Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Future growth and what public thinks

Guest opinion by Sarah Michael and Tom Bowman

Blaine County Commission

A year ago, the Blaine County Board of Commissioners imposed a moratorium on new development projects within the unincorporated area of Blaine County. Citing concerns about water and quality of life, the Blaine County Board felt that we needed to take a breather before considering applications for subdivisions of 300 lots in the unincorporated county and the creation of a possible new city of a thousand homes.

For the last year, the county has held countless meetings to gather feedback from the public, stakeholders, city officials, and has met with citizens at their workplaces, at the Senior Center, schools, city halls, civic organizations, and community workshops. We passed out surveys and took polls. Those attending and answering our surveys were full-time residents (97 percent) and had lived in the county for more than 10 years (56 percent).

Blaine County residents predictably have strong beliefs and priorities. Highest in priority is protection of sensitive lands that include scenic areas, wetlands, streams and wildlife habit. Their second priority is affordable housing located near jobs and walkable communities supported by bike paths and public transit. These values were applied to questions of where and how the county should grow to handle future growth.

The vast majority of participants (92.1 percent) felt that the most appropriate locations for future growth and development are in the towns and their annexation areas. Citizens (65 percent) also showed a strong preference for limiting development in remote locations and agriculture areas. The idea of a new town was also advanced in the survey. More than 50 percent of our citizens were interested in considering this, but 80 percent of respondents felt that all development should be paced with the ability to provide essential services.

Of the four scenarios, respondents felt that the town-focused development (Scenario C) resonated most closely with their values. Participants were then introduced to a number of implementation tools that could be employed to achieve the different land-use patterns portrayed in the scenarios of where and how should we grow. Stronger regulations (80 percent), regional coordination (66.4 percent), and pacing development with services (63.4 percent) were strongly supported.

Although these percentages don't reflect a statistical survey of all Blaine County residents and homeowners, the Board of Commissioners believes that it accurately reflects community values and priorities. To achieve the goals outlined in the preferred growth scenario, the Board of Commissioners and the county Planning and Zoning Commission will propose stronger rules for new subdivisions in remote areas and on agriculture lands, including stronger environmental, wetland and wildlife protection measures. In addition, the county will continue to work with the cities to support their growth visions and is working cooperatively with coalitions to create both a regional public transit agency and a regional housing authority.

On Feb. 1, Blaine County citizens are invited to a community meeting. We are proposing to enact land-use measures to better preserve community values. Please give voice to your vision and thoughts about the future of Blaine County. Come to the Wood River High School Distance Learning Center in Hailey at 6 p.m. and let us hear from you.

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