Proposed development near Solon gets initial rezoning approval from Johnson County supervisors

But board will consider second and third readings at future meeting after Solon officials express concerns

An aerial photo shows the topography of the proposed Oak Meadow development proposal. IMAGE VIA JOHNSON COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS

A rezoning request for a residential development west of Solon received initial approval from the Johnson County Board of Supervisors Thursday night — but the request will be considered again by the board before final approval, after Solon city officials expressed concerns at the meeting about what they termed “incredible” growth in the county’s rural areas and its potential impact on the city’s long-term development.

The rezoning request comprises just over 65 acres of land approximately two miles west of the current Solon city limits, roughly bounded by Highway 382 to the north, Polk Avenue NE to the east, Country Place Road to the south and an existing housing development to the west. The proposal would rezone the land from agricultural to residential.

Known formally as Oak Meadow LLC and informally by longtime county residents as the “O’Brien Farm,” most of the proposed housing development would be clustered on 34 acres in the western portion of the property, mostly comprised of pasture land, where preliminary plans call for up to 25 residential lots. A 26th home would be sited in a clearing on the 31-acre eastern portion of the lot, which developers say is heavily wooded with old-growth timber and largely unsuitable for further development.

County planning and zoning officials agreed with that overall assessment, recommending approval of the rezoning request subject to contingencies, including substantial compliance with the development’s preliminary plan submitted in August; development of no more than a single residential lot lot on the property’s eastern portion; and no private street access from the development to Polk Avenue.

Supervisors approved the first reading of the rezoning proposal Thursday night subject to the same conditions, but declined to waive the second and third readings – which would often be waived for routine rezonings – after hearing from Solon city officials during the public hearing on the proposal. The Solon City Council had voted Aug. 4 to recommend denial of the rezoning request.

Solon mayor Steve Stange and council member Lauren Whitehead both spoke during the hearing, noting the rapid growth of residential developments in rural areas near Solon and asking for further discussions with county officials regarding such developments and their impact on future city planning and services.

“There’s a lot of nervousness from people inside the city limits, feeling like there’s a train coming and we can’t stop it,” said Ms. Whitehead of recent rural developments. “I’ve had to be sensitive and open-minded to those concerns, because it’s a transformative time for our town.”

Mr. Stange said he’s noted a rapid increase in the number of developments in and around Solon. “SInce I’ve been mayor (since 2014), we (formerly) considered a new development maybe once a year. Now it seems almost weekly where someone is interested in developing an area, either inside Solon or just outside.”

Mr. Stange said he was concerned about the potential impact of a private septic system, as is being proposed for Oak Meadow, on the city’s water table, and the potential impact of new developments on other infrastructure systems, such as roadway capacities.

“I don’t want to say anything bad about folks capitalizing on (development opportunities),” he said. “All I’m saying is that there are impacts to the city of Solon.”

Supervisors agreed that there’s a need for improved communication on future development standards in the county, especially related to fringe area agreements between the county and incorporated areas like Solon.

“My goal is always to make my decisions on being fair and consistent every time,” board chair Pat Heiden said, noting the proposal largely complies with the county’s long-term comprehensive plan. “I do like the idea of us working together on a potential revamping of the current fringe area agreement.”