Larry Schoen breezed through Tuesday's primary election to determine the strongest of four Democratic candidates for Blaine County commissioner in District 1, garnering a staggering 52 percent of the 1,494 votes cast.
Coming in second with each garnering 288 votes were Tammy E. Eaton, a member of the Bellevue City Council, and James R. Super, owner of Super Outdoor Adventures of Sun Valley. Carl B. Johnston, who owns the Minnie Moore Mine west of Bellevue, received 144 votes.
Sarah Michael, County Commission chairwoman, will be challenged in November by Mickey Garcia, of Ketchum, for the District 3 seat, which represents northern Blaine County. Michael is a Democrat but was unopposed in that primary Tuesday. Garcia skirted past the primary since he's running as an Independent.
"I feel pretty good about it," Schoen, chairman of the Blaine County Planning and Zoning Commission, said earlier this week. "I look forward to the rest of it now. I look forward to getting to work as county commissioner."
But before that happens Schoen must defeat former Bellevue mayor and city councilman Dale Ewersen in November. A Republican, Ewersen was unopposed Tuesday in his party's primary for the District 1 seat, which represents southern Blaine County.
Earlier this week Ewersen, who has regularly attended Blaine County 2025 planning hearings but has been relatively silent on the issues, released a letter outlining his views on the future of Blaine County.
Four ordinances central to the 2025 plan were approved by the P&Z commission with a series of revisions in April. If approved by the County Commission, which launched its review Thursday night, the ordinances would result in a significant downzone of county lands.
"I am going on record as being opposed to the downzone proposal," Ewersen wrote in the letter that appears in today's Mountain Express.
He said the proposal to downzone much of the county's A10 (agriculture, one unit per 10 acres) and A20 lands to a zone that would allow only one unit of development per 40 acres would be a "serious infringement on private property rights."
He added that property owners all have a "reasonable expectation of return on their investment," and a downzone "could devalue their property."
While Ewersen wants farmers to be allowed to possibly develop their lands, he also believes that it should be done in a way that protects agricultural and grazing land.
"I support the farmers right to farm and all of the situations that go with it," Ewersen said. "I'm in favor of developing in the (agricultural) zone if it's clustered.
"There is a way to still have your farm ground and protect it with clustering as opposed to spreading out in straight plat subdivisions."
The 2025 planning process began nearly a year and a half ago, shortly after the county commissioners enacted a moratorium on subdivisions. The moratorium had several purposes, one of which was to examine the cost of providing services to the county's remote areas. With the county's population expected to increase by at least 50 percent over the next 20 years, county officials are trying to limit growth and development in rural areas. The cost of services, they claim, would simply be too much.
Ewersen counters that people who build "back in the sticks" should take on a certain amount of personal responsibility and "not expect the ambulance, deputy or fire truck to be there in a few minutes."
Schoen, who owns a farm near Silver Creek, said it's not that simple, that the county has a responsibility to provide services once they approve developments.
And while Schoen agrees that property rights and investments need protection, he believes the best way to do that is by downzoning.
"I have tried to really focus on balancing environmental protection and growth management while protecting the investments people have in their properties," Schoen said. "I've found that giving property owners more flexibility is one way that I have advocated the protection of property values."
He added that "we need to pay attention to the particular challenges faced by smaller landowners."
And perhaps that's the one thing the two candidates can agree on: farmers should be able to subdivide for their immediate family members.
But Schoen has bigger bones to pick with Ewersen's positions in his letter, mainly that they're "a rehash of old ideas that have already been discussed extensively," he said.
"They have been discussed and found not to be up to snuff," Schoen added. "He needs to get up to speed on some of these issues."
Schoen also questioned the timing of Ewersen's letter.
"I feel like he played it safe during the election, and I don't know if you get to play it safe when you're running for county commissioner," Schoen said. "He never expressed any views, then he comes out with statement after the election.
"Frankly I was kind of puzzled by his letter."
Larry Schoen 774 (51.81%)
Tammy E. Eaton 288 (19.28%)
James R. Super 288 (19.28%)
Carl B. Johnston 144 (9.64%)