Friday, September 8, 2006

Golf course project raises concerns

Mayor assures hillside ordinance hasn?t been violated

Express Staff Writer

Hillside excavation and grading continued this week as part of the ongoing construction of the Gun Club Nine golf course in Sun Valley. The work has prompted questions from some residents about whether the project is violating the city?s hillside protection ordinance. Courtesy Photo.

Major excavation on a prominent Sun Valley hillside has evoked concerns among numerous residents.

"I have received many phone calls about the golf course," Sun Valley Mayor Jon Thorson said this week.

Sun Valley Co. began work this summer to build a golf course called the Gun Club Nine on the former site of the Sun Valley Gun Club, located on the east side of Trail Creek Road, northeast of Sun Valley Village. During the city's annual Town Hall meeting Tuesday, Sept. 5, Sun Valley Mayor Jon Thorson addressed concerns about the project.

"Wally (Huffman, Sun Valley Co. general manager) has informed me it's in its very worse stage," Thorson said.

Plans call for a 9-hole golf course starting on the west side of Trail Creek Road and climbing onto the Gun Club site's ridgelines before descending back toward the road.

"We are in the middle of some serious earth moving ... I have actually wondered when the questions would start," Huffman said.

Questions have come about whether the project complies with the city's "Hillside Development Ordinance," adopted in 2003 to regulate development on steep hillsides.

"I have been informed that Ordinance 349 (the hillside ordinance) has not been breached in relation to the golf course," Thorson said.

Generally, the legislation restricts the height and design of buildings planned for hillside parcels. The criteria prohibits construction of buildings on hillsides with a slope of 25 percent or greater.

"There is no specific direction in the ordinance about movement or alteration of the land, except that you come back and contour the land," Thorson said after the meeting. "In retrospect, the ordinance could be stronger with protecting the hillside ... it could be made better."

He said the city should review the ordinance.

The legislation does provide that cuts and fills should simulate natural existing contours.

"It's a structure-focused ordinance," said Rand Peebles, Sun Valley's city attorney.

Former Sun Valley resident and local watchdog Doug King alleges the city's hillside ordinance has been violated. Specifically, he alleges the company removed 15.5 feet of surface dirt from the site's ridge, which he says is more than allowed by the ordinance. He also points to the erosion occurring on the hillside, apparently as a result of the excavation project.

"There is nothing in the ordinance limiting the quantity of cut and fill," said Mark Hofman, Sun Valley community development director.

City engineers will inspect the project's grading today, Sept. 8, as was previously scheduled as part of the building permit process. The inspection will examine the conformance of the work with the company's approved plan.

Huffman addressed public concerns over disturbance on the hillside and erosion during the city meeting.

"What we have disturbed, we are going to re-vegetate in the most beautiful way," Huffman said.

The company has saved 35,000 yards of organic material taken from the hillside, which will be replanted on the hillside, Huffman said.

"We want them to come back with bitterbrush, sagebrush, and natural grasses," he said.

After the grading is complete, the company is scheduled to plant the salvaged organic material on the hillside and install erosion-control netting. Huffman hopes the method is more successful than importing seeds.

Construction plans call for installing irrigation and filling the site before this winter. In the spring of 2007, plans call for spreading 50,000 yards of topsoil, planting grass, and irrigating the greens. The company will wait for the grass to fully grow in before the golf course opens for play. The goal is to begin play on the course in July 2008.

"I guarantee it will be beautiful, unique and playable," Huffman said.

At the meeting, Thorson invited the public to review the approved golf course application at City Hall.

The city Planning and Zoning Commission approved the golf course in April 2006. The City Council voted 3-1 in May 2006, with Councilman Nils Ribi dissenting, to approve a Sun Valley master plan, which provides a general framework for development of Sun Valley Co.'s Gun Club property. The council's approval of the master plan allowed the approval of the golf course design to move forward.

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