A majority of Blaine County Planning and Zoning Commission members have agreed that increased stream setbacks should apply only to new subdivisions, not to already platted property.
At least four of the five commissioners present at last week's July 27 meeting expressed support for regulating setbacks in a subdivision ordinance, rather than a zoning ordinance, in a non-binding "straw poll" taken at the close of the meeting. Due to the late hour, deliberations and a formal decision were postponed to a meeting on Aug. 3.
The issue of setbacks had become controversial when a draft ordinance, part of the county's 2025 plan, proposed increasing minimum house setbacks on new construction along the Big Wood River and major creeks from 75 feet to 200 feet.
Public testimony during last week's and previous meetings overwhelmingly opposed such a measure.
Last week, architect Janet Jarvis told the commissioners that about half her work involves tearing down houses to build new ones. She offered an example of a current client who wants to build a new house farther from the Big Wood River than the existing house is and restore the riparian vegetation there, but could not rebuild if required to set the house back 200 feet.
Kathyrn Goldman, project coordinator for the Wood River Land Trust, supported the increased setbacks, but agreed they should apply only to new subdivisions. She said protecting riparian vegetation would maintain water quality in the river. In an interview, Goldman said that when floodwaters are slowed by vegetation, more sediment is dropped on the floodplain rather than in the riverbed.
Also at last week's meeting, discussion among the commissioners indicated disagreement on a proposed ordinance that would limit the uses of any publicly owned land transferred to private ownership.
The proposed Public Land/Resource Conservation District would limit permitted uses to government facilities, recreation, wildlife reserves and "very low intensity resource conservation purposes." Conditional uses would be limited to public outdoor recreation facilities and wireless communication facilities.
"It just hasn't been demonstrated to me why we need this," Commissioner Doug Werth said. "I view this as another example of where we just make it too complicated."
Werth suggested that limits placed on the uses of remote parcels should be done on the basis of geography, not ownership.
Commissioner Jerry Allred expressed doubts about the likelihood of a "rush" to transfer federal land in the county to private parties. However, citing the proposed Boulder-White Clouds wilderness bill now before Congress, Commissioner Chip Bailey contended that "the possibility of federal lands being transferred to private ownership becomes greater and greater." The CIEDRA legislation would transfer more than 5,000 acres of federal land to counties and cities, some of it for private development.
About 80 percent of the land in Blaine County is owned by the federal government and managed by the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management.
P&Z Chair Lawrence Schoen said he was still unclear about whether a zone could be created based on who owns the land. The commission sent the proposed ordinance back to the planning staff for further work, particularly on its definition.