Friday, December 8, 2006

Yippie ki yay: Too yesterday?

When cities invoke the real estate developer's liturgy, "highest and best use," prepare to say goodbye to another piece of community culture and history.

This could be the fate awaiting the city-owned, privately leased Hailey rodeo grounds alongside state Highway 75 at the downtown area's gateway.

During a meeting where ideas for the future were kicked around, Hailey city officials seemed to look askance at the rodeo grounds as some sort of drag on the community, rather than as a preserved piece of the Old West.

So, what would be "highest and best use" at that site? Another boxy structure with the personality of lifeless concrete?

"Highest and best use" has its place when visionaries use land to uplift a community's virtues. But so, too, do icons and landmark building and historic sites that create a community's character and make it more livable.

Growing numbers of people in the Wood River Valley lament the loss of small-town charm and lost character—qualities that were the impetus for visitors and new residents who escaped treeless urban jungles where "highest and best" use has devoured every inch of land.

Wildlife that once roamed city and canyon areas in the Wood River Valley have been pushed out or forcibly removed to make way for "highest and best use" development in which more structures have trumped the sight of grazing elk and deer.

If this trend continues, the valley is in danger of evolving into another undistinguished triumph of "highest and best use" of land whose value can be measured in real estate taxes, not character.

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