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As a public servant, I appreciate the fact that people in our valley are passionate, engaged and willing to voice their opinions. Often it can feel as if our work on the Victor City Council takes place in a vacuum. We go for months without hearing from citizens or having anyone show up at our meetings. That silence makes our work faster and more efficient, but it can also create distance between city government and its constituents.

So, it’s been good to hear from people about the rezone for the proposed Fenn development on the northwestern edge of Victor. Unfortunately, from my perspective, many of the comments we received seem to be based on misinformation. Therefore, I would like to clarify the thoughts I had when voting to approve the rezone.

To begin with, I know people hate the Meadows subdivision on the western edge of town. I do too. That project took us by surprise and showed us some unanticipated shortcomings in our newly adopted zoning code, namely the lack of design guidelines. In response, the city council voted to temporarily remove cottage courts from some of the zoning areas to allow us time to develop design guidelines for all future development. With the help of Shawn Hill, from VARD, we modified and adopted a version of the City of Driggs’ design guidelines and appointed a committee to refine them further for our city. That process is just beginning, but in the meantime, we now have guidelines in place to help prevent another Meadows subdivision.

As has been reported, most of the feedback we received on the Fenn development was negative. Unfortunately, planning decisions are not based on popularity, and while I appreciate hearing from people, dislike for a project is not a good enough reason to reject a private landowner’s right to develop. That decision has to be determined by how the project fits with the city’s comprehensive plan, which contrary to what some people said in their public comments, the city does have. After careful deliberation considering Victor’s Land Development Code’s criteria for approving a rezone, both the Victor City Council and the planning and zoning commission, voted in favor of changing the Fenn property from RS-7 to RS-3. This rezone does not give Fenn more density. It does allow him to use cottage courts in the development.

I voted to support the rezone because of the following: The project area is well supported by city infrastructure; it’s within a half mile of the downtown core; it’s connected to the downtown by a bike path and well-maintained roads; and it will provide affordable housing within city limits. These have been goals laid out by the comprehensive plan and the city’s zoning code, both of which were subject to community input over the years.

I’ve been surprised by the outburst of opposition to the project, which feels personal and hostile. I’m also surprised by the citizen-led de-annexation petition that is circulating our community. I thought we’d heard loud and clear from people that they don’t want more subdivisions with 2-acre lots and large single-family homes, which is what will be allowed if the property were to revert to the county. I thought people wanted clustered development and affordable housing. I thought people wanted to see design guidelines to direct the look and feel of development in our towns. I thought that our decision to rezone the Fenn property was, therefore, the best option we had to guarantee a project that was tasteful and appropriate for the city of Victor.

Granted, as VARD has pointed out, having the city be the party to put forward the rezone petition is unusual. But that decision came about because of mistakes that happened in our communication with the landowner, for which we as a city felt a responsibility to correct. There was no backroom deal or sneaky negotiations. We made errors. We have a new zoning code and have had a lot of turnover in our planning department and in the process interpretations and expectations were set that turned out to be inaccurate. We accept these shortcomings, but we do not see the result as fatally flawed. Rather, it is our belief that the rezone will ensure we have the best possible outcome for the Fenn property. So, to be honest, it’s been frustrating to be accused of malfeasance when I believe city leaders have worked hard to abide by our code, honor private property rights, and live up to the aspirations set forth by Envision Victor, our comprehensive plan and the zoning map.

When I asked one person why she chose to sign the de-annexation petition, she said, “The project looked really bad.” What she’d seen was a rendering circulated by VARD of the Fenn development that has absolutely no basis in reality. It’s just a computer-generated illustration that echoes the Meadows subdivision, which of course, we all dislike. But that’s not what Fenn is planning to create, nor is it something that our design guidelines will allow, so it’s frustrating that VARD is using fear tactics and inaccurate information to drum up opposition to this project especially when VARD was so instrumental in developing our design guidelines. VARD has been an important voice in our community, but in my opinion, in this case it is spreading misinformation and generating hostility that prevents constructive dialogue and results in bad feelings and mistrust.

I, like many of you, would love to see the Fenn property left open, but the only way that is going to happen is if someone buys it and puts a conservation easement on the land. Otherwise it is a prime place for housing, and Jonathan Fenn is totally within his rights as a property owner to develop. As a city, we decided our best option for making sure that development fits the vision of our comprehensive plan was to rezone it. It’s that black and white. There’s no backdoor dealing, no secret agreements, no special favors.

Molly Absolon

Victor City Council

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