Following an executive session Monday night, the Bellevue City Council passed a motion to accept a settlement with Strahorn Partners, agreeing that a large-block plat delineating how land in the Strahorn development would be subdivided is in fact valid, avoiding further litigation and a jury trial scheduled for November.
Strahorn Partners wants to develop 47 homesites in Slaughterhouse Canyon, on the northeast side of the city. Developer Jeff Pfaeffle has been eager to break ground since last summer, when construction plans were stalled by an appeal filed by a group of Bellevue citizens of the Planning and Zoning Commission’s approval of a conditional-use permit. Following the appeals process, the permit was reapproved by the P&Z, and the next step was to be a City Council public hearing to approve a planned-unit development application and the preliminary large-block plat on Jan. 29. That public comment meeting was derailed after the council went into executive session and returned with the conclusion that the large-block plat was void because it had not been recorded with the Blaine County Recorder’s Office within the required 12 months after it was submitted as part of an annexation agreement in 2013.
That decision led the developer to file a complaint in Blaine County 5th District Court on April 8 seeking a declaratory judgment confirming the validity of the large-block plat. At a scheduling conference on June 3, Bellevue’s city attorney, Rick Allington, and the developer’s attorney, Jim Laski, told District Judge Ned Williamson that the case was going into mediation and they hoped a resolution would be found before the jury trial, which was scheduled for Nov. 6-8.
At Monday’s meeting, Allington said he, Bellevue City Administrator Jim Spinelli, Pfaeffle and Laski met for an hour-and-a-half mediation session led by 5th District Magistrate Judge Mark Ingram and had come to a settlement agreement that would reverse the City Council’s decision on Jan. 29 to declare the large-block plat void and allow the development process to move forward.
Following a 40-minute executive session, council members returned and unanimously voted to accept the agreement between the city and the developer. City Development Director Diane Shay said the next step would be ratification of the amended annexation agreement, followed by public hearings for the preliminary plat of phase one of the development and the planned-unit development application.
The City Council on Monday night completed the second reading of an ordinance ratifying the first amendment to the Strahorn Annexation Agreement—rectifying a clerical error that was overlooked in 2014 when the agreement was passed by the council but never ratified. Council members voted to read the ordinance by title only and to continue to a third reading at a special meeting on July 30, at which point a vote on whether to pass the ordinance will occur.
Councilman Greg Cappel ar-gued against waiving the third reading and taking a vote Monday, saying there was additional information that he had requested but had not received regarding the details of an annexation fee analysis done by planning consultant Richard Caplan in 2014. Cappel argued that the dozen or so members in the audience were clearly not at peace with the decisions being made by their elected officials and that he wanted to ensure that the process was being done correctly.
Specifically, Cappel said he wanted to verify claims by citizens that the Caplan study did not factor in all the city’s assets when it came to a conclusion that the original annexation fees for the Strahorn development were excessive and needed to be reduced. Shay said she and Spinelli had a phone call with Caplan last week and that he confirmed with them that the analysis done in 2014 did not include any assets associated with water and sewer in the audit, because they are “billed separately and are a pay as you go through city operations,” according to Caplan at a City Council meeting on May 19, 2014. Cappel said he wants to know if that is common practice to exclude water and sewer in these types of studies, and if not, why they were excluded.
Audience members were disgruntled after Mayor Ned Burns said at the beginning of Monday’s meeting that he would not be accepting public comment on either of the Strahorn agenda items. During executive session, Bellevue resident Gina Pearson spoke with a reporter of the Idaho Mountain Express explaining that she had done a public survey on people’s opinion of the proposed Strahorn development. Of 86 people surveyed, Pearson said, all said they believe the citizens should not pay for the improvements that would be required as a result of this development.
The amended annexation agreement waived $3.5 million in fees that would have included improvements to road infrastructure, sidewalk and bike path connectivity and more.