WAHOO – A group of concerned citizens was back to voice their opinions about a proposed rural subdivision near Leshara.

About a dozen people came to the Saunders County Board of Supervisors meeting on Oct. 8 to testify against an application for a zoning change from transitional agriculture to residential estates by the developers of Whispering Ridge Estates. The area is in the Leshara Township.

Abram Marshall, one of four investors in Whispering Ridge Estates, spoke to the supervisors about the proposed development, which would include 50 lots on 160 acres.

Marshall explained that the west 80 acres would have three- to five-acre lots, while the east side of the development would have larger lots.

“We want to make it look nice, to attract people to the area,” he said.

The Saunders County Planning Commission voted unanimously at their Sept. 9 meeting not to recommend approval of Whispering Ridge Estates, citing issues with the developer’s ability to find adequate water in the proposed area.

The planning commission does not have the power to approve zoning applications, but only makes recommendations to the county board of supervisors.

Marshall addressed the water issue, providing information from a flyover study done by the Lower Platte North Natural Resources District during a water assessment and citing the area’s proximity to irrigation wells.

“If this ground is irrigated, that alone would produce more water than what residential homes would use at the same time,” he said.

Gary Zicafoose, a landowner in the area, said it is his well to which Marshall is referring.

“To use that irrigation well as a reference for adequate water is kind of far-fetched,” he said.

Marshall said the developers would be willing to do more extensive testing in the area once the crops are out of the field.

“We’d be more than happy to drill test holes,” he said.

The planning commission and the opponents to the proposed development also expressed concern about adding more traffic to local roads. The developers have drawn up a plan that puts the main access in and out of the subdivision on Highway 64.

Zicafoose said Highway 64 is already busy during the rush hour, and will be even worse if 50 homes are built in the area, all of them leaving via the highway.

“At 6:30 in the morning, traffic is very heavy just to get to work,” he said.

The increased traffic would also be a liability for local taxpayers, as the local township budget is already stretched thin, said Rita Goree, who owns land near the proposed development.

“That’s a lot of extra traffic on a road that’s already burdened,” she said.

Other area residents and landowners spoke out against the subdivision, citing more concerns.

“This has never been just a water issue,” said Vicki Wollen, a local resident.

Farmers are concerned the increased water usage by 50 homes will draw down on their irrigation wells.

“In the long run, it’ll be an invasion of the water supply, which is short now,” said Bob Gutzwiler.

Some local landowners said there would be an overall adverse effect on nearby farming operations if more urban development is allowed in the rural area, including the loss of farm ground.

“We want our ground protected and we want to nurture it,” said Shelly Steinkruger, whose family has been farming in the area for five generations.

Zicafoose questioned why a subdivision should be located in the middle of a rural area. In this case, the location is seven miles from Yutan, the nearest city. Fire and rescue services would have to be provided by Yutan, as Leshara, which is closer, does not have its own volunteer department.

“It’s more practical to have developments close to towns,” said Zicafoose.

Other concerns brought up include increased storm water runoff and light pollution.

Marshall presented the supervisors with an email of support from local residents Dusty and Julia Reynolds, who live in a small acreage north of the proposed subdivision. The Reynolds said growth in the area is “inevitable,”

and that the fact that local investors are involved means they are more considerate of the wants and desires of local stakeholders.

Vicki Wollen and her husband, Jack, are also concerned about urban sprawl, so much so that they purchased six lots in a nearby rural subdivision as a way to control growth in at least one part of the area.

“(We) bought them so no more houses are built there,” Jack Wollen said.

Supervisor Craig Breunig said he had concerns about water availability, stating that a flyover study is not enough evidence of adequate water in the area.

“My heartburn is the water issue,” he said.

Breunig made a motion to table the zoning request, which was seconded by Supervisor Larry Mach. The matter will come back before the supervisors on Oct. 22.

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