AVON - The Avon Town Council is trying to keep moving forward on a settlement with Village at Avon developers, but that forward progress required a step back Tuesday.
After a public hearing lasting the better part of five hours, council members voted unanimously to grant initial approval to a "planned unit development" amendment for the 1,700-acre project. That approval came with an important caveat, though - make it more simple.
Tuesday's vote was the latest step toward settling a pair of lawsuits first filed in 2009. The town first sued Village at Avon developers and the Traer Creek Metropolitan district. Those entities sued the town right back.
Just weeks before a scheduled trial in October of last year, the parties announced they had signed a "settlement term sheet" to end the litigation. They've been negotiating the rest of that agreement - which requires amendments and changes to the original 1998 development plan - for the past several months.
The town and the developers have been working on a host of changes. They're also working under some self-imposed, but judge-enforced, timetables. There's also another deadline looming.
BNP Paribas, an international banking company, holds a letter of credit for the Traer Creek Metropolitan District that's backed by district-issued bonds. The bank has an Aug. 2 deadline to extend that letter of credit. If the bank doesn't extend the deadline, the metro district's finances become far more complicated. The bank needs to see progress on a final settlement to extend that deadline.
That's why Tuesday's vote was important. Town council members also unanimously told the developers that proposed changes to the original plan would have to be pared back by the Avon Planning and Zoning Commission.
"I want this thing stripped back to what's in the settlement term sheet - nothing more, nothing less," council member Chris Evans said. "I'm not open to all this expansive language ... the developer needs to hear loud and clear that unless it gets cleaned up, I'm not in favor of voting for it."
The "expansive language" Evans mentioned is part of what has aggravated neighbors about proposed changes to the plan.
One of the biggest sticking points is a proposal to remove caps on commercial square footage. The original plan called for no more than 650,000 square feet of commercial space. While supporters claim that commercial space can still be limited by other land-use tools, council members were unwilling to give that much flexibility to the developers.
Residents who spoke against the plan opposed lifting the caps. Others, including resident Bette Todd, said the new document gave too much to the developers.
Others criticized the speed at which the plan is moving through the approval process.
"It's just not ready - the application doesn't meet your criteria (for approval)," Carol Krueger said.
Tamara Underwood, a former council member and longtime critic of the Village at Avon developers, agreed.
"I submit this (plan) is unapprovable," Underwood said. "Your only course of action is to deny it."
But denying the plan would almost guarantee another trip to court, something neither the town nor the developers want.
"If this litigation is not resolved, the millions of dollars of public money will continued to be poured into this instead of other projects," said attorney Brandee Caswell, who represents BNP Paribas. "The idea is everyone can try to put the past behind them, and leave the acrimony and disputes behind."
Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.