Friday, July 22, 2005

County planning work list could be pared down

Express Staff Writer

Following a three-day crash course of local land-use issues, two consultants from Colorado said Blaine County and its inherent cities will have to narrow the scope during an 18-month moratorium on new subdivisions in unincorporated portions of the county.

"The key is to not take on too many issues. You need a discreet number of issues," said Chris Duerksen, an attorney with Denver-based Clarion Associates. "It's a good list, but it's not a list you're going to be able to accomplish in the time frame."

Duerksen was referring to a roster of planning issues Blaine County compiled in January, when the moratorium was enacted. It includes regional growth management, housing, transportation, fiscal impacts of growth, water quality and the county's agricultural zoning.

Former Blaine County Commission Chairman Len Harlig said he, too, is concerned the county has bitten off too much.

"Is it realistic to include all of these things?" he asked during the Hailey meeting on Wednesday evening.

Duerksen and his associate, planner Ben Herman, agreed the county will be better served by doing two or three projects very well than attempting a half-dozen with marginal success.

"Nothing gets people wanting to work together more than success," Herman said.

In their three days in Blaine County, the consultants met with residents from southern Blaine County agriculture-based communities to north-valley retired homeowners. They flew in a chartered airplane over the vast expanse of fields in the southern county. They solicited citizen feedback at two public hearings, one in Hailey and another in Ketchum.

They also met with public officials throughout the county.

Perhaps the biggest upside to their visit is that, whether in the north or south, in a city or rural part of the county, people expressed similar concerns.

"We heard the same issues every place," Duerksen said. "The level of interest depends on what the issue is."

Herman agreed.

"To us, that's encouraging. We don't have to convince the left hand that the right hand has a problem."

At both public meetings, a predominant theme was that people do not want zoning amended to allow more density. Density belongs in the cities, many people said.

But Ketchum resident Mickey Garcia quickly put his finger on the crux of that sentiment.

"We've been fighting. We're going to fight after you leave," he said. "Nobody wants any more density, and it's a paradox."

Former Ketchum Mayor Jerry Seiffert agreed that the cities, by reducing allowed densities, have been forcing demand for increased densities in rural parts of the county.

"Ketchum (densities) are way too low," Seiffert said. "You forgot the deal. The big boxes have to either be in East Fork (as a rural example) or in the cities. You can't have it both ways."

"We've been going the wrong direction, decreasing (densities)," he said. "It's about design, not about the (densities) and heights."

Citizens for Smart Growth Executive Director Christopher Simms said fighting is not something people here want to continue doing. If a grassroots approach to code revisions is taken, the end result will hopefully quell the flames of land-use battles in Blaine County.

Housing and transportation, and their interrelated nature, were also dominant themes brought up by citizens at the two meetings. Creation of work-force housing near jobs will reduce traffic congestion on the highway, several people agreed.

Herman said the next step will be for the consultants to meet with county commissioners to, first, determine if their work will continue and, second, to suggest a work plan.

Limiting the work plan will be the key, he said.

"Some of the best advice I ever got from somebody was, don't start fixing something until you know what's broken," Herman said.

And that was the primary purpose of the visit.

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