Wednesday, March 30, 2005

County moratorium expanded to include small subdivisions

Hold on development applications could be extended to July 2006

Express Staff Writer

The Blaine County Commission last week expanded an emergency moratorium it enacted in January on new subdivisions in unincorporated portions of the county.

The board's unanimous decision expanded the moratorium to include subdivisions of three lots or fewer. But the board is rumbling about also extending the moratorium for up to an additional year.

For the time being, however, no new subdivisions can be submitted to the county for approval, a departure from the original ban on subdivisions of four or more lots.

"After talking with our project managers and legal counsel, they made strong arguments for including everything," said Commissioner Tom Bowman. "If we believe in what we're doing, we should be able to apply the same rules on those that we are on larger subdivisions."

Bowman said there have been two applications for small subdivisions since the moratorium was enacted.

"We didn't see a big impact. This was not going to affect a lot of people," he said.

The current moratorium is scheduled to expire July 11, but Bowman said the commission is definitely going to consider an extension.

"We are also going to consider extending the moratorium for another 12 months," he said. "We don't expect to use the whole 12 months of the interim moratorium, but we're going to go for the statutory limit and cut it short from that."

He said commissioners do not know how much total time they will need, but he said one of the reasons more time may be needed is to work with the county's five cities on regional cooperation and "visioning."

He also said there are 20 subdivision applications that are "in the door" and are being processed. For that reason, the commissioners do not expect the moratorium to negatively affect the county's construction industry.

What's more, the moratorium does not prevent construction of new houses, only the subdivision of chunks of land, Bowman said.

The board unanimously adopted the initial moratorium unannounced and late in the day on Jan. 10, following the morning swearing in of Commission Chair Sarah Michael and Bowman. Citing concerns about water quality and quantity and other quality of life impacts, Michael commented on the unprecedented development the county is undergoing.

"Until 2004, development proposals in Blaine County have averaged between four and 25 lots. 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."

Since enactment of the moratorium, commissioners have been working with consultants from Developing Green, a local company, to rewrite the county's subdivision ordinance and others that have been targeted. However, the county will also soon begin seeking help from additional consultants, Michael said.

The projects include regional planning, revision of the county's A-10 zoning designation, and assessment of community values relating to natural resources. A three-page summary of things to be addressed in the project includes lengthy lists of items to include for revision and research.

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