Friday, May 4, 2007

Estate lots, water issues in Rinker plan

Bellevue City Council visits Woodbridge Village site

Express Staff Writer

Jeff Loomis, left, of Galena Engineering, and Nick Purdy, right, representing the Rinker Co., use a map of developer Harry Rinker?s proposed annexation of 280 acres into Bellevue to help illustrate the layout of the project during a site visit on Wednesday, May 2. Members of both Bellevue?s City Council and the public attended the special meeting to discuss water rights and the placement of estate lots.

The next time you're passing through Bellevue, turn south onto Gannett Road, drive for about a mile and then stop and look directly to your left. This will give you roughly the same view Bellevue City Council members had Wednesday, May 2, during a special meeting in which they visited the site of Harry Rinker's proposed 280-acre annexation.

If the council votes in favor of annexation, what is now an expanse of alfalfa and dandelions leading up to a sage-covered hillside could be dramatically transformed by the addition of 608 homes.

Approximately 20 members of the public accompanied the council and walked a section of the property as Jeff Loomis, representing Galena Engineering and the Rinker Co., used this on-site opportunity to better illustrate the layout of the plan's proposed estate lots.

These 12 high-end lots, approximately one acre each, are proving to be one of the more contested issues of the proposal. They would be located on the northeastern side of Rinker's project, between Seamon's Creek and the hills that border the property.

Previously, both Bellevue's Planning and Zoning Commission and Idaho Fish and Game recommended these lots be relocated within the annexation. They were mainly concerned that Rinker's planned reintroduction of water into the creek would attract a large number of elk and deer down from the hills and the presence of homes in that path could create problems.

When the meeting reconvened at City Hall, Councilman Chris Koch expressed a concern more aesthetic in nature.

"I don't particularly like the placement of them, being that close to the hillside," Koch said.

He went on to say that those sites located in the sagebrush at the base of the hill would be clearly visible from Gannett Road.

Councilwoman Beth Robrahn agreed with Koch. But she also said they were putting the cart before the horse by spending time on a relatively small part of the proposed annexation.

"I'm uncomfortable talking about these 12 lots because the entire project needs discussion," Robrahn said.

Councilman Steve Fairbrother said he wasn't entirely against either the inclusion or placement of the lots. He noted that the units would be beneficial by allowing for a wider range of incomes in the community. However, he suggested some alternatives, such as decreasing the number from 12 to nine and requiring one "transfer of development right" to be purchased with each lot.

On the other hand, the majority of the public in attendance was there to voice their fears over how the annexation would impact water use in the city.

Chuck Brockway, water engineer for the project, said the annexation would have its own 1-million gallon water tank. This tank would be used for irrigation, meaning that only in-house water consumption would come from the city's supply.

This plan, Brockway contended, would actually lower consumption as compared to the current application of large amounts of water to irrigate many acres of alfalfa.

The public was wary, however, with many wondering what would happen if water levels decreased and a well was drilled for the annexation. Would it affect users both upstream and down.

Representatives from SPF Water Engineering, the company contracted by Bellevue to perform an independent study, said they are looking into pertinent water rights and potential impacts on current users.

Also, similar to previous public annexation meetings, the issue of density continued to be a concern relating to every aspect of the proposal, as in this case with water.

"A twenty-fold increase in density is excessive and reckless," said Jay Coleman, a former county Planning and Zoning commissioner. He said the applicant's proposal would increase density beyond that permitted by current zoning.

The public hearing was continued to Thursday, May 31, where the focus of discussion will be traffic.

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