Wednesday, February 8, 2006

Growth in county should pay its own way

Len Harlig, a Ketchum resident, is a former member of the Blaine County Board of Commissioners.

The code sections of Title 10 (Blaine County Subdivision Ordinance) that I quoted last week aren't sufficient to meet all the growth challenges of the future. The current ordinances should be substantially strengthened. I believe the present regulations of Title 10 give the county the authority to deny most pending subdivisions if the new legislation the county is drafting isn't fully approved when the moratorium ends in July. I encourage the county to use the Title 10 sections to deny all large or distant subdivisions until new legislation has been passed.

Subdivision is a Privilege

Subdivision is a privilege, not an entitlement. Every new subdivision should pay its way now and in the future through property tax revenue and fees to cover the county's cost of providing public services to the subdivision residents (including funds for the school district and other taxing entities); and the subdivision must fully mitigate the diminution of the environment and natural resources that come automatically with every increase in population. Otherwise, the rest of the community has to pay for public services for the new subdivision and suffer a reduction in their own service level and quality of life (while the speculator drives blissfully away with the community's birthright in her/his pocket).

There should also be a community benefit from every new subdivision, in addition to the requirement to pay a sufficient revenue stream to fully cover their cost of public services. Blaine County should filter each subdivision application through a screening process that asks: How will this subdivision enhance the quality of life for the entire community and how will it help overcome community deficits (i.e. a community housing shortfall, traffic congestion, water quality and quantity improvement, loss of wildlife habitat, insufficient parks and playgrounds, protected public access, etc.)?. If a new subdivision is only going to add to the present problems and increase the carrying-capacity deficits, it should be rejected.

Blaine County doesn't need a lot more people; population increase is very costly in terms of its impact on natural resources, county finances, and quality of life. If we have to accept more people, then they should pay for the privilege of coming to a community that the rest of us have paid for during the last four decades. To whom is the county government responsible: to 22,000 present residents or a few dozen land speculators? The community has given growth a free ride for too long. The free ride should be over!

Necessary Ordinance Improvements

The ordinances need more than just simple strengthening; they also need to be more specific and less subjective. It would be to everyone's benefit to take the subjectivity out of the subdivision application and hearing process and make subdivision requirements as specific as building permits. Additionally, the county should clearly define mitigation costs in advance so that these costs are applied uniformly to all applicants and don't need to be haggled over during public hearings. I agree with the county's instructions to Clarion (the county's land-use consultant) to enhance the present ordinances and make the requirements on housing, environmental resources, wildlife protection, riparian setbacks, water quality and quantity, transportation, etc. more stringent, but I hope the county will also ask for more specificity and less subjectivity in the regulations. Developers as well as the public deserve to know in advance what the rules of the game will be so public hearings can be more respectful and more productive.

Scenario C -- 2025

I agree with the direction the Blaine County commissioners are following and their interpretation of "Scenario C" as the larger community's preferred outcome. I found the same community sentiment when we did the WRAP survey and public workshops in the late 1990s. I found the same community sentiment when I was a P&Z commissioner in the 1980s and later as a county commissioner in the 1990s, from almost everyone in Blaine County. When the proposed ordinance amendments from Clarion come to public hearing, they should be reviewed carefully, and any revisions that are needed to improve the ordinances should be made, but they should not be nit-picked until they lose their usefulness.

There are speculators who are out only for a quick buck and who don't care what burdens they leave behind on the community. Their interests are not the same as the majority of the community and their objections should be understood as separate from the community's needs. In fairness, there are also quality developers who agree with the community sentiment and develop accordingly. Their interests should be supported and encouraged. We ordinary residents must testify at the hearings so decision-makers can hear our voices and our desires for a better community. If we leave the "fields" to those who want growth at any cost, we will have abdicated our responsibility to our children, grandchildren and neighbors.

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