Wednesday, August 9, 2006

County debates 200-foot riparian setback

Express Staff Writer

Owners of already platted lots in Blaine County will likely not be subjected to new, increased building setbacks in the county's riparian areas.

Setbacks along the Big Wood River and other major streams in the county are currently set at 75 feet. The county's Planning and Zoning Commission is considering a proposal to broaden that setback to 200 feet.

The proposal is part of the county's ongoing 2025 plan, which strives to limit development potential in the county's rural, riparian and environmentally sensitive areas. The plan contains seven land-use ordinances, four of which have already been approved and are now law.

P&Z commissioners will continue their review of the final three ordinances—dealing with setbacks in riparian, wetlands and wildlife areas, as well as the potential re-zoning of the county's public lands, next Thursday at 8 p.m. in the Old County Courthouse in Hailey.

Public comment throughout the hearing process has focused on concerns that the stricter setbacks would be devastating because they would preclude building on several lots. Local attorneys, former county planners and nonprofit conservation organizations, like the Wood River Land Trust, have also urged the P&Z to exempt existing lots from the new setbacks.

Larry Schoen, chairman of the P&Z and a candidate for Blaine County commissioner in District 1, which represents the south county, said that is probably what will happen.

Existing lots would be grandfathered and retain the 75-foot setback requirement along the Big Wood River, while new subdivisions would be subject to the new setbacks, which the P&Z commissioners will discuss in detail tomorrow night, according to Schoen.

During a public hearing last Thursday, the P&Z labored through several details in the remaining ordinances, including building setbacks in wetlands areas (general consensus among the P&Z commissioners is that they will be set at 25 feet), public lands zoning, and the importance of vegetation and trees in riparian areas.

County Planner Stefanie Webster noted that language in the riparian setback ordinance should make it more difficult for landowners to remove trees in the floodplain, and that larger projects should be subject to the approval of an arborist or other expert authority.

The commissioners all expressed a desire to limit development potential on public lands in case those lands are sold to private entities.

"There's a very strong movement to sell off public lands in the western United States," said P&Z Commissioner Chip Bailey. "It's a threat that's huge and I feel like we need to do something about it.

"It's going to be a completely different world when federal lands get sold off. ... It will greatly affect the lifestyle we enjoy."

But there was concern among the commissioners that downzoning public lands—proposed at one unit of development per 160 acres—would need to be done carefully to avoid future legal disputes.

"Trying to define the (public lands conservation) district by who owns it will come back and bite us," P&Z Commissioner Doug Werth said.

The commissioners agreed that creating a district according to a map, as opposed to who owns the land, would be preferable.

The P&Z commissioners will reconvene Thursday at 6:30 p.m. but will not begin review of the 2025 ordinances until 8 p.m.

P&Z to revisit

2025 'safety valve'

A clause that would benefit owners of smaller parcels of land in the south county will be reviewed by the P&Z commissioners August 24 at the Old County Courthouse.

The clause would be attached to Ordinance 2A in the 2025 plan, which deals with the rezoning of the county's A-20 land (active agriculture, one unit of development per 20 acres) to A-40.

Known as a "safety valve," the clause would allow people who own between 40 acres and 80 acres of land to develop two units—instead of just one—and those who own between 80 acres and 120 acres will be able to develop three units, and so on.

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