Wednesday, January 26, 2005

County moratorium blueprint advances

Planner could be hired Thursday

Express Staff Writer

Blaine County leaders this week could contract with a local planning business to help organize the county's workload during a six-month moratorium enacted Jan. 10 on new residential subdivisions.

The Blaine County Commission will meet at 2:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 27, to consider asking Ketchum-based Developing Green to head up the effort, which could include drafting and revising a number of local planning related laws.

In a Monday, Jan. 24 meeting, commissioners attempted to establish a blueprint of work they hope to accomplish during the moratorium, which applies to new subdivisions of five or more lots in unincorporated portions of the county.

Blaine County 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.

The scope of work county leaders are contemplating is relatively broad and includes everything from affordable housing to water quality.

Commissioner Dennis Wright and former Commissioner Len Harlig agreed that the county should focus on a few of the most important growth-related issues during the moratorium.

"I would rather see a narrowed scope and see a good project rather than touch on a dozen or more projects and not really get anything done," Wright said. "What's going to pay off quickly? What's your biggest concern? The rest isn't going to go away, but will fall down the list a bit."

During Monday's meeting, however, commissioners talked for an hour about the planning issues they hope to resolve but failed to offer a clear picture about their priorities.

"We're 14 days in, and we're still kind of spinning our wheels to a certain degree," said Blaine County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Tim Graves. "My experience has been when there's nothing on paper for everyone to look at and you're just throwing around ideas, you don't make much progress."

According to Developing Green co-founder Martin Flannes, the hope is for the company to facilitate the policy process, not to make policy.

In the company's proposal to county leaders, the company essentially proposed to play the roll of project manager said the company's other co-founder, Morgan Brown. Brown declined to elaborate about the details of the proposal.

Details aside, Harlig stressed that in his years in county government, narrowing the scope of the project enables the most momentum to be carried forward.

"I think you go further fastest by picking one or two items and getting them in the public process," Harlig said. "If you wait eight or nine weeks, it's pretty unlikely you'll get even a small component through the P&Z process.

"Your delay, the holdup, will probably take place in the public hearing process. That could push you over your moratorium deadline."

Last week, county leaders issued a prospectus on their plans for the coming six months.

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," Commissioner Tom 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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