Wednesday, February 7, 2007

County won?t let Old Cutters skirt by

Commissioners schedule public hearing for March 6

Express Staff Writer

Remnants of the Old Cutters barn still mark the agricultural property planned to be the site of a new subdivision on the northeastern edge of Hailey. Photo by Mountain Express

Amid numerous ongoing concerns that access to the proposed Old Cutters subdivision in Hailey would create headaches for the county, the Blaine County Commission decided Tuesday to schedule a public hearing to address the issues.

The hearing will be held March 6 from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the Old County Courthouse in Hailey.

As proposed, Old Cutters would include 149 residential units on a 143-acre parcel annexed into the northeast section of Hailey adjacent to the Buttercup subdivision, which was approved in the 1970s.

Blaine County officials have concerns that the new subdivision will stress Hiawatha Drive, which is located in the county, forcing regular maintenance and upgrades, and cause increased traffic in the Buttercup area.

The Hailey City Council was expected to grant preliminary plat approval for Old Cutters in late January, ending a series of delays that have dogged the proposal for nearly three years.

But Blaine County Commissioner Tom Bowman and county Administrator Stan McNutt attended the hearing and asked the city council to delay the vote until the road issues are addressed.

Hailey City Council members reacted strongly, expressing frustration over the county's actions.

"I'm starting to feel really embarrassed by this, and it's because the county at the last moment has decided to jump in with some non-proven theories of how things could be better," Hailey City Councilman Rick Davis said in January.

But as Blaine County Commissioner Larry Schoen noted Tuesday, the county has not jumped in "at the last moment."

"Communications from the county to the city have been explicit going back three years," Schoen said.

In fact, the county sent a letter to the city of Hailey in January 2004 stating, "Upon annexation, the county would expect the city to annex that segment of Hiawatha."

The commission also went on record in October 2006 that it preferred to "accomplish a route that keeps Cutters traffic out of the Buttercup subdivision," according to a staff report released by McNutt Tuesday.

That staff report was developed in response to a petition submitted to the county on Monday by James Speck, an attorney representing Old Cutters, Inc. The petition requested a timely determination by the County Commission so as not to further delay the beginning of construction.

According to McNutt's report, County Engineer Jim Kuntz said any northern access to the subdivision will be a county road, and that southern access off Buttercup Road could be a city road, "if the road was annexed as requested."

The county believes the best option would be the construction of a bypass route to access the subdivision from the north, but that seems unlikely without the use of eminent domain.

County Commissioner Sarah Michael said the entire incident only strengthens the county's argument that regional planning must be initiated with all five cities and the county so everyone is on the same page in the future.

"I do believe we are going down the right path," Michael said.

"The good news is we recognize the issues we have to address and were dealing with it," Schoen added.

County Commissioner Tom Bowman was absent.

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