Friday, March 16, 2007

Hailey subdivision clears final hurdle

Groundbreaking slated next week for Old Cutters

Express Staff Writer

Contractors proceed last week to demolish the remnants of the Old Cutters barn, located near the center of the Old Cutters property Photo by David N. Seelig

After nearly four years of planning, negotiating and public hearings, the Old Cutters subdivision in northeastern Hailey cleared its final hurdle Wednesday morning when the developers and the Blaine County Commission resolved an ongoing and, at times, emotional dispute.

"(We're) very relieved and excited to finally be able to move forward with construction and the realization of the project," said John Campbell, who along with Steve Brown is developing the 149-unit subdivision.

Official groundbreaking of the development will begin Tuesday, March 20.

Back in mid-February, the Hailey City Council granted preliminary plat approval for the southern half of the Old Cutters subdivision in a phased build out plan proposed by Hailey City Attorney Ned Williamson. The preliminary platting process essentially lays out where the lot lines, roadways and other essential components of a subdivision will be located.

In the same motion, the council members made preliminary plat approval for the northern portion of the development contingent upon Blaine County and the Old Cutters developers resolving a roadway dispute involving the development's northern entrance.

Gaining preliminary plat approval for the large property is one of the final steps that must be taken before development can begin. The city of Hailey annexed the Old Cutters property on March 13, 2006.

While the development will be located in Hailey, roads leading to its northern entrance are in the county's jurisdiction.

The county's concerns were twofold: county roads accessing the new subdivision would suffer significant wear and tear from increased traffic; and the opening of an old stub road accessing the northern portion of the development could ruin the quality of life for existing residents in the county's Buttercup subdivision.

The latter took center stage during a hearing last week, when several residents of the Buttercup subdivision urged the County Commission to deny the opening of the stub road along the northern portion of South Hiawatha Drive, which was platted in the 1970s. Some Buttercup residents became emotional when talking about how the opening of the stub would force an end to the peace and quiet they've enjoyed for more than 30 years.

The developers, who were represented by Ketchum attorney James Speck, countered that they have done everything possible to mitigate the impacts of the development on existing residents. They also noted that when Buttercup residents bought their properties they knew the stub existed and future development was possible.

Still, the County Commission was initially hesitant to permit the opening of the stub, and even considered exercising eminent domain on an undeveloped property to the north in order to pave the way for a road that would not slice through the existing Buttercup neighborhood.

County Commissioner Larry Schoen said he believes the opening of the stub will impact residents of South Hiawatha Drive and he admitted that "this has been somewhat of a difficult situation for me" since he knows people who live in the neighborhood.

But he added that he agreed with County Commissioner Sarah Michael, who stated earlier in the meeting that "since there is already a platted stub and access point there, I do not believe proceeding with condemnation is a viable option."

The main points of the agreement between the county and the developers, which Commission Chairman Tom Bowman voted against, are as follows:

- The stub will be opened but moved as far north as possible—without infringing on the undeveloped lot—and angled in such a way as to mitigate traffic disturbance on existing residents.

- At the point where the stub intersects with South Hiwatha Drive, a "no left turn" sign will be erected to prevent westward traffic from traveling south through South Hiawatha Drive toward Hailey.

- The developers will agree to cover the costs of the road construction, upgrades and impacts from increased traffic.

"(Brown) and I really do wish to thank the city and county staff and elected officials for their patience as well as in working with us to make this happen," Campbell said. "I have to say that particularly the city and county staff deserve commendation for working in a constructive and proactive manner."

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