Friday, October 27, 2006

Smaller farm parcels granted bonus lots

Ordinance attempts to mitigate impacts of new 2025 zoning restrictions

Express Staff Writer

Property owners in the Blaine County's active agricultural areas lost half of their subdivision potential when new land-use restrictions attached to the 2025 plan were approved.

On Tuesday, owners of smaller parcels in those areas, which are now zoned A-40 (active agriculture, one unit of development per 40 acres), were given a break after the county's board of commissioners passed a new ordinance known as a "safety valve."

A-40 lands used to be zoned A-20 (one unit of development per 20 acres).

The safety valve ordinance gives people who own between 40 acres and 160 acres in the A-40 zoning district a bonus lot if they choose to subdivide their properties.

Larry Schoen, chairman of the Blaine County Planning and Zoning Commission and the creator of the ordinance, applauded the board's approval.

"This is an idea which I introduced during the 2025 process in order to address my concern that smaller land owners would be disproportionately impacted by the zoning changes," said Schoen, who's also the Democratic candidate for county commissioner in District 1, which covers the south county. "This will add back one unit of density for people between 40 and 160 acres.

"I'm glad the board saw fit to pass this. It was the right thing to do."

Under the new ordinance, people who own between 40 acres and 80 acres of land will be able 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.

The "2025 really began in response to the overwhelming number of large parcel developments in the pipeline," Schoen said. "These (2025) ordinances were aimed at major development, and they have a different impact on the small parcel holder. I wanted to mitigate that."

The County Commission first reviewed the safety valve ordinance over the summer but sent it back to the P&Z for additional clarification.

"It's now fairer, simpler and clearer," Schoen said.

The 2025 planning effort was sparked in January 2005 after the county commissioners enacted a subdivision moratorium due to mounting development pressures. The plan consisted of seven ordinances, four of which became law in the summer.

Hearings on two additional 2025 ordinances dealing with increased setbacks in the county's riparian and wetlands areas and the zoning of public lands in the event of a future land sale continued Thursday.

Review of the seventh and final 2025 ordinance, which would establish a wildlife overlay district in the county, was continued to Nov. 9.

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