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Kalmia project concerns many; city commission postpones vote

By Cindy Yingst, Thursday, July 4, 2019

City commissioners took a step back Tuesday night from approval of the 16-unit Clear Lake subdivision, which has some residents concerned about destruction of wetlands, lack of access, construction rights, and fencing.

The project proposed by Gil Gramson of Sandridge Construction was approved by the Planning Commission April 25 with some conditions attached.

This week, Warrenton city commissioners dealt with two appeals, one from Sandridge that contended the conditions were inappropriate and one filed by Gramson’s estranged brother, Rod, who believes the project shouldn’t be built at all.

The eight-acre site at the north end of Kalmia Avenue is bordered by wetlands on three sides. Clear Lake, a natural area owned by North Coast Land Conservancy, is on the east. Fort Pointe, a future planned development, is to the west with wetlands between them. There’s a gravel access road at the south end of the project that could connect to Ridge Road, possibly providing a second access in the future.

Gramson has completed two other subdivisions along Kalmia, one of them 17 lots and one 11 lots. Because each project was completed separately, there were no triggers that prompted the city to require parkland to be set aside or secondary access roads.

The City Commission chose to review the subdivision and appeals as a de novo hearing, which means they’d look at the entire project as a new case.

Gramson is requesting a hardship variance on the less than half-acre of wetlands he proposed to fill and appealed the requirement to construct a fence between his property and the conservancy’s land and to improve the existing gravel road for an emergency vehicle turn-around.

“This piece of property … was never partitioned from the parent parcel. It’s not a legal lot or unit of land that can be subdivided at this time,” said Jeff Kleinman, a real estate attorney hired by Rod Gramson.

Kleinman argued that the city’s code places a 200-foot limit on the length of a cul-de-sac and the project would make the Kalmia cul-de-sac 1,500 feet long.

“It’s somewhat insane, frankly,” Kleinman said. “It’s clearly a self-imposed hardship. It’s the most extreme case I’ve seen. There’s been one variance, another variance, another variance and they’re all his variances.”

Local contractor Terry Miller said other homes in the area built by Gramson have been an asset for the city.

“There’s a real need for more housing in our area,” Miller said. “It’s a model development, in my opinion. It just makes the city look good.”

Lynn Miller, who has lived on the banks of Smith Lake for 35 years, said any filling of wetlands is likely to cause problems for his property.

Skip Urling, the city’s former community development director who’s now working as a consultant on the project, said there’s no way to build a second access road without impacting wetlands.

Concerns about land partitions and legal lots can’t be answered until decisions are made about road widths, wetlands variances and access roads.

“There’s been no ill intent on the applicant’s part,” said Eric Hovestahl, a consultant working for Sandridge. “That’s just the normal process of doing things.”

Commissioners declined to take any action on the project, but closed the public hearing. The project will come back before them in late July or early August.

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