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Final hurdles cleared for Elk Heights development

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By John Leggett-The Courier Herald

Dating back from the Elk Heights project's inception in 1992, it has taken 15 long years, but during the June 26 meeting of the Buckley City Council, a final stamp of approval was given.

All of the streets, sidewalks, curbs, storm drains and street lights had been installed in 2006 and everything appeared to be a go for home construction, when a glitch occurred.

The Tacoma Pierce County Health Department put the kibosh on things because it wanted to be certain the Elk Heights ground could accommodate the eventual 80 or so septic tanks that will be installed on a house-by-house basis.

County environmental health liaison Dennis Tone is on record as saying the placement of houses requires the developer to do two things. “It's two pronged; but the first requirement for platting is to have some sort of feasibility guaranteed to have appropriate soils,” he said. “The applicant must prove that there are drainfields capable of handling the septic systems.”

The drainfield allows effluent, or partially treated wastewater, to trickle through soil that acts as a filter. Aerobic bacteria and minerals in the soil break down the remaining organic material and kills germs. Chemicals such as phosphate are also contained by the soil.

“In order to clear this hurdle once and for all, (the county) told us that we had to wait out something called ‘a winter perk' before we could advance any further with the project,” said Doug Walker, who shares Elk Heights developer duties with Sterling Master Homes Inc., which will actually be sharing the construction responsibilities with Kerzie Homes.

“Despite the horrible 100-years winter we had, with all of the record rainfall and so forth,” Walker continued, “TPCHD liked what they saw in the way of perk after examining the drainfields at the end of the winter.”

Now that the development has received county clearance and been given final plat approval by the Buckley council, Walker is excited to get the ball rolling on building the new homes. He figures homes could be under construction within the next month.

“I'll bet I get a hundred calls a week from people who are eager to build these 4,000 square foot homes in an exclusive community like Elk Heights, on 18,000 square foot home sites,” Walker said.

“ These are not going to be cramped little cookie-cutter homes,” he said. “These are going to be spacious, quality, innovative homes with some really breathtaking views, that will begin at around $750,000 or more.”

Members of the Buckley City Council were not so awestruck by the ridgetop neighborhood that they rushed headlong through the approval process. The atmosphere in the room June 26 was one of aspiring to err on the side of caution.

Before signing off on the approval, a list of no less than 19 conditional items was unveiled, which contractors to complete before the approval can be chiseled in stone.

The first condition stated, “applicant (developer) shall be required to conduct water quality monitoring of Spiketon Ditch/Creek pursuant to a plan and schedule approved by the city for two years after final plat approval.”

The next stated, “In order to minimize impacts related to on-site stormwater runoff, all structures shall be required to install roof drain systems that are directly connected by tightline to the stormwater conveyance system.”

Another mandated that developers pay $7,826 per unit to the city to mitigate impacts to the city's water department for the operation and maintenance of wastewater treatment facility.

The city is taking steps to assure the sewage and water situation doesn't become a nightmare next winter or during ensuing winters.

“It is impossible that the runoff into Spiketon Creek will be more than it has been before,” City Administrator David Schmidt said. “There are so many more retention ponds up there, that engineers have told me that barring anything substantially worse than the 100-year rains we had last winter, we shouldn't have any flooding problems that we can't handle with relative ease.”

Schmidt held he is excited to have a community of this magnitude blending into a rural area like Buckley, but he expects Elk Heights community to be a fairly high-maintenance newcomer. “The cost of maintaining the infrastructure of this development is going to be more than we will ever be able to derive from the incoming tax dollars,” he said.

“The Elk Heights community is going to be a nice asset for the Plateau in general, but it isn't going to be any kind of a big money-making asset for the city of Buckley,” Schmidt said.

John Leggett can be reached at jleggett@courierherald.com.

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