Wednesday, May 10, 2006

While Blaine County slept

Guest opinion by Dennis Kavanagh

Dennis Kavanagh, of Hailey, is a general contractor who has lived in the Wood River Valley since 1976.

While I apologize to Winston Churchill, the analogy is right on.

If you make your living in Blaine County, it is very important that you hang in there, and read all of what I am about to say.

Having attended most of the meetings of the Blaine County P & Z over the last several weeks concerning Blaine County 2025, I am struck by the outrageous misrepresentation by the local papers concerning the composition of the people attending and making public comment. The Mountain Express characterized those in attendance as "citizens," and "developers," as though speaking out against an absence of due process in the review of some of the most broad reaching zoning changes ever to be considered in this county, makes one not a citizen. Normal review of ordinance revision typically takes at least a year, according to former staff. We are seeing no less than four, major, total rewrites of standing ordinances, which many have testified, have worked perfectly well in terms of managing growth. This growth, somehow, on January 10, 2005, became such a dire emergency, that a moratorium was enacted, with just one and a half hours public notice. It so happens that this was Tom Bowman's first day as a Blaine County commissioner.

I was interested to see how the comments of John Stevenson, who favors all of 2025, received such glowing review in last week's paper. I thought I might have been at a different meeting. Mr. Stevenson is one of the south valley's landed gentry. Gentleman farmers, I think they might be called. Down zoning will never affect him. Mr. Stevenson, it was not reported, happens to own many, many acres in the TDR sending area, as well as many acres in the receiving area. He is one of the few people who would benefit from TDRs, as he can transfer to himself. The previous meeting, however, another landed south valley horse farmer spoke from a totally different perspective. Katie Breckenridge talked about the toil and sweat she and her partner have invested in her property. They are working to make a living on their property. With the proposed down zone, and the impacts of the Silver Creek Wetlands Overlay and the Mountain Overlay, her property will soon be less than 25% of what it is presently.

Her story was not represented on the cover of any newspaper, maybe because she has been identified as a developer

I attended a campaign whistle stop for candidate Larry Schoen (Blaine County Planning and Zoning Commission chairman and a candidate for the County Commission District 1 seat) last week. Mr. Schoen presented himself as a very fair, balanced and intelligent man. From the south valley himself, he is a working farmer, but certainly landed gentry. Most in attendance at this gathering were residents of Elkhorn and Sun Valley. The remark made with absolute certainty by the mayor of Sun Valley, Jon Thorson, was that the lifeblood of this community is tourism. I found this an observation I believe totally wrong. Any one of you reading this should drive through Ketchum, Sun Valley or Elkhorn tonight, and see how few houses have lights burning. Look at the quiet streets, the restaurants and businesses closed for "slack."

Yes, slack is back.

Few people who truly live and work here no longer live in the north part of the county.

What are all those people who are on the highway up to, anyway? Running the chairlifts in May?

If you go to the Blaine County Web site, you will find a link that reveals a rather astonishing fact. For the years 1998 through 2005, nearly $500,000,000 worth of building permits were taken out. This is undoubtedly an under inflated number. Add to this vast sum, another ten to fifteen percent for professional fees, such as architects, engineers, landscape planners and the like. Add another fifteen percent for the costs to landscape these buildings. We should also add another fifteen percent for the costs to furnish these same buildings.

Remember, the county gets to tax these improvements.

We are getting close to a billion dollars here, over seven years, that was brought to Blaine County alone, as part of the dreaded growth we are so afraid of. We are talking here only about the buildings. Let's remember there was raw land that traded hands somewhere in the beginning. These transactions had to at least equal the value of the improvements.

The plumbers and electricians, carpenters, landscapers and masons take their share of these vast numbers, they go to the banks, and they deposit their money. They use this money to buy their groceries, and their gas. They make their car payments. They go out to bars and restaurants no doubt. They get hair cuts, and they see the dentist, and have their skis tuned. They buy clothes, and decorate their homes. Their kids go to day care.

They buy lift tickets.

They no doubt buy land, and build houses.

The cycle continues.

Economists have speculated how many times money spent in development turns over. It would be hard to be precise, but it is generally said that the money turns over as many as eight times before it is diluted out of a community.

Now, I think, we are starting to talk about some real money.

Tourism most certainly is the pilot light that enables the real fire that is the lifeblood of this community to burn, and with out growth and development, tourism will be a pretty dim flame.

If these ordinance are enacted as drafted, and if the next three that are waiting to be reviewed become law, easily a third, or a half, or more, of building starts will not happen. Subtract that volume of money from this community, and guess what happens next?

Not a pretty picture to any one of us.

What has been most troubling to many of us who have been paying attention, is the deception in the way the 2025 process took place. We are told that meeting with focus groups identified what were the major concerns of people regarding the future of Blaine County. The questions were asked as though there were no growth management tools already in place that already accomplish much of the desired affect. Hired consultants have trotted out comparisons with other resort communities that have no direct relationship to Blaine County, or if you go and research the realities, find the "facts" misrepresented or false.

The Blaine County commissioners are soon to begin their review of the ordinances, and the recommendations of the P&Z, noble and brief though their efforts were. Make your voices be heard. They have to know that we are paying attention to the impacts of their planned actions

This is the only county we have. It can be ruined most assuredly by too much management as by too little.

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