Camas County has long been the lower-profile next door neighbor to bustling Blaine County. But Blaine County's over-the-top growth appears to be headed toward the Camas Prairie.
Some 20,000 acres of largely agricultural land is under consideration for a massive rezone under a plan floated by the Camas County Planning and Zoning Commission Tuesday night at a public hearing in Fairfield.
The plan, the result of six months of work by county planning staff and P&Z commissioners, was presented before a large crowd of Camas County residents, landowners and at least several real estate agents hailing from the Wood River Valley.
The proposed changes are in the form of numerous rewrites to Camas County's zoning ordinance and an entirely new zoning map, something the county has never had.
Camas County Commission members requested the P&Z Commission begin developing a zoning map for the county about six months ago, P&Z Chairman Ed Smith said as he unveiled the proposed zoning map to a large crowd.
"And that's what we've done," Smith said.
A quick glance at the proposed zoning map provides a sense of where the county wishes to concentrate growth.
"What we've tried to do is locate most of the density around the existing city centers," Smith said.
Of course, what this essentially means is that most of the growth and density would be focused near and around the city of Fairfield, Camas County's only incorporated community.
"As you go on out, the densities get less and less," Smith said.
The vast majority of private property in Camas County is zoned A-80, or Agricultural-80. This zoning district allows for only one dwelling unit per 80 acres.
Under the plan presented on Tuesday, large sections of land surrounding Fairfield as well as several large outlying parcels—some lying to the north near Soldier Mountain Ski Resort and south near Mormon Reservoir—would essentially be upzoned under a variety of newly created zoning designations.
The new zoning would run the gamut from A-20, which would allow one home per every 20 acres, to R-4, which would allow four homes per acre. The zoning map also includes several smaller areas set aside for commercial and industrial uses.
Taken as a whole, the plan drew a mixed response from those attending the meeting on Tuesday.
One outspoken critic of the plan was Camas County resident and developer George Martin.
Testifying before the P&Z, Martin questioned the immediate need for such a large rezone.
"I look at this and I wonder, what is the emergency?" he asked.
Martin also questioned whether Camas County could service such a large area should it be developed.
"We don't have the infrastructure," he said. "We need to go into this with our eyes open to how we are going to fund this."
Others acknowledged the large scope of the rezone but said the county needs to prepare for the inevitable onslaught of growth.
Camas County has a good police and roads department and recently built a new school that is only half-full, county resident Shannon Wolf said.
"The county has good infrastructure," Wolf said.
Camas County residents need not fear an immediate onslaught of growth taking place if the rezone is ultimately approved, Smith said Thursday.
A zoning map is simply a reflection of those places a jurisdiction like Camas County deems appropriate for residential and commercial development, he said.
"It has nothing to do with what gets developed," he said.
Still, whatever path officials in Camas County ultimately decide on will no doubt help shape the look of this intensely rural county for many years to come.
With just over 1,000 residents, Camas is Idaho's least-populated county. The county, which includes more than 1,000 square miles of mountain- and prairie-covered lands, has a population density of less than one person per square mile.
Camas County P&Z commissioners ended their meeting on Tuesday night without making any recommendations on the proposed zoning changes. The commission will hold a second public hearing on the plan at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 17, at the Fairfield Senior Citizens Center.