Friday, June 9, 2006

Letters weigh sprawl, property rights

County receives 219 letters on 2025 ordinances

Express Staff Writer

Jeff Adams, a Blaine County planner, and Sarah Michael, chairwoman of the Blaine County Commission, discuss potential zoning changes during a recent 2025 hearing. Photo by David N. Seelig

In the past two months, the Blaine County planning and zoning staff has received 219 letters or e-mails regarding the county's proposed 2025 zoning ordinances to curb future growth.

They've come from developers and builders, ranchers and farmers, non-profits, city and county employees, elected officials, ordinary citizens and a persistent and ever-growing group of environmental, planning and green-building consultants.

Not surprisingly, the subject matter of the letters has been varied, and so have the lengths.

A handwritten letter from Jessica Miller, of Picabo, simply states: "No sprawl please!"

Others are virtual novels.

Some write requesting answers to technical questions. Others offer detailed advice and solutions.

But most of the letters come down to one simple, yet significant, prospect: whether the county should follow through on a proposal to downzone its rural and remote lands.

"Support for these ordinances must come from those who gain from the tradeoffs, those willing to improve the quality of their assets—i.e. quality of life—at the expense of others, or have no vested interest in the county other than their ideals," writes Randy Hermann, who lives north of Ketchum.

"I am not one of these people."

The downzone proposal, which would reduce density and building potential in the county's rural areas from one unit of development per 10 or 20 acres to one unit per 40 acres, has split the county, and the agricultural community.

In a nutshell, those opposed to the downzone believe it will reduce the value of their lands because it will limit their subdivision potential. Those in favor believe it's necessary to preserve open space and natural resources and prevent sprawl. They say it will even cause land values to rise.

Earlier this week Katie Breckenridge and Rob Struthers, who own a ranch in the south county, submitted a petition to the county commissioners opposing downzone.

It contained 138 signatures.

"The signatures represent thousands of acres of affected farm and ranch lands in the Blaine County 2025 ordinances," the petition states. "This petition notifies you that the majority of affected landowners do not support the proposed ordinances."

Breckenridge, who has spoken at a couple 2025 hearings, claims the farmers and ranchers are the real protectors of the land and that they're now being punished and robbed.

"We have a lot of people in the north county and all over the county that are behind this, whether it affects them or not," said Virginia Reed, who fought the county's proposal to downzone A20 lands in the 1990s.

But a group of other farmers and ranchers, including John Fell Stevenson, Dean Rogers, John Peavey and Pete Van Der Muelen, support the downzone, claiming it will preserve the agricultural tradition and boost property values.

Trent Jones, a partner with Hall and Hall, one of the nation's oldest and largest farm and ranch real estate companies, states in a letter that "in areas with very strong scenic, recreational, and open space amenities—such as we enjoy here in Blaine County—property values actually increase as a result of preserving farms and ranches and reducing the potential for rural residential subdivision."

He lists the Sawtooth Valley north of Ketchum, Centennial Valley in southwest Montana and the upper Blackfoot River basin northeast of Missoula as "real life examples of this market condition."

Still, many aren't convinced, and the threat of lawsuits continues to grow.

"Undoubtedly, the county is aware of the legal implications of 'taking of deeded land by changing the zoning,'" writes Donna Kelsey, who owns the Clarendon Hot Springs along Deer Creek Road west of Hailey. "I would hate to see our tax dollars being used to defend what is proposed.

"Get ready for a fight!"

There have also been accusations that only newcomers who lack a true connection to Blaine County are supportive of the downzone.

Bob Jonas, a fifth-generation Wood River Valley resident, has pointed his guns in the opposite direction, claiming those looking to subdivide and sell their property "are prioritizing individual agendas before the community good."

"My brother and I live in Blaine County, and will die here," Jonas writes. "We're not here to cash in on the boom. You commissioners have a stewardship responsibility to this community first—not individuals or developers whose priority is to maximize financial return on their investment dollars.

"At stake is a world class community and a model for the nation."

Sheri Thomas, a property manager, writes that "many would think that I would side with the money crowd to continue development. This is far from the (truth)."

"I can not help but look at other states that were raped of their land and then abandoned. I love Idaho too much to see this happen."

And as some newcomers, like Carrie Norton, point out, maybe it takes an outsider to recognize just how special and unique Blaine County is, especially when compared to other communities that have embraced development.

"I moved to Blaine County for its fresh air, clean water and environmental conservation spirit," Norton writes. "I would like to make my (permanent) home here in the Wood River Valley.

"However, this place would not have as strong a hold on me if it were to become like everywhere else."

The written comment period expired on Wednesday.

 Local Weather 
Search archives:

Copyright © 2024 Express Publishing Inc.   Terms of Use   Privacy Policy
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

The Idaho Mountain Express is distributed free to residents and guests throughout the Sun Valley, Idaho resort area community. Subscribers to the Idaho Mountain Express will read these stories and others in this week's issue.