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Plan Commission floats idea to toughen hillside development

April 16, 2008
Leavenworth Town Council President John Stutzman, who is also a member of the town's advisory plan commission, has proposed designating the town's hillside overlooking the Ohio River an open space area, which would make developing there more difficult.

Carole Carpenter, standing, addresses the Leavenworth Plan Commission regarding the erosion problems below the homes located on Ohio Vista Blvd. (Photo by Wade Bell)
Stutzman made the proposal at the Monday, April 7, meeting of the plan commission, which is reviewing the town's comprehensive plan in order to make a final recommendation to the town council.

The proposal was made in response to concerns presented by Chuck and Carole Carpenter and other homeowners at River Bluff Estates, on the west side of town, who say that actions taken by the subdivision's developer, David Carter, on the hillside he owns below their homes have caused serious erosion.

The Indiana Department of Environmental Management issued a Notice and Order of the Commissioner on Jan. 31, alleging Carter committed several violations that have led to the erosion of the hillside. Included in the order was a civil penalty of $49,685.

Carter, who wants to build cabins on the land, has filed a petition for administrative review of IDEM's charges with the Office of Environmental Adjudication. A pre-hearing conference was scheduled for yesterday (Tuesday).

Stutzman said there is little the town can do other than ordering Carter to stop the development until the IDEM issues are resolved, which it already did, but the plan commission can recommend to the town council tighter restrictions on hillsides with slopes greater than a certain degree.

Stutzman suggested requiring developers wanting to develop areas with slopes above the specified grades or within a certain number of feet to post money with the town so the town and plan commission could hire an independent expert, such as a geotechnical engineer or hydrologist, to determine the suitability of the land.

S.A. Indigo, who at the beginning of the meeting was voted the plan commission's president, said while the plan addresses future development issues along the town's hillsides, it doesn't address the issues below the homes at River Bluff Estates.

Stutzman agreed his plan "may be closing the door after the horse" has gotten out, but "we need to close that door."

Carole Carpenter asked Stutzman if his proposal would require developers to post funds for follow-up visits to ensure everything was being done correctly. Stutzman said it did.

Turning to the concerns of the River Bluff Estates homeowners, many of whom were in attendance, Indigo asked Stutzman if the town could ask IDEM to force corrective actions at the site below their homes.

"I would like the town to support the residents whose houses are at risk," she said.

"We do support them, Indigo," Stutzman replied.

"On paper, on record," Indigo added.

Stutzman said work at the site has been stopped, and there is nothing that can be done until IDEM issues a corrective action plan.

The meeting became a bit contentious when Carole Carpenter asked to address the plan commission. Indigo, as president, said she could, but Stutzman, as a member, objected, saying Carpenter would have the opportunity to voice her opinions at a later public hearing.

After noting that other people have spoken at past plan commission meetings, Indigo asked for a vote from the members on whether Carpenter should be allowed to speak. Only Stutzman and Vice President Ralph Lindauer, an employee of Carter, voted against allowing her to speak.

Carpenter asked the plan commission to consider a zoning change, pointing to the soil types on the bluff and the conclusions of Dr. Terry West, who teaches geology engineering at Purdue University and whom the Carpenters hired to examine the hillside.

In his report, Carpenter said, West wrote: "No further land disturbance related to the proposed River Bluff Estates or to any future construction below the homes described above should be allowed as this would most likely affect the integrity of the houses located above on the bluff along Ohio Vista Drive, River View Drive and Horseshoe Bend Blvd."

Carpenter pointed out that an on-site evaluation for erosion and sediment control by IDEM on April 2, the third since last summer, found the area still to have several violations.

She said that the land below her house can't be compared to the other areas of the hillside, from the state forest to the Blue River, that Stutzman's proposal would include, because it is already damaged.

"We urge each of you to take a positive stand and do what is in your power to control," Carpenter said.

Carter, who is a member of the plan commission, stopped short of accusing the homeowners of being responsible for any problems on the hillside. He pointed to culverts that have been pulled away and concrete that has been poured along the undeveloped road below the homes.

"So, there's a distinct possibility that the people who live there, in their desire" to see nothing developed, have messed with things to cause problems, Carter said.

He added he feels good about the case with IDEM.

"The truth is we didn't do anything that caused that slide," he said.

The consultant drafting the revised land use portion of the comprehensive plan is to make changes based on Stutzman's proposals. He will present them at a later plan commission meeting.

The plan commission will meet next on Monday, May 5, at 7 p.m. at the Leavenworth Senior Citizens Center.

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