Friday, October 21, 2005

Group proposes 550-acre annexation in Bellevue

Plan could double the size of the city

Express Staff Writer

An artist's rendering shows a village square that would be part of a proposed development on lands south of Bellevue. The Bellevue City Council expressed early skepticism with the idea, saying retail operations there could pull business from the city's downtown core. Graphic courtesy of David A. Clinger & Associates

The face of Bellevue may take on an entirely different look in coming years if city leaders approve the annexation of two large properties south of town.

At a special meeting of the Bellevue City Council on Tuesday, Oct. 18, council members heard testimony from property owners Harry Rinker and John Sherer about their desire to have their 550-acre combined properties annexed by the city. If annexed, the additions would nearly double the size of Bellevue.

The combined properties are located south of the Muldoon Ranch subdivision, east of Gannett Road, north of the Griffin Ranch subdivision, and west of the foothills owned primarily by the Bureau of Land Management.

Current ownership of the two properties is split between Rinker, who owns the more northern 170-acre parcel, and Sherer, who owns the more southern 380-acre parcel. As part of the proposed deal, Sherer has granted Rinker the option of purchasing the northern 100 acres of his parcel to convince him to pursue annexation with the city.

Much remains to be done before the City Council will be ready to make a decision on the proposal. Foremost, the city will have to draft and approve a Planned Unit Development (PUD) ordinance. The application would likely undergo lengthy review by the Planning and Zoning Commission and the council.

Such an ordinance would help guide the application process for the Rinker and Sherer developments, as well as for another annexation proposal also in the works for Slaughterhouse Canyon, which lies just east of Bellevue.

Rinker told the council he's prepared to work with Bellevue to make sure an annexation agreement is to their liking and benefits the city.

"If you want a quality development on this property I'm prepared to give it."

Rinker said he'd like to have the proposed development fully built out within several years.

Unlike Sherer, Rinker brought an initial conceptual master plan for his proposed development to the meeting. Rinker's proposed development would include a mix of home types—including large and small single-family homes, town homes and duplexes—in addition to a 21-acre corporate park and a village square with aspects like a chapel, daycare center, office space, and a number of small retail shops. The proposed development on Rinker's 270 acres would consist of 659 residential units, which would equate to approximately 2.4 units per acre.

The development would also include four small neighborhood parks, a southern extension of the paved Wood River Trails system and designated foothills open space that would adjoin the BLM lands to the east.

Rinker tapped Denver-based land planner David Clinger to draw up the initial master plan. Clinger has designed such projects as the Pines development in Ketchum and Harris Ranch, a large development located in southeast Boise.

Clinger said he designed the development as a "walkable village."

"The pedestrian is king here, not the car," Clinger said.

Already anticipating the concerns of the development's neighbors in Muldoon Ranch, he said the portions bordering that development were designed with sensitivity.

Due to his parcel's more southern location, Sherer said the density in his proposed development would likely be somewhat less than Rinker's.

Sherer indicated that his initial master plan will be similar to Rinker's in terms of its layout. Specifically, it won't be comprised of large privately owned acreages or isolated ranchettes. "We're looking to build communities and neighborhoods," he said.

Sherer indicated an openness to talking with Idaho Fish and Game, the Wood River Land Trust and Citizens for Smart Growth about how to design the developments with sensitivity. He said making habitat improvements for upland game birds and improving the equestrian trail along the property's eastern edge might be possible.

Rinker and Sherer also propose to designate a joint portion of their acreages for use by the Blaine County School District for a future junior high school.

Both landowners said Bellevue won't incur any costs for the building and future maintenance of the development's roads, parks and water and sewer services.

"There's no sense building amenities if you're not willing to take care of them," Sherer said.

Rinker said a likely option would be neighborhood associations responsible for those future maintenance costs.

"You will not have to ask for that," Rinker said.

The council indicated it would require Rinker and Sherer to post an as yet undetermined amount of money with the city. The funds would be used by Bellevue to hire an independent consultant to conduct studies looking at the potential traffic and economic impacts the development might have on the city.

Midway through the meeting, the public was invited to speak on the proposal.

The executive director of Citizens for Smart Growth, Christopher Simms, was first to speak. While concerned with some aspects of the proposal, Simms said Bellevue should give a serious look at eventual annexation of the properties.

"Harry Rinker has the ability to make Bellevue a better place," he said.

That said, Simms expressed serious concerns with Bellevue taking on such a large parcel all at once. Phasing development of the parcels over time might be a more prudent choice for the council to consider, he said.

Simms said the traditional neighborhood design components of Rinker's master plan and different size units and price points are all positive. "I do like the diversity," he said, adding that the need for affordable housing will also need to be addressed.

Bellevue's Linda Johnston, who lives near the proposed development, questioned the amount of homes proposed for what is currently open space.

"The density terrifies me," Johnston said.

Bellevue Councilman Jon Wilkes said no decision would be made during the meeting. The council has much to consider, he said.

"I don't think this council is going to readily approve what is in front of us," Wilkes said.

Before the council can proceed any further, Sherer will have to submit a proposed development masterplan for his own property, Wilkes and the rest of the council indicated. Sherer said he could have the master plan ready within two weeks.

Once that happens, the council will consider the proposals during a future meeting. From there, they will likely make recommendations to the Planning and Zoning Commission.

"I think the time of being afraid of annexation is well past," Wilkes said.

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