Friday, April 21, 2006

UPDATE?2025 debate heats up

Ag contingent weighs in as P&Z nears decision

Express Staff Writer

A group of farmers and ranchers criticized local developers, consultants and landowners for attempting to steer the Blaine County 2025 planning process to benefit their own personal interests during the fifth 2025 hearing at the Old County Courthouse Thursday night.

John Stevenson, John Peavey and Dean Rogers—all Blaine County farmers and ranchers—also criticized Larry Schoen, chairman of the Blaine County Planning and Zoning Commission, for introducing his own set of zoning proposals during Wednesday night's hearing.

Schoen claims his proposal, which includes allowing planned unit developments (PUDs) on agricultural land, was designed to simplify and clarify four zoning ordinances drafted by Clarion Associates, a national land-use and real estate consulting firm that was hired by the county to assist in the 2025 planning process. Schoen also said his proposal seeks to enhance environmental review standards and protect natural resources.

But Stevenson viewed Schoen's proposal as "a distraction, at the very least." He said Clarion is one of the most respected land-use consulting firms in the nation and its recommendations should not be dismissed.

Peavey, who spent 21 years in the Idaho Senate, said he learned that "people who have a real financial interest showed-up" at all the hearings and meetings.

Lately, the 2025 hearings have narrowed down to the same 20 or 30 citizens—most of whom are developers, consultants, or farmers who have expressed concern that the proposed ordinances will devalue their properties.

When asked if he thinks these people are driven by their own financial agendas, Stevenson emphatically stated, "Absolutely."

Rogers said agricultural land is most valuable when it's kept in its entirety, and that Clarion's proposal will protect agricultural land and actually cause land values to rise.

The three men were backed by Trent Jones, a member of the Hailey Planning and Zoning Commission; former Ketchum Mayor Jerry Seiffert; and Hailey resident Lili Simpson.

Seiffert later objected when Schoen attempted to put his proposal on a future county P&Z agenda.

Later Thursday night, the seven P&Z members worked their way through the first of four proposed ordinances.

Decisions made regarding the first ordinance—involving the RR40 Remote Rural Zone and Mountain Overlay District—included keeping all A10 lands within a three-mile radius of the county's cities at one unit per 10 acres but be renamed Rural-10. Outside of that area, all A10 lands would be downzoned to RR40.

The commission also decided to disallow PUDs on RR40 land and that cluster developments should be recommended but explored further.

As for the Mountain Overlay District, four commissioners said they wanted development on lands greater than 25 percent in slope to be zoned for one unit of development per 160 acres. Two were comfortable with one unit per 80 acres, while one commissioner wanted to keep the zoning at one unit per 40 acres.

The P&Z will issue a recommendation to the county Board of Commissioners next Thursday.

Wednesday's hearing:

P&Z chairman shakes up 2025 proposal

Two weeks into the hearing process and 16 months after the 2025 campaign was initiated, Larry Schoen, chairman of the Blaine County Planning and Zoning Commission, introduced a four-page proposal that suggested numerous changes to a series of zoning ordinances central to the campaign.

In the first three 2025 hearings, the majority of public comments were supportive of the 2025 effort—created in response to future growth—but critical of the ordinances. Complaints have been diverse, but mostly allege that the ordinances are too complex and difficult to understand, will slash property values, generate lawsuits, and are largely unfair to farmers and landowners in southern Blaine County, mainly in the Bellevue Triangle, Picabo, Gannett and Carey.

Schoen said he developed his proposal after talking at length to various landowners in those areas.

Key components of Schoen's proposal are:

· All agricultural land shall be classified correctly according to present uses and zoning definitions. Then all agriculture lands in the county shall be zoned A40 (one unit of development per 40 acres), except agriculture lands within three miles of the city boundaries of Sun Valley, Ketchum, Hailey, Bellevue and Carey and within three-quarters of a mile of Picabo and Gannett. Those areas will retain current zoning.

· Development of the county's agricultural lands shall be subject to environmental review to preserve the rural character of Blaine County. Design shall be superior ... and reflect the high-quality, rural character of Blaine County.

· The county shall undertake a long-term regional planning study to establish goals, priorities and strategies to address critical issues such as housing, transportation, water use, etc. and to identify other potential planning areas for new town sites.

· The Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) program shall be broadened such that all density units on agricultural lands in the county could be eligible for transfer.

· Lands in the areas of city impact (ACI) of Sun Valley, Ketchum, Hailey (and Bellevue and Carey, pending the creation of ACIs) shall be zoned as TDR receiving areas.

· Finally, the P&Z Commission recommends passage of a "family cluster" ... whereby up to two lots of no more than two acres each may be transferred to an immediate family member, subject to review.

Of the 25 citizens who spoke at the hearing, all but a few expressed outright support and appreciation for Schoen's proposal.

"Larry, (kudos) to you for listening," said Jay Coleman, of Bellevue. "I hope something like this in its simplicity is properly received. I think this might be a blueprint to a more successful approach."

But some of Schoen's fellow commissioners weren't as receptive. Commissioners Doug Werth, Judy Harrison and Suzanne Orb all expressed some hesitation and confusion over Schoen's proposal and how it fits into the overall 2025 campaign.

"I think there are elements of (Schoen's) proposal that I believe make some sense, and there are parts of it that I don't agree with," Werth said Thursday. "And I hope that the Planning and Zoning Commission will review his proposal in the context of the ordinances on the table right now, instead of just as a completely separate entity."

Seiffert, a former Ketchum mayor, warned that Schoen's proposal—specifically the prospect of new towns and allowing planned unit developments on remote, agricultural land—would work counter to inherent conservation principles in Blaine County.

And, Jim Phillips, an attorney representing Carey and Bellevue, cautioned that both of those cities do not have the tax base or financial resources to accommodate a large TDR receiving area.

The Blaine County 2025 campaign was initiated by the Blaine County Commission in January 2005 to address future growth concerns. At the same time, the commissioners enacted a moratorium on new subdivisions, which is set to expire in July.

The final two P&Z hearings on the 2025 plan will be held April 26 and 27 at the Old Blaine County Courthouse. Both meetings start at 6:30 p.m.

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