Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Belle Ranch hits major roadblock

P&Z appears far from approving light-industrial area

Express Staff Writer

Two side-by-side annexations are proposed on the southeast side of Bellevue.

After six public hearings and no conclusive decision, it's no secret that Bellevue's Planning and Zoning Commission is struggling with John Scherer's proposed Belle Ranch.

This proposed annexation, which lies south of Bellevue and east of the Gannett-Picabo Road, would add approximately 280 acres into the city, almost exactly the same size as developer Harry Rinker's proposed project on its northern boundary.

As happened at the previous five meetings, the P&Z was charged with the extremely difficult task of evaluating the costs and benefits of such a large development on the city.

The issue at hand during the commission's meeting on Thursday, May 3, was once again the inclusion and placement of a light-industrial (LI) area.

Jeff Loomis, representing Galena Engineering and the developers, presented three variations on the layout of the LI zone, which covers just under 20 acres. By concentrating LI at the northern end of Belle Ranch, he attempted to assuage the concerns of the P&Z and public that the zone was too far from downtown Bellevue as well as the proposed LI included in Rinker's proposed annexation.

The P&Z, however, was not convinced and in a preliminary vote demonstrated their belief that the current inclusion of LI was not in accordance with two requirements of the city's Comprehensive Plan. Specifically, the plan encourages future LI to be in or adjacent to areas where it already exists and to have a minimal effect on neighboring properties.

While the commission has not ruled out LI entirely, as the vote was three against and two in support for LI in its current form, if they do make that an official decision, it could jeopardize the financial viability of the project.

"If I'm hearing that we're going to (have to remove the LI area), then we're done," said Loomis, explaining that the developers would take the annexation proposal to the county.

The removal of the LI would also make the project a greater economic burden on Bellevue, as city consultant John Gaeddert has repeated a number of times that a residential-only development utilizes a greater amount of city services that the added tax base can't always cover.

The commissioners discussed possible solutions, such as denying LI for now, but leaving open the possibility of the developers changing the zoning in the future, or restricting the timing of its introduction to coincide with latter phases of the Rinker annexation.

Scherer representative Charlie Holt said these weren't options they could consider either, as these kind of delays would cost them too much money.

"We're lifers (in Wood River Valley area), not some fly-by-nighters, but we don't have bottomless pockets," Holt said.

Although Commissioner Todd Mabbutt voted against LI, he was clearly not swayed either way, taking minutes when his turn arose, noting he was trying to look at the bigger picture.

"The comp plan also mentions quality of life, so increasing population is something we have to look at, not just LI," Mabbutt said.

Commission members requested a draft of findings, which would allow them to review all the information on the annexation that has passed before them over the six hearings on this proposal.

The public hearing was continued to June 7 and the applicant has been asked to provide revised maps of the plan.

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