Planning Commission tables conceptual plan for Dammeron Valley expansion

Dammeron Valley, Utah, May 21, 2016 | File photo by Julie Applegate, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — Dammeron Valley residents packed the Washington County Planning Commission meeting Wednesday and, when all was said and done, applauded as the commission voted to table a plan outlining the proposed expansion of the community.

Residents from Dammeron Valley pack a Washington County Planning Commission meeting at the Washington County Administration Building to comment on a plan outlining the possible expansion of the Dammeron Valley community, St. George, Utah, Aug. 21, 2019 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

During a standing room-only public meeting held to take comment on what was originally slated as a proposed master plan for the Dammeron Valley community, residents voiced various concerns over wildfire hazards, flood control measures, whether new development would have enough water, if there was adequate fire protection and how additional development may impact their current quality of life.

“People chose to move to Dammeron Valley because of the quality of life,” one resident said, adding that for him, the dark skies were perfect for astronomy.

One after another, residents shared their concerns with the Planning Commission for nearly three hours. Slade Hughes, the planning commissioner chairman, held individual comments to two minutes, while those representing a group were given five minutes.

“I’d like you to oppose this plan,” was a phase echoed by the many residents from the community of over 430 homes that sits 15 miles north of St. George on state Route 18.

Scott Messel, Washington County’s community development director, speaks to the county planning commission about the proposed conceptual plan developers have for Dammeron Valley, St. George, Utah, Aug. 21, 2019 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Many of the concerns raised by the Dammeron Valley resident are not new, said Scott Messel, Washington County’s community development director. Similar concerns were raised during a 2016 meeting of the Planning Commission and County Commission when a possible zone change request was denied.

At that point, then Commissioner Zach Renstrom suggested developers bring a master plan to the commission to consider rather than one chuck at a time. The master plan was to include detailed studies and plans.

The purpose of having a master plan for Dammeron Valley is to help promote transparency in the planning process, Messel said, as well as to help avoid future meetings where the same concerns keep coming up.

What was presented to the Planning Commission on Wednesday was not so much a master plan as what Andrew Pace of the Dammeron Valley Corporation called a “feasibility study” related to 500 undeveloped acres the developer hopes to put 224 residential units on.

Andrew Pace of the Dammeron Valley Corporation speaks to the conceptual master plan, which he referred to as a “feasibility study” before the Washington County Planning Commission, St. George, Utah, Aug. 21, 2019 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

“The commission said that before there are any zone changes that we take a feasibility study, not necessarily a master plan, to see what would be possible for this land, the 500 acres of SITLA land in Dammeron Valley,” Pace said. “That is what we’ve provided here.”

Those 500 acres are currently in the hands of Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, which the Dammeron Corporation has an agreement with to develop.

Dammeron Valley resident Max Sorenson, who said he represented a group of 18 homeowners whose homes were flooded last year, asked that developers figure out ways to help mitigate future flooding disasters before new development comes in.

Another resident said she feared future development in areas that currently provide natural drainage for flash flood waters would cause more flooding to be channeled into Dammeron Valley proper.

Pace said the feasibility study does address storm water drainage through planned coverts and said additional measures can be implemented as the need arises.

A pair of hour glasses Washington County Planning Commissioner Slade Hughes used to to time the comments of Dammeron Valley residents during a public hearing related to plans that would expand the community along SR-18, St. George, Utah, Aug. 21, 2019 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

County Engineer Tom Edwards said the county is currently in the process of having a detention basin built to catch storm water and slow it down before it reaches Dammeron Valley.

The coverts detailed in the Dammeron Valley conceptual plan are planned as though the detention basin weren’t being built, Edwards said.

Other concerns were raised over developers having enough water rights to supply water to new development and if there would be adequate sewer facilities.

“My concern is water,” resident Rick Johnson said. “I’m not convinced we have enough.”

Johnson pointed to a part of the Dammeron Valley plan where Dammeron Valley Water Works, the area water company, has claims to various water rights to a total of just over 1,000 acre feet.

Johnson and another resident argued the developer didn’t have the rights to as much water as he claimed.

Andrew Pace’s father and Dammeron Valley developer, Brooks Pace, responded soon after.

Members of the Washington County Planning Commission listen to Dammeron Valley residents comment with concerns about a proposed plan to expand their community, St. George, Utah, Aug. 21, 2019 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

“We have plenty of water,” he said, adding that while Dammeron Valley Water Works had claim to 363 acre feet, other water rights were held in holding companies for when future development came online.

In regards to wastewater issues, multiple residents said that the current wastewater treatment plant located in the Pinion Hills portion of Dammeron Valley isn’t big enough to serve the 224 homes developers wants to bring in.

The Washington County Water Conservancy District manages the wastewater facility that currently connects to 135 homes and has an overall capacity for 200 connections. In order to serve future residences, the wastewater treatment plant will need to expand, which concerns some residents.

While the plant will serve future development, an application of Utah law could force homes within 300 feet of a sewer line to connect to it. Making that connection can cost a household thousands of dollars, one resident said.

Members of the area fire district also addressed the commission, as did a retired fire captain from Las Vegas. Each said more care should be taken to create a fire-safe community since Dammeron Valley was in the middle of the wildland-urban interface where fire protection and prevention is a prime concern.

Amanda Ballif, chairwoman of the Dammeron Valley Fire Special Service District, addresses the Washington County Planning Commission, St. George, Utah, Aug. 21, 2019 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

The plans proposed for Dammeron Valley don’t take fire protections into account, said Amanda Ballif, chairwoman of the Dammeron Valley Fire Special Service District.

“We need to be safe. … The fire danger is very high,” she said, adding she felt Dammeron Valley’s conceptual master plan was done without consultation with the local fire authority.

Another area of concern that relates to both fire protection and the water system is fire hydrants in Dammeron Valley not having enough water pressure. This can become a problem in combating fires if the water isn’t flowing at the rate it needs to.

Ballif and others said a recent study had been done by an engineering firm that confirms the fire hydrant issue.

Due to these and other concerns, the Planning Commission voted to table approval of the conceptual plan until commission members had time to review requested documentation, including the fire hydrant study and records clarifying the developer’s water rights, as well as an updated traffic study and the developer’s trails plan, which wasn’t incorporated into the overall plan presented to the planning commission.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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