Some three years after controversial development of the Marr Ranch property was last on the agenda of the Wallowa County Planning Commission, a dramatically paired down proposal has been submitted to the county planning office.
A public hearing on the new plan for an 11-lot subdivision will be heard by the commission at its Oct. 28 meeting.
A preliminary plat application for the Marr Ranch Subdivision was filed by K & B Limited Family Partnership, with Paula Krieger signing as agent. The 11 lots in the 58.5 acre subdivision range in size from five to 6.7 acres. The property is located just south of Joseph in its urban growth boundary and north of the Nez Perce National Historical Park's Chief Joseph monument site at the foot of Wallowa Lake.
The property has been subject to a wide range of development proposals in the last 25 years. These include a resort hotel/condominium unit in 1977, a minor partition in 1990, and the proposed 69-lot Elk Trout subdivision in 1991. All of the plans went through a variety of planning hoops, but were not pursued to the development stage.
The most recent plan in 2000, also involving the Kriegers, was for a 111-unit condominium complex. The county planning commission recommended that they apply to have the property annexed by the City of Joseph, which would then have more say over any development. After considerable debate the city council voted 4-3 against annexation in February, 2001, in the face of considerable public testimony opposed to the annexation and proposed use. The proposal was still on the county's table, but Steve Krieger withdrew the application in April, 2001.
Objections to the last subdivision plans included their effect on the effect of the dense development on the quality of life and on possible Nez Perce cultural resources on the site.
Last year the U.S. National Parks Service had the Marr Ranch property appraised and made an offer for the property to add it to the Nez Perce park, but that offer was rejected by the landowner. "That was the end of that. There are no current negotiations underway," said Tim Nitz, manager of the county's park sites who also happens to be a member of the Wallowa County Planning Commission. He said that he is preparing the park's response to the subdivision plan and would not take part in consideration of the plat during the commission's upcoming hearing.
The current proposal would provide water by well and sewer services by septic tank, though County Planning Director Bill Oliver pointed out that its proximity to the Wallowa Lake County Service District sewer line, which runs through the property, might be more convenient.
"This would appear to be much more acceptable to people concerned about intensive development of the property," said Oliver. "However, from a strict land use point of view, if it is in Joseph's urban growth area, why limit the development to only 11 lots?"
Oliver said that in similar land use cases elsewhere, a developer might propose a less dense subdivision, but include a "shadow plat" that would show how it might be developed in the future.
In this case, however, the lots and roads on the plat are configured in such a way to virtually preclude further division, Oliver pointed out.
"It raises the question, 'are we intending to restrict development to 11 residential sites?' That's not usually what would be done with property in an urban growth boundary," said Oliver.
He added, "Normally the answer would be 'no,' but this is a special place. In this case this may be the best use."
Ironically, the Joseph City Council, which voted against annexation a few years ago, raised the development question through one of the 18 recommendations drafted in response to the proposal at its Oct. 7 meeting. Many of the recommendations had been prepared ahead of time by city attorney Mark Tipperman, and then discussed and concurred to or amended by the council.
"Because the site is within the UGB, any subdivision should be configured so that the lots are suitable for future redevelopment at the more dense levels of urban," says the draft statement. " .... The declaration proposed by the applicant would essentially restrict the use of the site to single family dwellings, and arguably limit the site to 11 parcels. Although this might create an attractive subdivision, it also effectively reduces the potential density of land slated for inclusion in the city's limits. ..."
During the discussion Joseph councilor Jennifer Ballard, who was not on the council during the last Marr Ranch go-around, suggested the city considering annexing the property, as it would increase tax revenues by 20 percent.
At the end of the discussions of recommendations, a subcommittee was appointed, at Paula Krieger's request, by Mayor Kevin Warnock to discuss the subdivision issues in more detail. Appointed were councilors Jennifer Ballard, Shelley Curtiss and Nadine Duncan, with Pam Latta as an alternate.
Among the many issues brought up in the list of recommendations were concern that the 14-foot bridge providing access from the subdivision to Main St. is too narrow from a public safety point of view; the requirement of a Level II survey from the applicant for two Nez Perce archeological "chip sites" on the property; more detailed plans of the roadways with a variety of suggested modifications; a requirement the applicant be required to demonstration of a sufficient supply of water to fight fires; and demonstration, if the roads are private, that there will be no future need for public right-of-ways.