Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Eyeball to eyeball on 2025 plan

The Blaine County 2025 plan has put citizens and developers eyeball to eyeball over what they believe the county should look like in the future.

Both groups say they want to protect the things people love about Blaine County—its open spaces, clean water, clean air, healthy streams and wetlands, and wildlife habitat.

If approved, the 2025 plan will put the county eyeball to eyeball with cities in a battle over where growth will occur.

Right now, county zoning that allows construction of four units per acre is a release valve for growth pressures in the cities. It's also a recipe for suburban sprawl.

The cities themselves, with a few exceptions in Hailey, have acted determinedly to maintain or reduce residential densities within their boundaries.

Approval of the 2025 plan will throw pressure back on the cities to climb out from under the covers, rub the sleep from their eyes, and face the need to accept higher density developments and to develop affordable housing because the county would not do it for them.

A total of 141 citizens who participated in the Blaine County 2025 high-tech polling sessions acknowledged the problem.

After reviewing options, 70 percent of participants wanted to put growth inside or very near the boundaries of existing cities. Otherwise, they concluded, the things people love about the county will be lost.

Taxpayers would also be pick-pocketed because they would be forced to subsidize services to far-flung developments.

The primary concerns that subsequently surfaced about the 2025 plan are the proposed removal of potential for more sprawling suburbia and removal of provisions to shape new cities.

The Planning and Zoning Commission is sifting through the concerns.

The plan would not affect existing development rights because they would be preserved, or could be sold.

Concern revolves around what should be called "development futures." Right now, land may be zoned for one unit per 25 acres. But the potential still exists for higher-density development.

The 2025 plan would vastly reduce that potential and make investments betting on "development futures" a lot more risky.

This spurred protests and legal threats at hearings before the P&Z last week.

P&Z members will give a thumbs up or down recommendation on the 2025 plan to the county Board of Commissioners.

As they deliberate, they should consider more than just the protests.

They should remember the considered judgment of 141 citizens who spent hours reviewing options and called for more concentrated development.

They should look to the experience of other places.

They should do their homework and remember Blaine County's tradition of trying to do things better than they've been done elsewhere.

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