A plan to build 131 homes in Sardine Canyon has drawn considerable comment from current Wellsville residents, although so far the development seems to comply with zoning and subdivision regulations.
The concept plan for Bridle Path Estates shows 131 lots and equestrian amenities on nearly 900 acres in the Sherwood Hills area of U.S. Highway 89-91, which is incorporated in Wellsville. The existing resort-turned-rehab center would be bordered on three sides by the development, and plans to soon reopen the rehab facility — not involving Bridle Path Estates’ developers — are in the works.
The Planning Commission and City Council have approved the concept plan — although members of both those bodies have voiced worries about the development, they both found that Bridle Path Estates so far meets zoning and subdivision planning requirements. If a proposed development meets current subdivision and zoning requirements, cities are typically limited in the ways they can push back against it even if some officials have their own concerns.
The purpose of the concept plan stage is to determine whether a project fits within the proposed footprint and whether it can comply with city requirements.
With the concept plan’s approval, the development moves into the preliminary planning stage, in which infrastructure details like roads, water and sewer are worked out. Then, the city would need to approve the development’s final plan, which includes final details like actual lot boundaries to be recorded in the city’s property records.
About 420 of the 900 acres will be open space to meet requirements of the city’s Recreation Planned Development zone, according to developers Reeve & Associates, Inc. The amenities, which would be located near residences planned for the east side of the highway, would include an indoor arena, horse stables, pastures, veterinarian offices and a general store.
The concept plan calls for four phases to be built over the coming years. Two lots would be tied for largest at 10.3 acres, and 21 lots would be tied for the smallest at 2 acres even. The median lot size would be 2.7 acres.
Reeve & Associates did not respond to repeated requests for comment on the development.
The area was developed for the Sherwood Hills Resort and Golf Course in the 1970s. The resort had a rocky history, closing and changing owners multiple times, then being reincarnated as a rehab facility in 2013. That facility was raided and shut down by federal and state agencies in 2016 over alleged pharmaceutical and licensing violations.
The golf course, continuously owned and operated independently of the resort, closed in 2019.
The preliminary plan includes all of the property currently owned by the golf course, as well as most of the acreage owned by Sherwood Hills Recovery Resort. The owners are under contract to sell those properties to Reeve & Associates should the development be approved.
The resort itself is not included in the plan. The former executive director, Richard M. Knapp, told The Herald Journal he very recently leased the property out to a company planning to reopen the recovery center under a different name and ultimately buy the property. While Knapp did not have specifics on when that opening might be, he estimated it could be done as quickly as within a month.
While the City Council ultimately approved Bridle Path Estates’ concept plan on Aug. 4, earlier on July 21 it delayed the decision after a public hearing in which multiple residents spoke out about the project and some council members voiced their own concerns. Common concerns, which Principal Engineer Nate Reeve said developers would do their best to address in the preliminary planning stage, included:
— Protecting the city’s water supply from contamination and ensuring there’s enough to accommodate the new development;
— The potential of complicating the “Big Curve” stretch of the Sardine Canyon highway, where slideoffs and crashes are common in inclement weather;
— Whether Wellsville’s infrastructure is ready to handle that many new homes;
— Whether the proposed homeowners association would responsibly handle concerns, including maintenance of roads within the development, which it would own;
— Whether the development would preserve the public’s use of trails in the area;
— How the development, which could add 131 residences to Wellsville’s current 1,150 homes, would change the city and whether it would be beneficial.
In the midst of 2021’s megadrought conditions and after multiple years of decreased flow from the city’s spring, many of the concerns voiced by Wellsville council members and residents revolved around water. Wellsville draws water from two wells and Leatham Spring, and Phase 4 of the development would put homes in the vicinity of Leatham Spring.
Nate Reeve said homes that had originally been planned adjacent to the spring have already been offset in earlier planning stages, and strict requirements would be applied by deed to homeowners within the aquifer recharge area. The developers have already reached out to experts at Utah State University to help determine what other precautions would be necessary near the spring.
According to City Manager Scott Wells, the homes wouldn’t use septic tanks, because the developers have agreed to run a sewer line down to 200 West to connect with the city’s system. This would be an upgrade from Sherwood Hills Resort’s existing septic tank system, Reeve said.
While 131 new homes would be a large addition to the city’s sewer systems relative to the existing roughly 1,150 homes, Breinholt said the system at 200 West should easily accommodate them. Mayor Bailey said the current system is designed for 5,000 residents, but an updated sewer study is needed.
As far as water usage, Reeve said that the city agreed to provide water for the Sherwood Hills area in 1994, and a review of previous water bills showed the erstwhile resort and golf course properties using 5.5-8 million gallons of water. Even with the pastures and other open space in the plan, Reeve said he estimates that building residences in the area will dramatically decrease water usage from those levels.
According to Mayor Thomas G. Bailey, the 1994 water agreement to the resort and golf club was for untreated water because the city didn’t want to pay the expense of chlorinating water used to irrigate the golf course, but that the resort had historically had trouble effectively treating its own water. City Manager Wells said it would likely be necessary to put a water tank at the top of the development and pump water up to it from Leatham Spring.
Notwithstanding, City Engineer Chris Breinholt spoke at the July 21 meeting, recommending that the city hold off on final approval of any new developments depending on Leatham Spring until new culinary water sources are secured for them. Flows from Leatham Spring have been decreasing in recent years, Breinholt said, and city officials have been working on locating additional wells to serve the city’s upper pressure zones.
Ultimately water concerns did not prevent the concept plan’s approval, because such infrastructure details are largely worked out in the preliminary planning phase. Multiple studies regarding infrastructure and other areas of concern are already underway.
During the public hearing, Resident Jennifer Roundy asked whether the developer had considered fewer homes on larger lots. Reeve said earlier in the meeting, however, that 131 homes are actually fewer than half the amount the Recreational Planned Development zone would allow. Of the 894 acres in the concept plan, 295 are listed as “critical lands.” The maximum density in the RPD zone is one occupied unit for every 2 acres, so with about 600 acres of buildable land in the plan, Bridle Path Estates could have included about 300 homes under Wellsville’s zoning laws.
According to UDOT’s notes from the development’s pre-application permit meeting, if traffic impact studies determine that traffic signals at the development’s access points are warranted, an overpass would also need to be added. If a signal isn’t needed, a tunnel under the highway would be added so drivers on either the east or west side of the development could access both north- and southbound directions of the highway without making left turns onto it.
Multiple residents spoke out about their concerns on whether an HOA in the area would fulfill its responsibilities. Reeve said most of his firm’s larger developments are run by HOAs, and he believes that they can be great successes when managed properly.
During the meeting, Council Member Austin Wood asked whether the public would have access to the equestrian facilities, to which Reeve said that’s undetermined at this point.
Council Member Kaylene Ames said she’s a proponent for trails and open access and was concerned that an HOA could keep other residents out; earlier in the meeting, Reeve had said the development will include usable open space, parks and trails.