After 22 months, dozens of public workshops and hearings and seemingly endless hours of drafting, tweaking, reviewing and revising seven land-use ordinances, the county's contentious 2025 planning process is coming to an end.
"It feels great," Blaine County Commissioner Tom Bowman said last Friday after the commissioners approved a Floodplain and Riparian Setback District and a Resource Conservation District, taking another step toward cementing the massive planning effort.
On Thursday, the county commissioners will resume their review of the final piece of 2025 legislation: the Wildlife Overlay District. The hearing will begin at 9 a.m. and be followed by the review of the county's pre-existing Mountain Overlay District at 1:30 p.m.
Both ordinances passed Thursday follow the overall 2025 theme of limiting development in the county's rural and environmentally sensitive areas while encouraging it closer to the cities.
The Floodplain and Riparian Setback District, which drew heavy fire in the initial review process, will prohibit future development in the floodplain and increase building setbacks from the county's streams and wetlands.
Public opposition waned after the county's Planning and Zoning Commission recommended that owners of existing platted lots and lots of record less than two acres should be exempt from the new riparian and wetlands setbacks.
"That was the common sense thing to do," Bowman said.
But new subdivisions will be subject to the enhanced setbacks, which will increase from 75 feet to 200 feet along the Big Wood River, classified as a Class 1 stream.
Setbacks from Class 2 streams (East Fork of the Big Wood River, the Little Wood River, Trail Creek, Warm Springs, Upper Smiley Creek and upper Salmon River) will be boosted from 50 feet to 125 feet. And building along Class 3 and 4 streams (Croy Creek, Deer Creek, Rock Creek, Fish Creek, Beaver Creek, Fish Creek, Broadford Slough, Silver Creek, Grove Creek and Loving Creek) will now be subject to 100-foot setbacks.
"But there are ways to get around that if you have a good riparian management plan," Bowman said.
The riparian management plan will be based heavily on science and may allow development within the setbacks if it is deemed appropriate. The management plan, which will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, was designed to provide more flexibility and fairness to landowners.
The county commissioners also decided to lighten the stiff setbacks from wetlands that were initially proposed by Clarion Associates, a national land-use and real estate consulting firm that was hired by the county to help draft the 2025 ordinances. Clarion's suggestion was to establish setbacks of 200 feet from wetlands. The county commissioners decided to lessen that to 25 feet. Owners of platted lots and lots of record will also be exempt from the wetlands setbacks.
The Resource Conservation District pertains only to public lands and was created to "avoid inappropriate development of such lands in the event they are sold, exchanged, or otherwise made available for use by an entity other than the federal, state or local government," the ordinance states.
The sale or trade of public lands into private hands is becoming increasingly common in the West.
Most of the county's public lands are currently zoned A-10 (unproductive agriculture, one unit of development per 10 acres). Under the new Resource Conservation District, public lands will be downzoned to allow only one unit of development per 160 acres in the event they pass into private hands.
All 2025 ordinances can be viewed online at www.blainecounty.org.