Friday, March 31, 2006

Blaine County 2025 ordinances?effective and fair?

Guest opinion by Martin Flannes

Martin Flannes has made the Wood River Valley a part of his life—first as visitor, then as a resident—for 25 years. He is a real estate attorney and a principal in Developing Green, a consulting firm that promotes environmentally friendly developments.


I join Terry Ring's March 22 guest opinion in urging the entire community to participate in the upcoming public hearings on the many ordinances proposed as part of the Blaine County 2025 process. I also agree with his five goals:

· Safeguard our clean air and our healthy soil.

· Protect our area's fish and game.

· Preserve the family farming traditions in the south valley.

· Encourage healthy communities where people can afford to live close to jobs.

· Foster growth that is near emergency services.

Unfortunately, the proposed ordinances are badly flawed and do little to accomplish these goals. I support the goals of the moratorium. I helped shape the goals as project manager during the first six months. Most of my professional and volunteer efforts are designed to work toward achieving such goals.

The Blaine County 2025 proposed ordinances actually provide a disincentive to the protection of wetlands and other sensitive areas, which already have significant protection under existing county and federal laws. By stripping such areas of all density and allowing only "bonafide agricultural production," the county is encouraging continued grazing on these sensitive areas. Local conservation groups tell us that agricultural production is not beneficial for wetlands. The county should allow the transfer of the density on these areas to non-sensitive portions of the property on the condition that the landowner restore, enhance, and protect the sensitive areas. We need functional and healthy wetlands, not merely wet areas with no buildings.

The downzoning of these sensitive areas will reduce tax incentives for landowners to donate conservation easements to protect such areas as Silver Creek.

Cluster developments and planned unit developments (PUDs), which are discouraged under the proposed ordinances, are valuable tools that prevent sprawl, minimize habitat fragmentation and preserve open space. Compact development characteristic to clustering and PUDs also allows for more efficient delivery of services. The proposed ordinances encourage sprawl by severely limiting these tools and by encouraging 2.5-, 20-, 40- and 80-acre ranchettes.

We all love open space. Regulating private property, however, to provide that open space, has a significant cost to our neighbors. Under the current proposal, land in the A-10 district (one unit per 10 acres) is downzoned to RR-40 (one unit per 40 acres) and, in most circumstances, the mountain overlay portion of the A-10 (M-40 -- one unit per 40 acres) is downzoned to zero (no density). All A-10 land anywhere in Blaine County is treated the same even though much of it is neither hilly nor remote. The land in the current A-20 district (one unit per 20 acres) is downzoned in most areas to A-40 (one unit per 40 acres) and A-80 (one unit per 80 acres), and the wetlands and riparian areas are expanded with new 100- to 200-foot setbacks and downzoned to zero.

The proposed ordinances rely heavily on a transfer of development rights, or "TDR" program, to avoid legal actions for inverse condemnation otherwise known as "taking claims," in the A-20 district. Nothing is offered for the reduced value of the A-10 land. Non-hilly A-10 land relatively close to Hailey or Ketchum is downzoned to the same degree as very remote land. I support zoning and conservation. But, ask yourself if these results are fair or reasonable.

The availability of affordable housing is a critical issue. It was ranked second in importance on a list of community values in the limited Blaine County 2025 public "visioning" process. The proposed reduction in the potential inventory of houses will increase the cost of houses and increase the affordable housing problem.

If the goal of the ordinances is to implement Scenario C and direct growth to the cities, then the TDR receiving areas should be the areas of city impact (ACI) or areas within the cities. Rather than addressing this politically difficult issue, the draft ordinances create a 3,100-acre receiving area south of the proposed Bellevue ACI in which the county proposes to allow 1,200 1.25-acre lots. Fortunately, this sprawl will probably never occur because the TDR program is incomplete.

The TDR program outlined in the proposed ordinances is illusory. There is no assurance that any landowner in the "receiving area" would be willing to purchase density rights from the "sending area" to build on the 1.25 acre lots described in the ordinance given the cost of the TDRs and the risk regarding obtaining county approval of a project. As a result, a downzoned south valley rancher would not be able to transfer density. Viable TDR programs typically have a land bank that provides a market for TDRs and effective incentives for builders to buy TDRs. Even though the county's consultants recommended such concepts, the ordinances do not provide them.

Please read the proposed ordinances (not just the summaries or brochures), attend the workshops and hearings, and ask questions. It's your environment. The adversely affected landowners are your neighbors and, perhaps, you and your family. Let's make informed and fair decisions in the important Blaine County 2025 process.


(EDITOR'S NOTE: Sarah Michael, Chair, Blaine County Board of Commissioners, states that there are several factual errors in Martin Flannes' guest opinion regarding Blaine County's proposed ordinances, and she has requested an opportunity to respond to it. Her response will appear in the April 5 edition of the Mountain Express.)

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