Platinum housing project must meet county specs

Margaret Allen

Ellis County Commissioners on Monday evening gave preliminary approval for development of 13 homes in the Big Creek Estates subdivision southeast of Hays.

But concerns about past drainage problems, faulty road construction and inadequate traffic signage mean future developers in the county will get a check list of requirements that must be met to start building.

That applies to the plat approved Monday during the commission's regular meeting at the Ellis County Administrative Center downtown. The development is the first for real estate company Platinum Group LLC, of Hays, led by Adam Pray.

The commissioners told Pray that their approval is contingent on him hiring an engineering firm for a drainage study and a traffic study. Those two items are part of a four-point list meant to prevent roads from washing out and eliminate dangerous intersections, according to the recommendation of Ellis County Public Works director Bill Ring.

“I’m very in favor of the development, but I do want them four bullet points met,” said County Commissioner Dean Haselhorst.

The development is to the east of the existing Buffalo Hills Addition. With the east side of it going into the flood plain, Ring said, the county should commit the developer to a drainage study by a professional engineer. That will prevent problems like those its had in other developments "where we have had no control on what goes on as far as drainage, road construction, traffic signage, etc.," Ring said.

He cited the existing addition, on the west end of Clay Drive, where drainage problems have come up after roads and houses were built.

“Water doesn’t go where we tell it. It goes where it wants to, so we're trying to recreate proper drainage when there’s now a house in the way or there’s a road in the way," Ring said. "As Road and Bridge, we’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars out there because of the drainage issues, again after the fact, because we’re not brought in on the front end, and that is my fear."

“Well last year,” said Haselhorst, “you probably rebuilt that road out there four times, at least.”

“That’s correct," Ring agreed. "Reservation Road, that’s one of our largest complained roads. We didn’t design it, we didn’t do it, but we end up with the maintenance, we end up with the issues. We’re the complaint department for all these developments.”

Haselhorst suggested doing like the City of Hays by asking developers to install water retention ponds in some of the bigger developments.

“Overall it would make a better development,” Ring agreed. “It would make it better for the homeowners, it would make it better for the existing residents and it would make it better for Ellis County. But if we wait, like happened with the west side of this development, I mean I get complaints every time it rains. Somebody calls the office from out there, and they’re not happy.”

Haselhorst said when the road gets washed out, he also gets a lot of phone calls from the people he knows out there.

County Commissioner Butch Schyler agreed with Haselhorst and Ring.

“I’m in favor of development,” said Schlyer, “but I think it needs to be done right and in consideration for all of those points you’ve raised Bill. It saves everyone a headache if it’s put in right.”

Ring said he can provide Pray with county specifications for building a road to make sure the cross slopes and ditches are correct.

Pray, who attended the meeting, said he’s already proposing two more culverts to drain into drainage easements. He said Platinum is also consulting an engineer on the design, coincidentally the same one the county uses for its road projects.

“I’m not exactly sure what the issues are from the past, and I don’t think we can solve those," Pray said.

Pray told the commissioners he felt a little like a punching bag for all the problems in the area. It will cost him $10,000 to $12,000 to build the requested road into the development, he said, and now there’s the added expense of a traffic study and a drainage study.

“At what point do we not encourage development in our county?” Pray asked. “At what point are we maybe fighting ourselves? When do we look at ourselves and say maybe it’s us that is stunting growth? … A lot of problems that are not mine, I’m fixing. I don’t have to put in three culverts, that’s not my problem, but we’re going to do it. … You guys want a stop sign, we’ll fix it. You want an extended road, there’s $12,000. I don’t know if we’re going to break even on this at this point. At some point I’m not interested.”

County Commissioner Dustin Roths, himself a business owner with real estate interests, said he sympathizes with Pray, and said he didn’t think the developer should have to pay for the traffic study. The county should help developers, not discourage them, Roths said.

“We have a housing problem in Ellis County. We need more houses,” said Roths. “We are growing, and if we don’t build them it is stifling growth because people can’t get a job that pays enough to pay for a house … We gotta figure out a way that makes it easier on people to build houses.”

Schlyer noted, however, that the issues become county problems.

“As houses are built in the county, they are built on roads, and if we are expected to maintain those, they have to be built to county specifications," he said.

Ring said developers should provide the county with confirmation from an engineer that roads and drainage are sound, eliminating risk to the county.

Ring said it costs three times as much to put in traffic signage after a development is in place than it does at the front end before houses are built.

Haselhorst indicated the county's requests are reasonable.

"We're asking you to commit to build roads to county specs, that needs to be done," Haselhorst told Pray, noting part of his development is going into a flood plain. "You think we're picking on you, we're not. … I don't think we're asking too much of you, Adam, to do this."

Roths agreed, but recommended along with Ring that the county pay for two-thirds of the traffic study.

Interim county administrator Darin Myers said he and Ring are working with the county's environmental planning administrator, Mason Ruder, to prepare a set of procedures, plans and check lists for developers.

“We can be up front with the developer, so they know what they’re getting into,” Myers said.