Friday, April 21, 2006

Officials' absences leave cities, schools and taxpayers at risk

In considering the Blaine County 2025 plan, the Planning and Zoning Commission faces two questions.

The first: Will the county prohibit development that won't pay its own way?

The second: Will the county protect agriculture in Blaine County or allow it to be engulfed by suburban sprawl.

As the drumbeat of speculation rose to crescendo in the fourth excruciating night of hearings and deliberation, the answers looked to be veering toward "No."

P&Z members have endured at least 20 hours of public hearings, with no limit on the number of times a single individual may speak. They look to be sinking under pressure from attorneys, consultants, developers, and some farmers with fears that their land values will plummet if they can't subdivide, even though experienced land brokers insist otherwise.

The drumbeat is drowning out the softer and fewer voices of the farmers, ranchers and citizens who support zoning changes and a density transfer program that would begin to concentrate development around the cities.

Support is muted because of conspicuous absences in the debate. Missing are the elected officials, cities' mayors and council members, and Blaine County's assessor, treasurer, clerk, sheriff, school board and fire district representatives.

The cities' elected officials should be defending the majority of the valley's residents who live in cities and who pay the bulk of property taxes. Their interests include not being forced to pay to subsidize far-flung developments and not seeing the cities transformed into vast parking lots.

The county's elected officials should be representing constituents by providing facts about the costs of service vs. taxes on rural residences and the consequences, particularly for schools.

The P&Z has heard little or nothing from elected officials charged with the public's interest. It has also heard little from ordinary citizens whose lifestyles and businesses will benefit or suffer—depending on what the P&Z decides.

In two earlier decades, ordinances that kept bulldozers out of the Big Wood River, prohibited homes on stream banks, limited hillside development, and prohibited commercial development along state Highway 75 were considered radical ideas. The ideas were peppered with the same kind of shotgun objections the P&Z is hearing today on the 2025 plan.

Yet, yesterday's leaders embraced the radical ideas that created today's highly desirable communities.

The bottom line is that elected officials and ordinary citizens must speak out soon. Otherwise, they will lose the chance to stop the creep of poorly located development that surely will consume what's left of agriculture and that will eat cities, businesses and our children's education from the inside out.

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