The Richland Planning Commission in a 4-0 vote Wednesday recommended that the city council approve a new proposal for the ridge of Little Badger Mountain.
There was some question whether a vote by only four members of the nine-member commission was valid, but commissioners were assured because five members were present, the vote was OK.
Commissioners Clifford Clark, Mary Jo Coblentz and Stanley Jones were absent from Wednesday's meeting, and Debbie Burkowitz recused herself from voting on the preliminary plat for Falconcrest, a new development proposed by Milo Bauder to replace previous plans for The Crest development.
Commissioner Donald Chance abstained from the vote.
Burkowitz said her recusal was not in response to a request by Bauder's attorney, Brian Iller of Kennewick, who reportedly suggested before the meeting that her donation to an effort by the Friends of Badger Mountain to buy the land from Bauder a few years ago should disqualify her from voting.
Instead, Burkowitz said her recusal came because she is on the Friends of Badger Mountain board and had communicated with other board members about some trail issues raised in connection with the development.
Iller also asked for Commissioner Carol Moser to recuse herself, but Moser refused and said her donation to Friends of Badger Mountain didn't hamper her ability to consider the development plan impartially. Moser later voted in favor of the Falconcrest proposal, along with commissioner James Utz, Chairman Kent Madsen and Vice Chairwoman Marianne Boring.
The Crest has been marked with controversy since the council approved in late 2007 the plat and rezone of 41 acres where Bauder proposed to build, over the objections of several residents of nearby Crested Hills.
The focal point of the conflict was the amount of traffic Crested Hills residents believed would pour onto Morency Drive from The Crest.
Residents again raised those objections during Wednesday's public hearing on the new proposal for Falconcrest, arguing the road is too narrow, steep and winding for current traffic let alone more.
"It's just a matter of time before someone gets hurt," said Carrie Deforest, who lives on Morency, and said she can't let her three children play in their front yard because she's afraid of the traffic.
"I strongly oppose it on account of the safety of our kids," she said.
Bauder's latest plan has him short-platting part of the land into 15 larger-sized lots -- a move that didn't require city council approval -- and filing plans to develop about 21 acres as Falconcrest, with 44 lots averaging about 16,000 square feet each.
It's a less-dense development plan than Bauder planned to pursue for The Crest, which would have included 58 single-family homes and 87 townhouses on 44 acres, but a report written for the commission meeting said traffic from the development still will exceed what Morency was designed for.
The report estimates the 15 lots in Bauder's three short plats plus the 44 lots planned for Falconcrest would generate about 590 more trips on Morency per day than the street now gets.
The city classifies Morency as a "neighborhood collector" street, meaning it should carry between 400 and 1,500 trips per day.
Morency right now primarily serves the residents of Crested Hills, where 147 of 209 possible homes have been built. Those 147 homes translate into about 1,470 car trips per day, the report said.
Bauder is being asked to extend Baum Street to give Falconcrest an additional exit point. That potentially could divert 603 trips off of Morency each day, city engineers said.
But John Ziobro, the attorney representing a number of Crested Hills residents, said there's no guarantee people will take Baum instead of Morency.
"Crested Hills has already put Morency or will put Morency on a trip count that exceeds the maximum daily," he told the commission.
Iller countered that the trip count is just an average.
Ziobro also claimed that the new proposal seems to be designed to release Bauder from a requirement in the plan for The Crest to extend Rachel Road to provide a second exit from the development.
But Rick Simon, the city's Planning and Development Services manager, and Steve Stairs, city traffic engineer, denied ever having conversations with Bauder about getting out of the Rachel Road requirement by submitting a new development plan.
The commission's decision is only a recommendation. The city council gets the final say.