Wednesday, June 14, 2006

County?s 2025 plan draws more fire

Express Staff Writer

With the fate of the first four 2025 ordinances hinging on what could be the final hearing June 29, opponents of the plan to control future development in Blaine County turned out in force Thursday night to reinforce their positions and warn the county that their actions will spark a series of lawsuits.

Most of the opposition came from ranchers, farmers, developers and landowners whose ability to subdivide will be reduced by the proposed downzone in the county's rural areas. Much of the county's A-10 and A-20 lands will be downzoned to A-40 if the ordinances pass.

Nick Purdy, a rancher who co-owns large holdings in and around Picabo with his father Bud Purdy, on Thursday told the commissioners he recognizes the problems facing the county—lack of affordable housing, rising service costs, transportation—but that the ordinances attached to 2025 "will not help at all."

"It's too complicated, too complex," Purdy said about the 2025 zoning ordinances. "You're trying to do too much in too short a time.

"It's just going to create an unbelievable amount of problems."

The 2025 process kicked off 18 months ago when the commissioners enacted a countywide moratorium on subdivisions. The moratorium was sparked by fears that current zoning ordinances allow too much leeway for developers and an expected growth boom—the county's population is expected to increase by at least 50 percent in the next 20 years—would lead to sprawl and overburden the county's ability to provide services.

Purdy, who stated that he's afraid the county will be barraged with lawsuits if the ordinances pass, also questioned the location of the Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) receiving area, which the commissioners have located north of Pero Road in the Bellevue Triangle.

Purdy said that area is one of the last remaining agricultural hubs in the county and was therefore an inappropriate TDR receiving area. The proposed TDR program is designed to discourage development in the southern area of the Bellevue Triangle, near Silver Creek, while promoting it in the tip of the Triangle closer to Bellevue and the county's primary service center in Hailey.

"It will discourage agriculture," Purdy said. "It will be the beginning of the end for agriculture.

"I would object to all three of these ordinances."

Purdy was joined by farmers Rocky and Bill Sherbine and Kent Smith, all of whom complained that the downzone would run them out of business and crash their retirement plans.

Bill Sherbine, who's been farming in the Baseline Road area south of Bellevue his entire life, said many small farmers are suffering and "there's no way they'll be able to keep (their lands) unless they sell some of their property off."

Katie Breckenridge, who owns a ranch south of Picabo, reminded commissioners that close to 140 people signed a petition opposing the downzone proposal. Breckenridge and her partner, Rob Struthers, organized the effort to show that "lots of farmers, ranchers and landowners disagree with the downzone," Breckenridge said.

Jim Stone, of Ketchum, asked the commissioners if they had investigated whether the downzone would constitute a taking. Tim Graves, the county's chief deputy prosecuting attorney, stated at the first County Commission hearing in May that the ordinances would not violate any laws, specifically the takings clause of the Fifth Amendment.

When Stone began to ask another question, Commission Chairwoman Sarah Michael informed him that the hearings were not a forum for public debate.

Stone countered that he knew where the debate could be continued and he made it no secret that he intends to sue the county.

Earlier in the meeting, Michael made a motion for Graves to explore formally whether the ordinances would constitute a taking.

The commissioners spent the remainder of the hearing—which ran over four hours—revisiting their recommended changes and issuing further revisions. (See related story.)

The county's planning staff will spend the next couple of weeks rewriting the ordinances before the next—and possibly last—hearing June 29 at the Old County Courthouse in Hailey. That hearing may be the final opportunity for the public to issue comments.

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