Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Woodside plan edges toward OK

Hailey P&Z reviews 421-unit housing proposal

Express Staff Writer

The proposed 421-unit Sweetwater project in southern Hailey edged a little closer to achieving preliminary approval from the city Planning and Zoning Commission Monday.

Commissioners and developers involved with the project went back and forth on several issues that will require a resolution before the P&Z can make a recommendation to the Hailey City Council. The Sweetwater project is the largest housing development ever proposed in the city of Hailey.

Before adjourning for the night, commissioners voted to continue discussing project details at their July 3 meeting.

Sweetwater is proposed for a 22-acre patch of vacant land, located between state Highway 75 to the west and Woodside Boulevard to the east. It would straddle both sides of Countryside Boulevard.

The majority of Monday night's discussion centered on issues related to the development's overall design and its potential impacts on nearby residents and the rest of the city. Commissioners also noted the City Council's decision in May to allow Sweetwater developers to proceed with excavation work prior to giving them ultimate approval on the proposed development.

Although most of the night's discussion followed a fairly predictable pattern, Commissioner Stefanie Marvel did bring up one entirely new topic for the commission's consideration. Marvel questioned whether the city should require the developers of projects like Sweetwater to contribute funds to the Hailey Library.

The addition of so many new residents to the city will undoubtedly have an impact on the Hailey Library and its ability to provide services to the community, she said.

"The library is going to be hugely impacted by this development," Marvel said. "This is such a huge development that I thought it was important to bring it up."

"The city should find some way to require developers to contribute funds to the Hailey Library to help mitigate the impacts of a new development," she said. "This is something I'm sure hasn't been considered before."

Commissioner Trent Jones agreed.

A discussion of this sort has been "conspicuously absent I would say," Jones said.

In the end, however, commissioners, following the advice of Hailey Planning Department staff members, decided it was too late to require Sweetwater project developers to provide funds for the Hailey Library.

"I'm not very inclined to hit them some more," Commissioner Nancy Linscott said.

Commissioners agreed, however, that the city should consider ways of requiring funds for the library from future annexation applicants.

"I would invite the library board and (city) staff to make a presentation," Jones said.

Jones also asked his fellow commissioners to consider the Sweetwater project's overall design. He noted that he had previously questioned the size of some of the project's buildings, particularly condominium buildings proposed for the north side of the project near the Balmoral Apartments and Highway 75.

Further discussions with developers had alleviated his concern, he said.

Perhaps the single greatest topic discussed, but not entirely resolved, was whether waivers the Sweetwater developers are requesting as part of their planned unit development application are equal to the public amenities they are offering.

A planned unit development is a planning term that describes a special application process in which developers ask for leniency on particular statutory requirements in return for amenities deemed important for the community.

The developers have asked the city to grant waivers on the city's required building setbacks, building heights and length of parking stalls in return for providing a public park, bus shelters and a bike path.

"Are the waivers justifiable relative to the amenities being provided?" Jones asked.

Another hearing will likely ferret out the answer to that question.

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