Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Foggy 2025 review continues at county

Express Staff Writer

What parts of Blaine County are not considered wildlife habitat or key migration corridors?

That question, along with a host of others, will need to be answered in the county Planning and Zoning Commission's review of the final three 2025 ordinances, which will resume Thursday night at 6:30 p.m. in the Old County Courthouse in Hailey.

The 2025 planning process was sparked in January 2005 to determine how and where Blaine County should grow over the next 20 years.

The massive undertaking, which has been hotly debated among citizens and government officials, includes a total of seven ordinances intended to curb future growth in the county's rural, riparian and wildlife areas while encouraging it closer to the cities.

The first four 2025 ordinances—representing an overhaul of the county's zoning laws—were approved by county commissioners June 29 and became law July 5, six days before a 19-month moratorium on subdivisions expired. Among other things, the new ordinances have slashed development potential in the south county and other areas considered rural or remote from one unit of development per 10 or 20 acres to one unit of development per 40 acres.

The final three ordinances deal with riparian, wetlands and wildlife setbacks and the zoning of public land. The latter is designed to significantly downzone public lands in the event of a future federal land sale. Unlike the first four ordinances, the final three are not moratorium-sensitive, which is beneficial since the P&Z's initial review of the final three ordinances on June 22 created more questions than it answered.

In that hearing, citizens and P&Z members both expressed concern that the language in the ordinances was overly confusing and would present serious challenges in the future.

"I'm overwhelmed with how these ordinances would be administered," P&Z Chairman Larry Schoen said in June. "I'm an advocate for protecting these resources, but we need to figure out a way to do it.

"I'm looking for a simpler approach."

Other P&Z members agreed.

"Any time you get to an area where you add layers of complexity a red flag needs to come up," said P&Z Commissioner Doug Werth.

P&Z Commissioner Jerry Allred said, "I don't think we should even look at Ordinance 6 until we have a map."

Ordinance 6 proposes setbacks up to a quarter mile from areas identified as wildlife corridors or severe winter range—habitat deemed critical to wildlife survival during exceptionally cold or snowy winters.

Determining those setbacks relies heavily on mapping from the Idaho Department of Fish and Game, and the department has yet to complete them. A Fish and Game representative will give an update on the mapping during Thursday night's hearing.

There's also concern over the language in the riparian setback ordinance.

"The real thorny detail and ugly parts of these ordinances occur when you get into existing situations—existing lots and houses," said P&Z Commissioner Chip Bailey. "It's my feeling that these belong in the subdivision ordinance."

That issue, as well as several others including land-use laws pertaining to maximum and reasonable use of private property, will be discussed in Thursday's hearing. The commissioners also plan to review the public land zoning ordinance.

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