New development proposed at old Helen's Store

Nearby earth slump is concern

This slump zone near Helen's Store, also known as a landlide, has been an ongoing concern in the area. Enlargephoto

Photo by carole mcwilliams

This slump zone near Helen's Store, also known as a landlide, has been an ongoing concern in the area.

The La Plata County Commissioners have approved a conceptual development plan (CDP) for commercial development of the Helen's Store property on County Road 240 at the turn-off to Lemon reservoir.

The commissioners gave this first level of approval to the 4.9 acre proposal on Aug. 5. The applicants are Donald and Nicole Hutchins of 3669 CR 240. They want to build a 900-square-foot liquor store and a 2,000-square-foot restaurant.

They propose to do this in two phases - the liquor store to be built about 300 feet southwest of Helen's Store and most of the infrastructure for the entire development in phase one, and the restaurant and its parking lot in phase two. Use of Helen's Store would be abandoned with phase one. An existing trailer home would be removed in phase two.

Each phase will go through a class II permit process. That's when the applicants will have to show adequate water, sewer, and access. Signs, lighting, and hours of operation also will be addressed at that stage. The applicants have done a traffic study showing that no turn lane improvements will be needed, and the County Public Works Department has agreed.

Planning staffer John Deagan said traffic generated by the project is not expected to overload CR 240 or reduce the road's level of service. It also is not expected to cause any adverse change to the character of the neighborhood, since the property has previously been commercial, he said. It will mainly serve the needs of the neighborhood.

The property is within the Florida River 100-year flood zone, so the development will have to satisfy FEMA flood regulations.

The big concern on Aug. 5 was a geologic slump zone across the road from Helen's Store. Planning staff recommended approval of the conceptual development plan with three conditions, including more study of the slump hazard and how it might be mitigated.

Applicant representative Nancy Lauro argued against that. "I didn't realize that condition was added," she said. The applicants hired Trautner Geotech to study the slump, resulting in a five- page letter to the county.

She read from it: "In my opinion, based on the discussion above, it's unlikely that the conditions will develop to cause a catastrophic slide.'"

Lauro continued, "The slide has slipped for years and years. It's not on this property. The old development is significantly more at risk than the new development... If you want us to map the entire flow which isn't on (the applicant's) property), it's a significant expense, and it will need permission of the landowner."

Lauro asked the commissioners to act on the plan even if it includes the condition of more study of the slump. "We thought we had addressed the condition already. It was reviewed by (the Building Department) and Public Works and they were okay with it."

County Attorney Sheryl Rogers advised, "At this stage, you are just reviewing the CDP for compliance with the land use plan."

Deason said, "We'd like a quantification of the hazard - the amount of material, how fast it might move, whether it could cause building collapse."

Rogers said, "We have a lot of respect for Trautner. He's done a lot of work for the county on that slide. But we want the applicant to be aware that there may be need for enhanced mitigation."

Lauro countered, "The county has been trying to mitigate it for 20 years, mainly scooping mud off the road. This could be a death knell for the project."

Rogers suggested removing the work "quantify" from the condition.

Deason said, "The intent of this condition is to get a better idea of the hazard. Removing the word 'quantify' won't change that."

Commissioner Julie Westendorff was willing to remove the word, but said the geological hazard "will be the biggest concern in my mind."

Two neighbors commented on the proposal. Their main concerns were the liquor store, possible noise, and rowdy behavior.

The proposal is consistent with the Florida Road land use plan, Lauro said. "This is recognized in the plan as a commercial area. It says new commercial uses should be concentrated around existing commercial use. Helen's Store is listed. The only two places in the district plan that are mentioned are this site and Edgemont (Ranch)."

Phase one will be "a very small store with very limited impact on neighbors," Lauro said. "When we get to phase two, the restaurant, that's probably some way off. The owners would like some outdoor entertainment. When we get (to that stage of review), we can eliminate or mitigate that. We are willing to work with neighbors."

The commissioners voted unanimously to approve the CDP, minus the word "quantify" in the condition about the slide.