Frustrated Franklin to try again on Elkins Meadow

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— The City Council wants developer Paul Franklin to take his plans for Elkins Meadow back to the drawing board.

In the preliminary plat approval for 20 luxury homes, council tabled Franklin's plan and asked him to reduce density, lot size and home size; give the project a more clustered feel; and lower the skyline.

But those requests are frustrating for Franklin, who has already delayed his project by more than a year when he gave the group Friends of Fish Creek Falls Meadow the chance to purchase the land for $4 million, the price at which he bought it. Franklin feels his proposal is much less than what the zoning allows one lot per acre and that it should have been approved.

"We are really frustrated that we have done everything we have been asked to do by both the planning commission and staff from a code standpoint and they are still asking us to make changes," Franklin said. "I don't feel like that is fair."

After hearing lengthy public comment Tuesday night, some council members felt the meadow, which is one of the last pieces of open land as people drive up Fish Creek Falls Road and is surrounded by county agriculture land, deserves a different development plan. The council voted 6-1 to table the plan and hear it again Sept. 3.

"You can't stop development," Council President Kathy Connell said. "But you can demand 110 percent rather than 105 percent or 100 percent."

Franklin, who is based out of Chicago with the Wharton Group and owns a home overlooking the meadow, said he will follow the council's direction to look at reducing home and lot sizes, but he plans to keep his present layout. He does not plan to reduce the number of lots from 20 to 18, as Connell sought.

The site plan was designed so that 20 houses, expected to be around 8,000 square feet each, would be out of view from motorists along Fish Creek Falls Road. Franklin said of the 104 acres, 43 will be designated as open space and 90 percent of the land will be left undisturbed.

In the plans, Franklin has the lots tucked into the wooded areas and at the bottom of slopes to keep the meadow open.

With 20 homes, Franklin said reducing the lot numbers by one or two would not have a significant impact on either the visual sense or wildlife habitat. And he said 20 lots are far less than the 40 he could be placing on the site under current zoning.

But nearby residents came before council asking the members to consider a more clustered development plan that would create smaller lots and center development. Others also said the 20 houses encircling the meadow would disturb elk and deer migration patterns.

Although most council members gave suggestions on ways to tweak the plan, the council debated on whether the plan should include more clustering.

Councilwoman Arianthe Stettner suggested clustering the homes together and eliminating one lot she felt was too close to wetlands.

Bud Romberg, the only council member to vote against tabling the plan, disagreed.

"If clusters were to occur as a number of people suggested, it would be a bunch of houses in the middle of the meadow," Romberg said. "(Residents have been saying) 'we've got to save Elkins Meadow.' That is what this developer is trying to do to find a way to leave the meadow opened."

Franklin agreed.

"What frustrated us the most is the clustering of homes," he said. "That is absurd. The meadow is ruined if it is clustered."

Reducing the density of the development, through lot size, house size or just fewer lots was a common theme most council members recommended.

After council's suggestions, Franklin is looking at reducing lot size and home size. He also invited council to walk the site with the developers before the Sept. 3 meeting.

Council members said Elkins Meadow is a lesson in preserving open space.

"I think we need to learn from this," Council member Steve Ivancie said. "We are losing a lot of open space. A lot of this open space slips through our fingers."

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