Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Carey braces for growth

Bedroom communities touted as next population centers

Express Staff Writer

As property values and the pace of construction throughout Blaine County continue to climb, it is difficult to proclaim any one of the county’s cities as a predominant bedroom community.

The fact is, however, that many local employees don’t live where they work, and they generally commute from “down-valley” towns to the employment centers in Hailey, Ketchum and Sun Valley.

What that means for towns like Bellevue, Carey and even out-of-county cities like Shoshone and Twin Falls is a circle of continued growth and escalating property values that emanates from the northern Wood River Valley like rumbles from an earthquake.

“I think it’s already happening in Carey,” said Mayor Rick Baird, who commutes 33 miles his job as airport manager in Hailey every weekday. “The same thing’s happening to us that’s happening all over the county. We are in the very infancy of escalating property values down there as well.”

But Carey, too, serves as a job center for employees who commute from elsewhere. It’s a chain reaction that emanates from the epicenter of employment and property values in Ketchum and Sun Valley.

“A few weeks ago, I had conversations with some of our employers down there about the problems we’re having,” Baird said. “One of the things they told me is that their entry-level employees are driving to work from Twin Falls and Shoshone.”

The trend is not unique. Speaking in general terms, Ketchum employees commute from Hailey, Bellevue and points south. Hailey employees commute from Bellevue, Carey and points south. Some Carey employees commute from Shoshone and Twin Falls.

One of the biggest losers in the overall trend is Ketchum, which City Councilman Randy Hall said is losing its soul.

“If you want to get a glimpse of Old Ketchum, go down to Atkinsons’ in Hailey. You spend any time down there, and you start to see that Hailey’s really evolving,” Hall said.

Hall drives to Twin Falls regularly to serve as a paramedic. During his early morning commutes, he said he sees thousands of people driving north toward the Wood River Valley.

“There are so many cars coming up. It’s crazy,” he said. “I’m figuring out that property values are getting so high here that people have no choice but to go down to Shoshone or Twin Falls.”

Blaine-Ketchum Housing Authority Director Michael David agreed that property values everywhere from Bellevue north through Ketchum and Sun Val-ley have usurped the average working person’s salary. He said he recently saw a Shoshone home listed for $129,000.

“That’s getting pretty high,” he said. “In terms of a place for the workers to live, I think definitely Carey. I think Bellevue is already out of reach for many of the people the housing authority is trying to serve.”

Hall said the ongoing trend indicates to him that more regional solutions must be sought to many of Blaine County’s growth-related obstacles.

“The big picture is that we are a big community, and in order to solve our problems, we need to look at it as such,” he said. “Our community is going to be the entire Blaine County. We need to find out how that fabric weaves in and out of our community, whether it’s traffic, construction, housing or whatever.”

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