Wednesday, December 14, 2005

New Bellevue P&Z administrator faces numerous growth-related issues

Express Staff Writer

The city of Bellevue recently hired Craig Eckles as the new administrator for its Planning and Zoning Department. Eckles, who grew up in nearby Gooding, has worked in various planning departments in communities throughout southern Idaho. Photo by David N. Seelig

For Craig Eckles, who was recently installed as Bellevue's new planning and zoning administrator, cresting Timmerman Hill and dropping down into the southern end of the Wood River Valley has always served as an excellent visual reminder of why the area is so special to him.

"There are some pretty places, but this is spectacular," Eckles said. "There's nothing like it."

As a child growing up in nearby Gooding, Eckles and his family would often drive through the Wood River Valley on their way to the cabin they owned near Redfish Lake, south of Stanley.

"This (the Wood River Valley) has always felt like home," he said.

Eckles' first day at Bellevue City Hall was in late October. He was hired after Jackie Crego, the city's previous P&Z administrator, departed the position in September.

Eckles' experience as a city planner is quite varied and lengthy.

Among his numerous professional capacities, he has served as the planning director for the communities of Garden City and Star in southwest Idaho, as the vice president for Boise Neighborhood Housing Services and on the board of the Community Planning Association (COMPASS) in Boise.

Eckles' work experience hasn't been exclusive to areas outside the Wood River Valley, though. Prior to 1994, he worked for the Ketchum Planning and Zoning Department.

Such experience should serve Eckles well as he works alongside Bellevue's elected officials to tackle the city's numerous growth-related issues.

The issues highlighted by growth in Bellevue, although similar to those in other communities, are nonetheless specific to the city, Eckles said.

"I think every community is unique," he said. "The needs and desires of those who live here are unique, too."

Having lived in so many other communities, Eckles can say with confidence that Bellevue and the rest of the Wood River Valley possess something special that acts to draw people here. "There's a reason we're here," he said.

Living away from Blaine County has given him a good perspective on many different areas and the ways they've handled growth, Eckles said. "It opens up your eyes."

One of the primary goals of Bellevue officials is to see the city be a place where people can work, live and play, Eckles said.

"I believe we have a mayor and City Council that are right there," he said. "And our (P&Z) commission ... They have that goal. They have a vision to see proper growth."

Bellevue officials, including Eckles, are currently in the process of ironing out along with Hailey and Blaine County where their, and Hailey's, area of city impact should be located. The negotiations should lead to a distinct boundary that sets the northern limit of Bellevue's area of city impact and the southern limit of Hailey's area of city impact.

"We have worked very closely with the city of Hailey," Eckles said.

The process involving the county has been one of open, respectful communication, Eckles said. "I see the county is respectful of the city's vision, and vice versa," he said.

Eckles said Mayor Jon Anderson and the City Council are working to preserve the city's identity and also determine what it should be in the future. A top goal of elected officials is to continue the city's balanced emphasis on business and residential growth, he said.

"They want this city to be self-sufficient. They want it to be viable," Eckles said. "A great place to shop, a great place to have dinner and live."

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