Development is happening in northeastern Ozark, now with fewer legal restrictions on a particular subdivision.
The Ozark Board of Aldermen voted 4-2 on June 15 to approve the preliminary plat of Northtown Park, a development with more than 80 lots east of State Route NN. Aldermen Ted Smith, Nathan Posten, Bruce Galloway and R.J. Flores voted to approve the preliminary plat, while aldermen Jason Shaffer and Heather Alder voted against it.
The landlocked development has been a point of contention for residents in the Grand Haven subdivision to the north and the Quail Meadow subdivision to the east, because Northtown Park presently has no roads serving it.
Grand Haven and the land that will be Northtown Park are separated by a locked gate at the south end of North Newport Drive.
Ozark Mayor Rick Gardner explained the Northtown Park plat was last discussed away from the public eye in a closed session meeting because it had become a legal issue.
“It appeared as if the board wanted this project to be in if there were certain conditions met, one by the applicant and one by the Ozark Special Road District, so we have been dealing with those and trying to see if we could get those done,” Gardner said.
In November 2019, residents of Grand Haven, where there are 140 homes, protested plans that would link Grand Haven and Northtown Park via North Newport Drive. Northtown Park will be a more affordable subdivision than Grand Haven, with lower-priced houses.
The Ozark Board of Aldermen initially voted to impose seven additional conditions for development that Alderman Jason Shaffer introduced at a meeting Nov. 4, 2019. Construction traffic, save for a few pieces of heavy equipment in the early days of development, will not be allowed to pass through Grand Haven. “Children at play” signs and other traffic control devices will be installed in the neighborhood, the Ozark police will conduct extra patrols, and traffic studies will be performed to evaluate Northtown Park’s impact on traffic as its phases of development proceed.
The seven conditions were whittled down to five, and then fell to zero with the vote June 15.
Prior to the vote to approve the plat, the board of aldermen made a 4-2 vote to remove the previous conditions imposed on Fortress Land Development. The votes fell along the same lines, with Smith, Galloway, Flores and Posten voting to remove the conditions, while aldermen Shaffer and Alder cast dissenting votes.
“This is beyond what was presented to us at a previous meeting that we rejected by a 4-2 margin. At that point, we were only asked to remove some of the conditions by the special road district, and now tonight, without any really warning, we’re removing all conditions. That seems to be quite a leap,” Shaffer said. “I just wanted the record to reflect, this, I think, is a mistake.”
The board agreed to strike conditions for the installation of a “Children at play” sign, regular traffic monitoring, periodic evaluations and maintenance inspections of right of ways, regular patrols by the Ozark Police Department to monitor traffic.
Smith said that the city of Ozark and its police department are very likely to follow through with those first four conditions, regardless of whether or not they are legally spelled out and filed in the plat.
“We’re wiling to instruct the city administrator to make sure that those first four are still followed through with,” Smith said.
Smith felt that delaying the vote on the preliminary plat any further made the city vulnerable to a lawsuit.
“From my perspective, the lesser of the evils is removing (the restrictions) versus starting the process over again and pushing it further down the road,” Smith said.
Alder said that the conditions were removed at what seemed like the last minute, and also felt that the board went back on some of the pledges it made to people who live in the neighboring Grand Haven subdivision.
“I don’t appreciate what happened tonight. I feel it’s like an ambush, and it makes me very, very unhappy,” Alder said. “I think the people of Grand Haven already don’t trust the city. They feel like they have been lied to. They don’t feel like their concerns have been represented and met.”
City Attorney Amanda Callaway said that the Ozark Special Road District Commission voted to approve the use of a platted right-of-way from the Quail Meadow subdivision into the Northtown Park development, if the city of Ozark removed its conditions on the preliminary plat.
“There are a lot of things being conditioned that makes it a little difficult to explain,” Callaway said.
Callaway analyzed the proposed set of five conditions that were requested by the board of aldermen on the Northtown Park development, and if those conditions could result in the developer having grounds to bring a lawsuit against the city.
“The analysis revealed that based on Missouri case law, that a claim could be brought forward by the developer and the likelihood of prevailing on that claim would be high for the developer,” Callaway said.
She added that the damages could go beyond a judge ordering that development conditions be removed, and that some of those damages would not be covered by insurance. In short, Ozark would be in a position to lose a lawsuit.
Developer Steve Johnson is the owner of Fortress Land Development, the company behind Northtown Park.
“There has been no lawsuit brought against the city at this point. Quite the contrary, I’m trying to do everything in my power to avoid that. It don’t believe that would help anybody in this situation,” Johnson said.
Galloway, also an attorney in addition to serving as an aldermen, trusted Callaway's advice.
“I really wanted the members of the public to understand what we were considering. When you have a city attorney who is experienced in land use law, and has developed experience in advising cities about legal issues, when you have that city attorney provide advice that a high probability existed for the developer to succeed, then you have to start thinking in terms of, ‘Well, who am I making the decision for?’” Galloway said.
Galloway’s concern was that Ozark exposed itself to the risk of spending taxpayer funds on lawsuit loss payouts, and that Ozark could also expose itself to future problems acquiring insurance coverage.
“Children at play” signs
Ozark City Administrator Steve Childers said that some of the conditions spelled out in a previous bill are being practiced now. The Ozark Police Department conducted an analysis of traffic in the Grand Haven subdivision.
“We have had our police department conduct speed control tests and monitoring in the subdivision. We know what the average speed in the subdivision is, so we have a base level that we can work with. There is not an issue out there now,” Childers said.
Public works employees have also installed some safety signs and speed limit lines in the areas surrounding Northtown Park.
“The locations of those signs were chosen in coordination with the police department based upon where they completed their speed study, based upon line of sight, and the most effective location to be visible,” Ozark Director of Public Works Jeremy Parsons said.
In the event that through traffic becomes a problem, Galloway hopes that residents of Grand Haven won’t hesitate to reach out to members of the board of aldermen.
“One thing I can note about Grand Haven, they have no trouble expressing viewpoints as a group to the board. If there are any problems, I will certainly be listening to them,” Galloway said.
“If there are concerns, we as staff want to know them and we want to respond to those in the most appropriate manner that we can,” Childers said.