Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Decision on Bellevue annexation is looming

Issues related to wildlife and traffic impacts influence deliberations

Express Staff Writer

The Bellevue Planning and Zoning Commission is considering two annexation proposals by Wood River Valley developers Harry Rinker and John Scherer for 560 combined acres they own south of Bellevue. The two adjacent properties, shown here, are located south of the Muldoon Ranch subdivision and east of the Gannett-Picabo Road.

In recent months, members of the Bellevue Planning and Zoning Commission have steadily progressed through one issue after another related to the annexation of a combined 560 acres south of town.

Now, just several issues remain.

At a Bellevue public meeting Thursday, Jan. 18, P&Z commissioners discussed the final issues that stand between them and an ultimate recommendation to the City Council.

Last week's discussion was related to the proposed annexation of two large pieces of property owned by local landowners Harry Rinker and John Scherer.

Bellevue officials gained their first viewing of the Rinker-Scherer proposal at an Oct. 18, 2005, meeting. Since then, the city has held numerous public meetings on the proposals.

If annexed, the two additions would nearly double the city's size.

Rinker and Scherer's combined properties are located south of the Muldoon Ranch subdivision, east of Gannett-Picabo Road, north of the Griffin Ranch subdivision, and west of the foothills managed primarily by the Shoshone office of the Bureau of Land Management.

Last Thursday, issues related to traffic, impacts on wildlife and what type of zoning should be applied to the properties if they're to be annexed were considered.

As the area expected to gain the greatest increase in traffic if the two annexations are approved, P&Z commissioners listened to traffic experts discuss various options for reconfiguring the intersection of Gannett-Picabo Road and Highway 75 in southern Bellevue.

For now, the two most likely scenarios would either place a signal light at the intersection or, perhaps more significantly, a two-lane vehicle roundabout.

Either way, something needs to be done at the intersection, Boise-based traffic consultant Andy Daleiden told the P&Z.

"There needs to be an improvement at that intersection," Daleiden said.

Other improvements discussed by Daleiden included the reconfiguration of key intersections in downtown Bellevue and the possibility of linking the annexed lands with the rest of the city with a road or pathway through the Muldoon Ranch subdivision to Bay Horse Road.

In terms of the proposed annexations' impacts on wildlife, the P&Z discussed recommendations forwarded to them in a letter by the Idaho Department of Fish and Game.

The letter, coupled with Fish and Game maps showing the winter range and migratory corridors used by elk and mule deer, caution the city against building too closely to the foothills east of the two properties.

The most contentious aspect of the wildlife impact issue is a proposal by Harry Rinker to place 12 estate lots adjacent to steeper BLM lands that mule deer and elk use throughout the year.

"I'm on the fence about that one," Commissioner Grant Horne said. "I really am."

But the P&Z appeared to somewhat reluctantly favor the 12 estate lots in their proposed location. As close as they are to the limits of mule deer winter range indicated by the Fish and Game—just several hundred feet, Commissioner Kathryn Goldman pointed out—the lots are nonetheless outside of the boundaries.

Still, Goldman appeared somewhat reluctant to jump fully on board and support the siting of the estate lots.

"Our comp plan says we should protect wildlife," she said. "It seems like we should consider the Fish and Game's recommendation."

The Bellevue P&Z will resume deliberations for the Rinker-Scherer annexation application at its next meeting at 7 p.m. Feb. 2. The meeting will be held at the Bellevue Elementary School due to ongoing renovation work at the Bellevue Public Library.

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