that many of the trees on the outer rim of the development would stay intact, and he also told council members that he would replant trees that were a little larger in diameter than previously proposed.

However, Juhn said he couldn’t guarantee that he could follow through, but he would “try [his] best to make sure.”

Council members said they believe the development will benefit Corinth because it means more growth and additional revenue.

Juhn estimated that the development has the potential to bring in about $13 million in taxable income to the city, and many residents said that was the determining factor.

“They didn’t listen to us at all,” Larkspur resident Caroline King said. “I think the council was persuaded by the dollar signs. I know they have to look out for the city, but it could have been done differently.”

Residents also told council members that the development would have a negative effect on property values and they felt that the houses would not sell in a neighborhood that had small trees and a generic look.

Nader, who helped lead the neighborhood’s effort to oppose the project, said she and others have lost respect for the City Council, but she added that she doesn’t feel helpless.

“We voted them all in, and we can vote them out,” she said. “We were able to get a whole neighborhood behind a cause in a few weeks. What do you think we can do with even more time?”

JOHN D. HARDEN can be reached at 940-566-6882 and via Twitter at @JDHarden.