Friday, October 20, 2006

P&Z gets tough on setbacks

Express Staff Writer

The Ketchum Planning and Zoning Commission surprised an applicant Wednesday when it declined to vote on a project because the riparian setback was not as wide as it wanted.

Owner William McMahan Revocable Trust is seeking approval for a stream bank stabilization project on the Big Wood River. The riparian area is the delicate part of a stream's bank that is important for fish and wildlife habitat and offers protection from flooding.

One recommended condition of the project states that the landscape plan should include deeply-rooted riparian vegetation planted within 10 feet of the mean high water mark to promote the bank's stability.

Although city ordinance requires a 25-foot setback, McMahan's property was "grandfathered in" two years ago and does not have to comply with current riparian regulations.

Commissioners acknowledged that McMahan does not have to abide by those setback rules, but they said they hoped the owner, who was not in attendance, would voluntarily add more setback and vegetation.

"What's been presented is the minimum to stabilize, but our goals are a little different," said commission Chairman Jack Rutherford.

Ketchum attorney Jim Speck, representing the applicant, said McMahan wanted to stick to his current plan.

"It's his right to make that decision," he said.

Steve Fisher, aquatic biologist for the project, presented information to the commission, saying sufficient measures would be in place to protect both the stream and the property.

"The techniques we're putting in place now I'd expect to last another 40 years," he said.

Emergency work done during last spring's flooding required rip-rap, which is a filling material, to stop the bank's erosion. The new stream bank stabilization would remove the rip-rap and repair the bank.

Still, the commission pressed for more.

"Why not give us a little grass?" asked Commissioner Deborah Burns. "What are you going to do with that?"

She said grass eventually becomes a destabilizing factor in the stream bank, and revegetation is a better environmental method.

"I think there's going to have to be many more landowners to make some small concessions," Burns said.

The Idaho Department of Fish & Game stated a concern regarding an insufficient riparian buffer, according to a staff report. Fish & Game recommend a 50-foot setback.

The commission unanimously voted to continue the matter to the Nov. 13 meeting, in hopes of talking with the owner in person.

Commissioners Greg Strong and Harold Johnson were not in attendance.

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