Planning for Blaine County’s
Guest opinion by Christopher
Christopher Simms is executive
Citizens for Smart Growth.
Members of the Blaine County
Planning and Zoning Commission and a great number of citizens, have
expressed frustration and concern with the application of Blaine
County’s planning and zoning ordinances as well as general development
trends in the county. Open space and agricultural lands continue to be
eroded by subdivisions throughout the Wood River Valley. Sprawling
development is harmful to wildlife habitat, air quality, water quality
and ultimately our quality of life. The EPA rates Blaine County as a 5
on a scale of 6 for vulnerability to water quality problems.
The Blaine County Comprehensive
Plan has not been reviewed for 10 years. Most of the planning and zoning
code dates from 1977. Even the county’s own list of identified planning
priorities have not, with one exception, been accomplished since
Citizens for Smart Growth began tracking the issues in 1999. From a list
including Area of Impact Agreements, Transfer of Development Rights
Ordinance, McHanville rezone, Residential Building Size Ordinance,
Community Housing and Dark Sky Ordinance, only a Wireless Tower
Ordinance has been passed.
Recently, several subdivisions
were approved along Broadford Road. Neighbors expressed concerns about
wildlife impacts, congestion on Broadford Road, well and septic system
failures, erosion and siltation of the river due to construction site
vegetation removal, and a general reduction in resident’s quality of
life. Because of our outdated planning and zoning laws, neither staff
nor commissioners were able to reshape these subdivisions into more
environmentally friendly developments.
Likewise, Blaine County has not
completed planning to regulate citing of Concentrated Animal Feeding
Operations as required by an Idaho State Law enacted in July 2003.
Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations are known to cause unacceptably
high levels of nitrate in groundwater. Drinking nitrate-contaminated
water can cause "blue baby" syndrome in infants and a host of adult
health problems. In fact, groundwater in Carey, adjacent to a large
animal feeding operation and homes on septic systems, is polluted with
nitrate beyond EPA allowable levels.
As our five cities develop and
experience large increases in real estate prices, there is more and more
demand to develop rural areas as subdivisions and to increase density in
the county’s residential zoning districts. Demographics are also working
against us. Population continues to explode as baby boomers retire and
relocate to Blaine County.
The long-term planning priorities
referenced above are complex problems. Solutions to these problems will
involve balancing competing values and difficult political choices.
Day-to-day P&Z business keeps county staff so busy that they have little
or no time to focus on planning issues or to update zoning and
subdivision ordinances. The Planning and Zoning commissioners, working
on a virtual volunteer basis, face agendas overloaded with development
applications. Each and every person involved in the process is
conscientiously applying themselves to the tasks before them.
We have fine leadership on the
Blaine County Commission. The commissioners individually are diligent
and sincere in their efforts to shape a stronger healthier Blaine
County. However, in working so hard our land use planning leaders have
not worked smart.
By the county’s own calculation,
there are five years of planning priorities that need action, and new
ones are added each year. Please ask your county commissioners to set
aside the clutter of day-to-day business, hire a staff long-range
planner and to act on these issues.