Greg Hansen, rockwell homes

Greg Hansen, vice president of Rockwell Homes, responds to concerns about a planned residential development in Idaho Falls at a Planning Commission meeting on Tuesday, May 7, 2019.

A planned residential development in Idaho Falls, near Taylorview Middle School, is facing criticism from people who live in the area and by city planning commissioners.

The development plans were discussed at a Planning Commission meeting Tuesday. After a lengthy public hearing, where the majority of comments opposed the development, the planning commissioners voted to delay a decision regarding the developer’s land plat application.

The land is owned by Rockwell Homes, which plans to build a 53-home subdivision, on a vacant lot west of Taylorview, at the corner of Castlerock Lane and Stonebrook Lane.

Idaho Falls School District 91 owned the land and traded it to Rockwell Homes for another property, plus more than $200,000 in cash, according to District 91 Superintendent George Boland. The land was appraised, and District 91’s Board of Trustees approved the deal in January.

Rockwell’s six-bedroom-plus homes will sit on roughly 14,000-square-foot lots.

Greg Hansen, vice president of Rockwell Homes, explained the development plans at the Tuesday meeting. Then a number of neighbors spoke, for about an hour, in opposition to the development. One neighbor spoke in favor of it.

Neighbors complained that Rockwell has failed to communicate with them thoroughly about their concerns, which include traffic safety, property values, school overcrowding and obstructed views, among other things.

Many of those opposed said the increased traffic from the new houses would amplify pedestrian safety concerns, especially for children walking to school.

Both Taylorview and Sunnyside Elementary School, which are over-capacity, are within walking distance of the planned development. Neighbors say there aren’t enough crossing guards in the area, and the school district has been unresponsive to requests for more.

Planning and Zoning officials decided the development does not require a traffic study because the 53 homes are not expected to generate more than 100 peak-level travelers.

“The idea that 53 homes with three-car garages is not going to increase traffic by more than 100 cars during rush hour — which the time people are going to work and delivering their kids to school — is laughable,” said Josh Chandler, who lives near the Rockwell development. “It doesn’t pass the straight-face test.”

Neighbors also complained that the plans include a row of houses along Castlerock and Stonebrook that are reverse-fronted, meaning the backs of the houses would face the street. Some said the reverse frontage homes create a less neighborly atmosphere and others, who live on Stonebrook, don’t want their view obstructed by a fence across the street.

Jessica Zeller, whose house on Castlerock is reverse frontage because it backs up to a church and the school, said adding to the number of reverse frontage homes there would increase driving speeds near the intersection of Castlerock and Stonebrook.

“It has a history of speeding, of people being reckless. We have a lot of teenage drivers,” Zeller said. “As they come off of Holmes, they speed around that corner because they see just this wall of fences and there’s this agricultural lot ... and they just keep speeding. When people see houses facing the street on both sides, they automatically have a mind-switch, ‘Oh, wait, slow down.’ The proposed development creates, basically, a whole wall of fence.”

Hansen responded that the Rockwell plans meet all city requirements and that the development will have “beautiful” homes.

Included in the design is 15 feet of green space and sidewalk, along the backs of the reverse frontage houses, which, Hansen said, should help alleviate dangers to pedestrians.

“We want this to be a good neighborhood,” he said. “We want it to be inclusive. I’m sorry that some of the citizens feel like it’s not, but I feel like we’ve tried our best to be that way. We’ve met all the requirements, and we have been recommended that it be approved.”

After hearing public comment and Hansen’s rebuttal, commissioners pointed out that many of the concerns are not under the commission’s purview.

Commissioner George Swaney said the subject of the discussion was the configuration and orientation of Rockwell’s plat application.

“I recognize people have concerns about property values, about school overcrowding, and, hey, world hunger, but that’s not part of this plat,” Swaney said.

The city’s Planning and Zoning department recommended Rockwell’s plans be approved because they meet city requirements, but the commissioners, who ultimately decide whether the plans are approved, decided to delay a vote while they gather more information.

The commissioners originally intended to deny the application and voted unanimously to do so. Their reasoning was the reverse frontage design is not consistent with the surrounding area or the city’s comprehensive plan.

But legal counsel advised the commissioners that reverse frontage housing is not specifically banned in city code or in the comprehensive plan. Therefore, the commissioners would have to find a specific code that the development violates.

Commissioners reversed their denial of the plat application and agreed to delay a vote until more information is collected. They also strongly recommended that Rockwell Homes meet with community members and consider their concerns.

The issue will be reintroduced at the Planning Commission’s June 6 meeting.

Reporter Ryan Suppe can be reached at 208-542-6762. Follow him on Twitter: @salsuppe.

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