Friday, April 20, 2007

Public challenges Bellevue annexation

Vocal crowd takes Woodbridge Village development to task

Express Staff Writer

Developer Harry Rinker provided the Bellevue City Council and members of the public with plans and renderings of his proposed Woodbridge Village on Wednesday. If approved, the project would add almost 280 acres to the city. Photo by David N. Seelig

What does a large-scale development portend for the future of Bellevue citizens?

This was the common theme throughout a passionate public hearing this week on Wood River Valley developer Harry Rinker's request to annex 272 acres into the city. The hearing took place Wednesday, April 18, at a special meeting of the Bellevue Common Council.

Rinker's proposed annexation, recently renamed Woodbridge Village, is located on the northern half of a large piece of farmland that stretches south of Bellevue all the way to the Griffin Ranch subdivision. The plan already cleared one major hurdle after being approved by Bellevue's Planning and Zoning Commission on Thursday, March 2.

Bellevue consultant John Gaeddert said the P&Z went the extra step to get accurate renderings of the plan with improved general quality to help both the commission and council make their respective decisions.

"We know what we're getting into and what it looks like," Gaeddert said Wednesday.

The P&Z's approval, however, doesn't ensure the council will vote the same way, especially if they were swayed by the small but vocal sector of the public that crowded into City Hall Wednesday evening.

Rinker began the meeting by describing the philosophy behind his proposed development.

"We devised a walkable village that will save us from getting in the car and driving everywhere," he said.

Project designer David Clinger delved further into this idea, providing the council and public with detailed maps, pictures and information of the overall plan.

"It will be a sustainable community where people can live, work and play all in one spot," Clinger said.

This community would include 608 homes of varying styles, such as duplexes and pre-fabricated houses, "keyhole" lots, a corporate park and a small commercial center. In addition, Rinker would donate land for an elementary/middle school and another 2.8 acres for a municipal site for use by the city of Bellevue.

Missing were estate lots, which the P&Z had removed from the plan because of their location on the eastern edge of the property, where they might interfere with deer and elk winter ranges and the proposed wildlife corridor that surrounds Seamon's Creek.

Clinger asked the council to put those homes back in, saying they are necessary to make the project financially viable.

But this isn't the only problem the developers face, as became apparent when the public got a chance to voice their opinions.

Bellevue citizen and South Valley Fire Commissioner Jay Bailet was the first of around 10 different members of the Wood River Valley community to speak against the proposal. Comments ranged from concerns of specific aspects of the plan to more hostile admonitions of developments of this size.

Bailet asked if Woodbridge Village would be de-annexed from the South Valley Fire District and if so, who would provide fire protection. He also noted that if buildings in the corporate park were built to the 40-foot height limit, the view of the mountains would be obstructed for anyone living or driving along that stretch of Gannett Road.

The majority of the public's criticism, however, focused on urban sprawl and increased density in Bellevue.

Jon Wilkes, a former Bellevue councilman, fired off a rapid succession of questions asking how the development would help the city. His closing comment garnered applause from many of the attendees.

"The whole issue here is quality of life. ... The rest of Bellevue doesn't have much. We don't even have an engineered street," Wilkes said. "This is making life better for the people in Woodbridge, not for people in Bellevue."

Bellevue citizen Fran MacDonald agreed that the increased population could substantially change the atmosphere of an essentially small, rural town.

"Are we not compromising the future of our town?" MacDonald asked.

At the conclusion, Rinker expressed his appreciation for the one vote of support he received from the crowd, but was far from happy with the outcome of the meeting.

"It does distress me to see all the opposition against the project," Rinker said.

The Bellevue City Council will meet again on May 2 to discuss water issues for the proposed annexation.

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