Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Rezoning?an uncomfortable but necessary fact of life


Rebekah Helzel is the founder and president of Advocates for Real Community Housing, a Ketchum-based organization that promotes affordable housing in Blaine County.

If "original" zoning on or near our property was an entitlement that could not be changed, there would be no ski mountain, no R-1, no R 5 and no commercial zoning in this county.

But the reality is that needs change, land becomes more scarce and we learn from our old patterns of growth. For the last 40 years, sprawl became the accepted norm for development, homes became farther apart and farther away from centers of commerce and jobs. Now we know that this pattern of development is environmentally toxic, degrades the quality of life and is an economic disaster for businesses looking to hire employees and provide the services everyone is looking for. We need to use our land in smart efficient ways that preserve its natural beauty while providing for community needs.

The county and cities, whether you or I agree with each and every zoning change they are making, are attempting to balance needs and provide solutions to the changes in the Wood River Valley that have threatened its very health, safety and economic welfare. Fire response times are lengthening. Police coverage has been compromised, the hospital is not fully staffed. The school district has been unable to recruit the teachers it needs, local small businesses of all sorts cannot hire the workers they need to support the valley's population.

Change can be viewed as scary and threatening or it can be accepted and embraced for its positive attributes. For example: Narrower streets are nationally recognized as a safer design, which slows down traffic and results in fewer accidents. We need a return to real neighborhoods, where kids can play safely, less commute traffic from Twin Falls, and a vibrant well functioning valley, with services to provide local residents and support the tourist industry which we all depend on (particularly real estate agents).

The cost of land and energy, scarce resources, requires that we use both much more wisely. The Quail Creek housing project south of Ketchum does both. Rezoning is definitely not popular but is a necessary progression to accommodate growth in a healthy, balanced fashion. I fully expect the area around me to be rezoned and look forward to having more affordable housing neighbors like the ones I already have, not less.

I don't agree with all the zoning changes recommended or taking place. But I was at the Quail Creek meetings and the neighbors were there in force and were heard loud and clear. The county listened and weighed the arguments and decided the community as a whole had much more to gain than to lose. Not always easy choices, but necessary ones. The most valuable assets in this valley are its people and its open space. Let's try to work together to accommodate both, not get the lawyers out every time the change doesn't suit us.

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