Wednesday, January 19, 2005

County eyes control of development


By GREG STAHL
Express Staff Writer

Blaine County leaders on Tuesday outlined an aggressive timeline and itinerary to draft new regulations governing new subdivisions and development in unincorporated portions of the county.

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The Tuesday afternoon meeting followed on the heels of a Jan. 10 decision to enact a six-month emergency moratorium on development proposals that include five or more lots. At the meeting Tuesday, commissioners unanimously affirmed their decision from a week earlier.

"If we don't seize the day on this, it will never be done," said Commissioner Tom Bowman.

Commissioners fielded a few public comments regarding the moratorium before taking the vote. In all cases, those who spoke said the moratorium is necessary and will provide county leaders and planners the opportunity to take a careful look at how county land-use laws are affecting growth.

"This moratorium will give you the time to do it properly," said Morgan Brown, a county resident and partner in Developing Green, a local organization that advocates progressive planning and development techniques.

Commission Chair Sarah Michael outlined a timeline for the county to investigate a number of ordinance revisions. Under Michael's proposal, county officials must compile draft ordinances by the end of March in order to kick off review by the Blaine County Planning and Zoning Commission and county commission.

"This reflects the kind of schedule, I think, that is realistic," Michael said. "We need a draft by the end of March."

If both political bodies hold three hearings, a vote on final approval of the new regulations would occur on June 20 or 21.

Blaine County Planning Administrator Linda Haavik stressed that the commission should conduct a "truly public process" and suggested frequent Internet updates. Press releases were also suggested as a potentially reliable means for keeping local citizens informed.

County leaders issued a prospectus on their plans for the coming six months and discussed the plans for about an hour Tuesday afternoon.

For starters, the outline indicates that the county will consider amending the county's subdivision ordinance to require a certain amount of community housing.

"How should impacts be mitigated: Are all areas within the county suitable for affordable housing? In-lieu fees? Size of housing; mixture of affordable housing in the county? What income levels should be addressed? Bonuses for developers who offer greater contributions to affordable housing?" the outline asks.

The outline also suggests amending the county's A-20 zoning designation so that only cluster development could take place. The analysis would include a look at septic and water issues, a review regarding agricultural operations and maintenance of open space, setbacks from highways and the benefits of open space, agriculture and wildlife habitat preservation.

The county's A-10 zoning designation could also be analyzed to determine what kinds of development densities are appropriate for these areas, which are called unproductive agriculture, meaning they don't have the level of reliable water supplies that other areas have.

Another area of review includes an analysis of the cost and impacts of providing services for new developments and consideration of financial mechanisms allowed by Idaho Code to recover costs.

"There is no question this will take a real expert to execute," said Blaine County Citizens For Smart Growth Executive Director Christopher Simms.

Officials also plan to study whether county ordinances adequately protect water supplies from septic, sewer and municipal water systems.

"Some of these new developments are so large that they basically need to have their own self-contained sewer systems," Bowman said.

The county is also proposing to complete area of city impact agreements between the county and Bellevue, Hailey and Carey; to review the county's new Community Housing Planned United Development ordinance; discuss the viability of creating water and sewer districts within the county; and rewriting applicable sections of the comprehensive plan, zoning ordinance and subdivision ordinance.




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