As the size of Bellevue continues to increase, so do questions regarding density and its relationship to open space in Blaine County.
To spur the dialogue between the public and elected officials in an attempt to answer these questions, Blaine County regional planner Jeff Adams gave an in-depth presentation to the Bellevue City Council on Thursday, April 26.
Adams focused on transfer of development rights (TDR), and how they could be used to conserve the open land around Silver Creek, which is a major attraction for visitors to the county.
In the TDR system, property owners would get units of development credit for "sending areas" where sensitive property remains undeveloped. Developers would buy rights and use them in "receiving areas," which in theory are zones where the community would prefer density.
TDRs are intended to help communities realize the intrinsic value of open space for public access, land conservation and protecting wildlife habitat.
For example, for every five acres developed in proposed annexations in Bellevue, the developers could purchase one unit in the Silver Creek area, which would equal 20 acres. Thus, one-fifth of the total residential acreage in the annexation would be part of a TDR system.
Adams explained there is a large amount of flexibility in how the system could be designed, such as having the developers purchase a portion of the required TDRs and then "double-platting" the new lots. This would mean anyone looking to create additional development would have to buy a TDR unit as well.
While the purchase of a TDR would serve to protect the natural beauty around Silver Creek, it would also increase the density of Bellevue itself.
Adams made it clear that the issue of density was a major source of friction in his role of regional planning, as both citizens and policy makers throughout the Wood River Valley were extremely wary when it comes to decisions on how their cities should expand.
"Density is the one word that keeps me the most hated man in the county," Adams said with a smile.
Adams went on to say it's vital to look at areas of city impact (ACI), as these will determine the most logical zones to build as cities grow by looking at factors such as proximity to services and existing infrastructure.
In order to combat urban sprawl, Adams said, it's best to increase the density in the ACI, and that way minimize the need for citizens to drive everywhere.
According to his research, 75 percent of Bellevue's ACI is within the area of several proposed annexations. He utilized this fact to reinforce his appeal for people to begin thinking about the problems an expanding population creates for not only Bellevue, but also the entire county.
City Councilwoman Beth Robrahn agreed that Bellevue and county residents need to start looking into solutions immediately.
"What does 10,000 (more) people by 2025 mean for us and how do we plan for them?" she asked.
She also said it was important to use ACI for increased density to keep development from creeping outwards, but was not sure if it made sense to have the receiving areas for TDRs in the Bellevue Triangle.
While he admitted they were confusing, fellow Councilman Steve Fairbrother said TDRs are imperative as the city considers the annexation requests.
"Any time I talk (about TDRs) my exchange student looks at me like I have Alzheimer's," Fairbrother said. "But I can't vote for annexation in good conscience without having TDRs."
Planning and Zoning Administrator Craig Eckles asked for a future meeting at which the council will discuss how to create both sending and receiving areas.