Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Bellevue annexation plan raises questions

Is light-industrial/commercial area good or bad idea?

Express Staff Writer

Bellevue and Blaine County citizens raised concerns last week with a developer's proposed housing layout and inclusion of a light-industrial/commercial area in a 281-acre annexation proposal under discussion in Bellevue.

Landowner John Scherer's development team discussed three different aspects of the annexation request—housing, zoning criteria, and wildlife—at a Bellevue Planning and Zoning meeting Thursday, April 5.

While the wildlife discussion skated through uncontested, the housing and zoning criteria presentations sparked debate among both the P&Z and a small but vocal group of the public.

Richard Schaefer, architect for Scherer's development, provided a detailed description of the different types of housing that would be built, as well as where they would be located on the annexed property, which lies south of Bellevue and east of the Gannett-Picabo Road.

Although he was quick to clarify that the entire plan was subject to change, Schaefer explained that there would be manufactured, duplex, multi-family and "keyhole style" houses. The hope is that the variety of housing will lend itself toward the diversity in residents needed to build and sustain a community.

No definite timeline was given for the entire project, but Scherer estimated that it would take 25- to 35 years to build out, noting that the Woodside development in Hailey has taken over 30 years and is not yet complete.

The first phase would include manufactured, multi-family and some single-family homes, in addition to the light-industrial area.

Scherer said the manufactured housing would cost under $150,000 for a 1,200-square-foot house and lot, and that there is nothing comparable in the Wood River Valley for the size and price he would be offering.

"I can't have crummy looking stuff at the beginning of the project or I'll have a lot of product I can't sell," Scherer said.

Commissioner Adam McNae, however, was the first of many to raise the issue of the proposed location of the manufactured housing, currently nestled within the light-industrial area and separated from the rest of the development.

Kate Giese, director of ARCH Community Housing Trust, echoed this sentiment.

"We're starting to understand how important affordable housing is to our community, but we need to integrate it into our market-rate housing," she said.

Scherer did not directly address this issue, but Dick Fosbury, representing the project's engineers, Galena Engineering, said that at this point they are only trying to give a general plan ahead of the City Council's vote.

The subject of even bigger questions was the proposed light-industrial/commercial area, which would be located directly next to Gannett Road, according to the current plan.

Despite the fact that shops in a neighborhood business district would be limited in size, Commissioner Todd Mabbutt wondered if services, such as restaurants or day care, wouldn't drag customers away from existing businesses in downtown Bellevue.

"With a commercial area, it might separate the communities (of Bellevue and the annexation) even more," Mabbutt said.

He added that having almost 20 acres of industrial area right next to the road might not sit well with current residents.

"It could be hard for people who bought their dream home on five acres and end up having a light-industrial area right across the street," Mabbutt said.

"Concern from the public about sprawl is a red flag for me," said Commissioner Kathryn Goldman.

The commission continued the discussion of the light-industrial area to its next meeting, set for April 19.

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