Sitting in the audience at the regular meeting of the Ellis County Commission Monday evening, Mary Alice Unrein gasped in surprise and put her hands to her mouth upon hearing the 3-0 vote to approve her Blue Sky Acres Addition development.

Having survived through more than two years of ups and downs, including a lawsuit Unrein lost, her plan calls to develop the 20-acre Blue Sky parcel south of Hays into 2-to 3-acre residential lots.

About half a dozen people attended the county meeting, including Bryan Church, who said he was speaking for residents of the adjacent VonFeldt Subdivision.

“We’re not here to stop development. That has not been our concern throughout this entire process,” Church said. “We have investments in those homes out there. We want to see our investment protected, we want to see our families’ well-being protected.”

In asking the commission to foresee potential problems, he asked that drainage off Randall Lane be addressed, an adequate water supply for Blue Sky be ensured, and adequate access from U.S. Highway 183 be managed.

“We’re asking that this be done right, that it’s a well-thought-out process, that doesn’t harm us,” Church said, suggesting an engineer be involved, and asking if VonFeldt residents can have a seat at the table to provide input when details are hammered out.

Hays attorney Thomas Wasinger, representing Unrein, said there’s sufficient water to supply each house for domestic use, although Unrein has gotten the approval of the Trego County Water District to hire a feasibility study to see if the district can be a back-up source.

“I think this plat has been the most fully examined plat in the history of Ellis County,” Wasinger said. “Every issue that’s material or significant has been discussed in public ad nauseam.”

Addressing the water issue, County Commissioner Butch Schlyer said he called Keith Pfannenstiel, owner of Pfannenstiel Waterwell Services, Hays, about water availability.

“He was adamant that there is ample water supply in that area,” Schlyer said. “The well he did test for Mary Alice, he said that it was a very good well.”

Pfannenstiel wouldn’t go so far as to say there would be a well on every lot.

“He said you would have to find a water vein on every lot that’s there, and one wouldn’t know that until they drilled for water there,” Schlyer said.

At this stage of the game, Unrein simply wants to move forward, Wasinger said.

He also assured the commission the road through the development will be built to county specifications.

County Commissioner Dustin Roths said he sat down with VonFeldt residents to hear the issues and their concerns. At the same time, an ongoing concern countywide is housing prices and the need for more housing inventory to lower prices.

“There’s also an issue with this that I believe is important, and that is that somebody is able to do with their property what they want to do, as long as it’s not causing financial issues to the people around them,” he said.

Roths said he didn’t believe the plat is something that should be stopped at a county commission level.

“It was going to be pretty tough to me be a roadblock to something that seems so beneficial over the long run to this county,” he said.

The final plat now goes before the Hays City Commission around April 11 for consideration.

The long-contested Blue Sky development failed to win approval of the Ellis County Commission in November 2016 by a vote of 1-1.

It was shot down when Ellis County Commissioner Marcy McClelland voted against it. McClelland’s term expired in January and she was replaced by Schlyer.

McClelland, when she voted against it, said she was concerned about sufficient water supply and water contamination from the VonFeldt subdivision.

Unrein sued McClellan and the Ellis County Commission, but lost the suit in Aug. 2018 when a judge from the 24th Judicial District ruled McClelland was within her legal authority as a commissioner to oppose it.

Commissioner Dean Haselhorst, who voted for Blue Sky in 2016, is still on the commission. Roths joined the commission in January, appointed to fill the seat of Barb Wasinger, who was elected state representative for the 111th District. Wasinger had abstained from voting on Blue Sky Acres in 2016 due to a conflict of interest with her husband, Thomas Wasinger, representing Unrein.

VonFeldt Subdivision was developed in 1977. It consists of 1-acre lots that each have their own water well and septic systems. During storms, rainwater washes across the low-lying subdivision, so that neighboring lots contaminate one another, according to previous lawsuit filings.

The roads are to remain private and will be constructed and maintained by the developer and adjacent lot owners.

While Blue Sky Acres’ six lots sit outside the city limits, they fall within an inter-jurisdictional 3-mile boundary, requiring city approval.