Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Do we need a new city?

Developers tout site as county fields growth scenarios

Express Staff Writer

Thoughts about a new town as a possible pressure valve for Blaine County growth issues were catalyzed by this aerial photograph of the Bellevue Triagle, which also shows Spring Creek Ranch in the foreground. The property comprised of the three pivot circles south of the Timmerman Hill junction is being proposed as a site for a new town, a scenario county planning consultants are currently considering as a tool for managing growth. As land elsewhere in the county continues to sell at a premium, the ranch owners envision a new community designed with principles of sustainability on 800 of the 2,800 acre property.

Members of the public who attended a polling exercise Nov. 15 were asked to consider how they felt about four hypothetical growth scenarios proposed by Blaine County's land-use consultants, Clarion Associates. Although most support from about 300 members of the public went to a scenario that would push future residences in the county closer to existing cities, those who participated in the planning exercise also gave substantial support to the idea of allowing a new city to be built from scratch.

The idea publicized by the county's planning effort called "Blaine County 2025, Where and How Will We Grow?" was not explicitly described during the public outreach campaign. However, spurred on by the apparent interest in the concept, a group of developers led by Robert Kantor and George Kirk have chosen to pursue the idea in earnest. The idea began to develop after the group shared an aerial photograph of Spring Creek Ranch with county planners about a year ago, Kantor said.

The developers are discussing the concept of building a self-contained town on the 2,800-acre southern Blaine County property they control south of U.S. Highway 20. The potential town site is just south of Timmerman Hill on the west of state Highway 75. The developers propose to use approximately 800 acres of the property as a template for a new town.

Developing Green planning consultant Morgan Brown, who is consulting on the project, said initial thoughts are to develop about 1,000 homes on the property.

"The new town would be master planned with Blaine County Planning and extensive public involvement utilizing state-of-the-art sustainable design and smart-growth principles," Brown said.

There are currently three irrigation pivots on the property, which utilize water that could support residential and commercial development to the extent that the group imagines, said Greg Travelstead, a minor partner in the development group and a financial, real estate and ranching advisor.

Travelstead said that if wildlife studies, archeological research or any other contingencies preclude sensitive sustainable municipal development, the group would drop the idea on the specific property. But, as public sentiment for a new town appears to have legs and because the group has the support of Developing Green and the Urban Land Institute, the owners of the ranch are going to put the concept of a new town to the public test.

"We finally located in Spring Creek the ideal spot for a new town," said Kantor. "You can make a real difference because land values allow affordable market-rate housing. And, with a location just over the hill, the site isn't visible from Bellevue Triangle or Highway 20. It won't affect the vistas in the valley and won't have issues with neighbors who want to continue to look out their windows at rural fields."

The group is also keenly aware of the potential for the property with its proximity to the proposed site for a new airport—about six miles south of the ranch.

"Obviously, Spring Creek would be a great place for employee housing for the airport workforce," Kantor said.

County Commissioner Dennis Wright, who represents South County constituents, said the concept of a new town is one he will watch with interest.

"The whole ("Blaine County 2025") idea was to take the damn pressure off the real estate market and pressure off of Bellevue to annex, annex, annex, for example," Wright said. "Hailey has a little bit (of room) for growth to the east and west. When you add it together. I don't know if you need a new town."

But, Wright added that building a new town from scratch is a new concept compared to how towns developed historically, growing up around mines.

"My definition of a town is it's got to have all the components (like municipal services) or it's just another county subdivision," he said. "I still think it's an intriguing concept and should not be totally discarded at this juncture."

Anticipating concerns that Spring Creek, Idaho, would simply become a home for "big box" stores, Brown said part of the concept is to plan compact development.

"(The property) would be used to create a walkable community that provides a large amount of affordable entry-level housing while consuming a minimal amount of open space," Brown said. "A diversity of housing types would be accommodated to encourage an inclusive community with social and economic variety. Limited commercial zoning would offer small-town main street amenities such as convenience stores and restaurants that (meet) town residents' needs and (reduce) the need to drive up Highway 75. Large commercial uses—such as "big box" retail stores that could be detrimental to retail in existing cities and are inconsistent with a sustainable walkable community would be excluded."

Brown said the project's goal is to mitigate all its impacts and to be an asset to Blaine County as a whole.

"Spring Creek could provide government services such as a sheriff's substation, a fire station, a school, library and public streets. Community services infrastructure could include a central water system, an environmental wastewater system, recreational parks, and a community center. Details of services provided by the project would be worked out in a master planned development agreement with Blaine County," he said.

Travelstead said the existing farmhouse and outbuildings just off Highway 20 could be refurbished to function as a community organic farm. Other tentative plans include entrances from both Highway 20 and Highway 75 and integration with a regional public transportation system.

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