Friday, February 25, 2005

County forum addresses regional planning

Consultants lead on-going visioning meetings

Express Staff Writer

A barrage of planning forums are keeping the Blaine County Commission, planing consultants, Developing Green, chambers of commerce, the public and city officials buzzing with big picture questions.

Commissioners Sarah Michael and Tom Bowman both attended a meeting Wednesday evening at the old Blaine County Court House on regional planning. The upstairs meeting room in the courthouse is getting a solid workout during the public forums on countywide issues.

The on-going forums include community housing, the cost of providing services in the county (particularly where farm ground has become subdivisions), water quality and quantity, wastewater treatment, and community housing.

"We had a very good cross-section of the community," said Developing Green consultant Martin Flannes, who has considerable regional planning experience from Lake Tahoe on the border of Nevada and California. "I think it's fair to say there's a strong consensus for regional planning, and it should happen now."

The manner in which regional planning could occur in the county is open to debate. There are at least three scenarios. Currently, the county relies on area of impact agreements (ACI), such as the contract it has with the City of Hailey, which restricts the city from annexing land outside the limits of the ACI.

Developing Green is charged with reporting to the commissioners on their recommendations about regional planning and inter-governmental relations.

Individually, Bowman and Michael expressed strong support for regional planning.

"They feel the county should take a leadership role in this process," Flannes said. The expectation is that some type of entity, however it is labeled, would be either a recommending or an authoritative law making body.

The ad hoc process where governmental leaders from throughout the county get together once in a while to discuss regional issues could become a true council of governments, Flannes said.

Currently, Bellevue and Carey have no ACI agreements with the county and there is some debate as to whether ACI agreements actually work as regional planning tools.

Another concept allowed by Idaho Code is the formation of joint planning commissions, whereby the county and City of Carey, for example, could work together on planning within a certain distance of the city.

The third option that was discussed is to begin with a fresh start by combining city and county authority in a "joint powers" entity.

"It is a completely new approach," Flannes said. "With the joint powers approach the cities and the county could create whatever they wanted."

All entities would voluntarily enter into any such arrangement.

The next scheduled meeting is Monday, Feb. 28 when consultant Lisa Horowitz with Golden Triangle Consulting will lead a discussion into cluster developments and open space in the county. The meeting will be held at the Old Blaine County Courthouse from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Another meeting on water supply, water quality and wastewater treatment will be held at the same time on Wednesday.

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