Ozark developer asks for new deal, compromise with neighbors

Developer Steve Johnson is the owner of Fortress Land Development, the company behind Northtown Park. The not-yet-built subdivision in northern Ozark is not currently served by any streets or roads, but is adjacent to Grand Haven to the north and Quail Meadow to the east. The three subdivisions all fall inside the Ozark Special Road District.

No action has been taken to amend the development agreement, but the city government could consider some changes in the future.

In February, the Ozark Board of Aldermen voted to allow Johnson to develop houses in what will become Northtown Park. The board also voted to impose seven additional conditions for development that Alderman Jason Shaffer introduced at a meeting Nov. 4, 2019. Construction traffic, save for a few pieces of heavy equipment in the early days of development, will not be allowed to pass through Grand Haven. “Children at play” signs and other traffic control devices will be installed in the neighborhood, the Ozark police will conduct extra patrols, and traffic studies will be performed to evaluate Northtown Park’s impact on traffic as its phases of development proceed.

Johnson asked the Ozark Board of Aldermen to remove three of the previous restrictions and replace them with new stipulations suggested in a letter from the Ozark Special Road District and the Quail Meadow property owners, who want the construction trucks routed through both Quail Meadow and Grand Haven, on a split basis.

Johnson said on May 4 that he now believes the restrictions for construction traffic are not fair.

“It’s not uncommon for residential developments to share streets that travel through one subdivision to reach another. In quick research, I identified over 10 of these within Ozark. No other development has had to comply with the conditions imposed on Northtown Park,” Johnson said.

Johnson said he has met with property owners who live in the Quail Meadow subdivision about construction traffic, and how that traffic would be routed through Quail Meadow rather than Grand Haven as construction of Northtown Park progresses.

Travis Elliott, attorney representing Fortress Land Development, presented exact changes to the ordinance governing the Northtown Park development to the Ozark Board of Aldermen, including language to be struck and language to replace what he proposed the board remove.

“(Johnson) voluntarily annexed property into the city, he has an access through Grand Haven, but based upon these conditions, all of the construction traffic after initial mobilization has to come through a road that is not in the city and is in the special road district,” Elliott said.

Elliott echoed Johnson’s call for fairness.

“He’s in the unfortunate position of the city saying, ‘You’re in the city, but you can’t use our road to build the subdivision,’ and the Quail Meadow and Ozark Special Road District is, as I understand it, very minimal to all of the traffic coming through their road,” Elliott said.

The Ozark Special Road District has reportedly withdrawn its support for Northtown Park’s development plan because it calls for all of the construction traffic that will happen from the development to be routed out of the city and onto Quail Meadow Road, which is the special road district’s responsibility.

Ed Addington, a member of the Ozark Special Road District Board of Directors, explained the road district’s desire to see some changes to the development agreement.

“The construction traffic is going to have to go an additional two miles out of their way to go through Quail Meadow to go into Northtown Park,” Addington said.

Addington said that Quail Meadow Road is not wide enough to accommodate some construction equipment, namely bulldozers.

“All of the burden has been placed on the residents of Quail Meadow,” Addington said. “You can’t make that turn off of Willow into Quail Meadow with a large semi trailer, not without running through a ditch or somebody’s yard. It won’t happen.”

Aldermen Nathan Posten and Ted Smith said they found it difficult to understand the Ozark Special Road District’s position.

“It seems like we passed something, you won’t do something, you put conditions on something, and then you want us to remove conditions, and it still seems like the same thing,” Smith said. “It seems you don’t want them to use that road.”

“It can take as much as six months or more to build a house, to get occupancy (permits), and you could be building 30 homes in there, and you’re going to force all of that traffic through Quail Meadow,” Addington said. “The only thing that’s been objected to is all of the traffic being forced on them.”

In November 2019, residents of Grand Haven, where there are 140 homes, protested plans that would link Grand Haven and Northtown Park via North Newport Drive. Northtown Park will be a more affordable subdivision than Grand Haven, with lower-priced houses.

Mike Shirley, a representative of the Grand Haven Homeowners Association, asked that the city uphold its original agreement and its original restrictions on the Northtown Park project.

“Our primary concern was one of safety with the access issue and going through our neighborhood, especially on 19th where you first turn in, as that goes right past our commons area where we have our clubhouse, where we have our pool, where we have a playground for our children,” Shirley said.

Shirley said the Grand Haven group is not anti-development.

“Throughout this process, it became obvious that there was a real commitment, in good faith, to try to accommodate a developer and his application to process, to try to accommodate the citizens of Grand Haven and Ozark, and that resulted in a compromise that was shaped into a formal proposal,” Shirley said.

Shirley said he and the other residents of Grand Haven don’t understand what has changed that would prompt Fortress Land Development to ask for new conditions.

“We thought that was a good-faith approach and that everybody was committed to that,” Shirley said. “We appreciated the effort.”

Bruce Martin owns a home on Quail Meadow Road, a cul-de-sac. He believes the road will be damaged, at cost to the Ozark Special Road District, if it is used to accommodate heavy equipment. The road is 22 feet wide and has no sidewalks.

“These characteristics make it suitable only for low traffic volumes and speeds,” Martin said. “We continue to assert the city should seek out a road access that best serves the existing residents of the area, which would address concerns expressed by both the residents of Grand Haven and Quail Meadow.”

Shaffer, the writer of the original seven development restrictions, pointed out that traffic will be allowed to pass through Grand Haven into Northtown Park once the first house in Northtown Park is completely built and an occupancy permit is issued.

Grand Haven and Northtown Park are separated by a locked gate at the south end of North Newport Drive.

“I believe Mr. Johnson and his wife both told us that they would accept these conditions and had no problem locking the gate,” Shaffer said.

“I believe that as a strict statement may be true,” Elliott responded, “but you have to understand that there was a change of circumstances, and the pieces were moved with respect to the positions of the city and the (Ozark Special Road District), and that put Mr. Johnson in a different position than when those conditions were initially discussed.”

Shaffer commended Johnson for opening further discussion with Ozark’s leaders, as well as meeting with property owners in the neighboring subdivisions.

“I want this development to go in, I want the citizens of Grand Haven to be pleased. I want the citizens of Quail Meadow to be pleased. I appreciate Steve’s attempts to resolve this,” Shaffer said.

The Ozark Board of Aldermen did not conduct a vote on the proposal on May 4. The board and Mayor Rick Gardner conducted the meeting through a mixture of a Zoom teleconference and some in-person speakers who attended the meeting at the Ozark Community Center.