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City council approves annexation of Creek View Estates

| October 7, 2005 12:00 AM

By BRENT SHRUM Western News Reporter

The Libby City Council on Monday approved annexation of the 19-acre, 61-lot Creek View Estates subdivision off Hamann Avenue but held off on a proposal to annex two pieces of city-owned property near the Kootenai River.

The council gave preliminary approval to the subdivision in August and last month approved a variance to allow streets in the development to be built to a narrower width than required by city standards. Streets in the subdivision will have 24-foot driving surfaces with two feet of curb on each side where city regulations call for a 40-foot street width.

Also last month, developer Jim Beasley presented the council with a request for annexation into the city, which was one of the conditions under which the subdivision was approved.

Beasley has said that his plan for the development is to provide affordable housing for local residents. He said he plans to build one "spec house" at a time, not building another until each is sold. Lots would also be available for sale to people who want to build their own homes. The subdivision will be developed in five blocks, and new blocks won't be opened to buyers until the lots on the previous block have been sold.

Mayor Tony Berget confirmed with Lincoln County Commissioner Rita Windom, who was in attendance at Monday's meeting, that the county wants the city to take over ownership of Hamann Avenue. Windom said the county would like to see that happen "sooner rather than later."

Although the county does not allow trucks on the road, problems with truck traffic have arisen since work has started on the development, Windom said.

"The neighbors are very unhappy, and I don't blame them," she said. "But it's not going to be my problem, it's going to be your problem."

Council member Gary Huntsberger did not vote on the annexation, noting a concern raised by Libby resident D.C. Orr. Orr said Huntsberger has a conflict of interest because he owns property adjacent to the subdivision.

The council tabled action on a proposal from Berget to annex two pieces of land owned by the city. One of the parcels is the site of the city's sewer plant, and the other is a vacant piece of land across the river. Various parties have expressed an interest in buying the land across the river, Berget said.

"It seems like at least two or three times a year someone is offering to trade or buy this property over here," he said.

The city council has always declined, Berget said, but he proposed annexing the parcel now so that any future development would be inside the city.

Huntsberger suggested not voting on the city property annexation pending further discussion and public input. The council agreed to table the issue until its next meeting, scheduled for Oct. 17.

In other business, the council also tabled a decision on a proposed 2.7 percent water and sewer rate increase.

The proposed increase reflect the cost of living and match the cost of living allowance given to city employees this year. According to Berget, the city plans to make small rate increases to cover rising expenses a regular occurrence rather than waiting a number of years and having to enact a large increase all at once.

For city residents, minimum water rates are proposed to increase from $22.92 per month to $23.54 per month for 3/4-inch or smaller meters and from $32.34 to $33.21 for 1-inch meters. For county residents, rates would increase from $28.66 to $29.43 for 3/4-inch or smaller meters and from $40.46 to $41.55 for 1-inch meters.

The current base sewer rate of $15.64 per month would increase to $16.06 under the proposal.

The council decided to postpone action on the rate increase after hearing from several city residents who voiced their concerns during a public hearing preceding the regular meeting. Issues raised included the financial burden increased rates would place on senior citizens and low-income households as well as the difficulties presented to people who try to maintain green, manicured lawns. City resident Jim Morey said the presence on the meeting agenda of action items regarding approval of the rate increases made it appear that the council had already made up its mind.

Councilman Lee Bothman proposed tabling the issue until the council can give it some more consideration.

"I agree with Mr. Morey," said council member Doug Roll. "We should wait at least a couple of weeks."

"I think it gives us time to explore possibilities," Bothman said.

The council plans to consider the rate increase again at its Oct. 17 meeting.