Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Blaine County calls time-out on building

Commission adopts 182-day emergency moratorium

Express Staff Writer

Developers contemplating large new subdivisions in unincorporated portions of Blaine County will have to shelve their plans for the next six months while county officials get their ducks in a row.

Citing a glut of potential new developments, the Blaine County Commission on Monday, Jan. 10, unanimously enacted a 182-day emergency moratorium on development applications that include five or more lots. The moratorium does not apply to applications already filed with the county.

"I continued to feel really strongly that we need to take a breather, so I proposed it (Monday)," said Blaine County Commission Chair Sarah Michael.

Michael and former commission Chairman Dennis Wright said they discussed the possibility for a moratorium in November along with former Commissioner Mary Ann Mix. They decided, however, to wait until after the holiday season so officials and planners could work more thoroughly to draft and revise the county's planning and zoning regulations.

"I knew that the board had discussed it in November, and it had not passed," said Tom Bowman, who was sworn in as the county's newest commissioner Monday morning. "I was pleasantly surprised when Sarah brought it up, and I fully support it."

Commissioners adopted the moratorium after 5 p.m. on Monday during the commission's regular weekly meeting. The moratorium was not noticed on the day's meeting agenda.

According to the moratorium, commissioners found there is "an imminent peril to the public health, safety and welfare" that requires a break from applications for rezones, subdivisions, planned unit developments, cluster community housing planned unit developments and other applications creating five or more building sites.

According to a county press release issued Tuesday, Jan. 11, the commission plans to look at a lengthy list of issues during the break. Things they will consider include:

· Amending the Blaine County subdivision ordinance to require community housing from new developments;

· Amending the subdivision ordinance to require a plan for public transportation from new developments;

· Amending the county's A-20 zoning district to allow only for cluster development;

· Revising zoning districts, in particular A-10, which includes many county hillsides;

· Analyzing the cost of providing services for new developments and developing mechanisms to pay for those impacts;

· Completing area of city impact agreements between the county and its inherent cities;

· Reviewing the community housing planned unit development ordinance to consider changing permitted densities and either expanding or reducing the size of the overlay district;

· Examining the impact of "what may be regarded as a new city between Bellevue and Gannet;"

· Examining the viability of creating water and sewer districts within the county;

· Rewriting sections of the comprehensive plan, zoning ordinance and subdivision ordinance.

The findings for the emergency ordinance state that Blaine County experienced 40 percent population growth from 1990 to 2000 and continues to grow at a rate of 3.5 percent annually.

In the past four years, development proposals in the county have ranged between four and 25 lots. In 2005, Blaine County is expected to receive applications for developments of 300 lots or more.

"This level of growth and density in the unincorporated county is unprecedented, and the county needs time to review its comprehensive plan and planning and zoning ordinances to determine whether existing ordinances adequately address the impacts of such proposals," the ordinance states.

Population growth has resulted in traffic congestion and impacts to wildlife, open space and agriculture. The addition of more than 100 new septic systems north of Hailey could affect the city's water supply.

"In 2005, Blaine County is expected to receive applications for developments of 300 lots or more," Michael said. "If approved, proposed developments would create subdivisions that are larger than the city of Carey."

Bowman agreed that the pending growth constitutes an urgent situation.

"The county needs time to review its comprehensive plan, subdivision and zoning ordinances to determine whether existing ordinances adequately address the impacts of such proposals," Bowman said. "That the board voted unanimously for this moratorium shows that we are taking seriously our voters' concerns regarding quality of life issues in our county."

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