Friday, May 11, 2007

Question marks remain for Croy Canyon elder care center

Current county zoning would allow nursing home only with a conditional use permit

Express Staff Writer

Express photo by David N. Seelig Mary Jo Helmeke, executive director of the Croy Canyon Ranch Foundation, stands on the grassy bench a mile out Croy Canyon, west of Hailey, where backers hope to construct Croy Canyon Ranch, a continuing care retirement community. The foundation owns 20 acres in the area, which is directly across Croy Creek Road from the Animal Shelter of the Wood River Valley. Graphic courtesy Mary Jo Helmeke, Croy Canyon Ranch Foundation This preliminary site plan designed by architecture firm William McDonough and Partners shows the most recent concept for how the Croy Canyon Ranch would be laid out. The road on the upper left side of the site plan is Croy Canyon Road.

The upcoming May 22 ballot measure asking Blaine County voters whether the county should sell Blaine Manor and transfer the funds to a nonprofit foundation won't on its own assure a county nursing home is built west of Hailey in Croy Canyon.

As things currently stand, Blaine County zoning in the lower portion of the canyon where the Croy Canyon Ranch Foundation hopes to build a new nursing home and continuing care retirement community is R-5, or Residential Agricultural zoning, which allows one home on every five acres. Permitted uses within Blaine County's R-5 zoning allow for agricultural uses and single-family residences, county planner Tom Bergin explained Thursday.

Under the zoning's list of conditional uses, public facilities are included, Bergin said. Croy Canyon Ranch would qualify for this type of conditional use.

For the project to be granted a permit for that conditional use, it would have to go through a public hearing process before the Blaine County Planning and Zoning Commission, Bergin added. The application wouldn't have to go before the Blaine County Commission for review, but rather, the P&Z would have the final say on whether the Croy Canyon project would be granted the conditional use.

To date, no application from the Croy Canyon Ranch Foundation has been submitted to the county, Bergin said.

Because Blaine County doesn't have any design review requirements in place, issues related to the design and layout of the project, as well as density questions, would be addressed by the P&Z during the conditional use process, Bergin said.

"We probably would review some of that," he said.

The project's density probably wouldn't be an issue as long as traffic and roadway impacts were properly mitigated, he said.

Another issue still needed to be ironed out before construction could begin on the estimated $20 million continuing care facility is how sewer services would be provided.

Representatives with the foundation have been working with the city of Hailey to explore ways the city might provide sewer services across the Croy Canyon Bridge and up to the project, Hailey City Clerk Heather Dawson said Thursday.

To fund the work, Hailey and the foundation have prepared a grant application to submit to the Idaho Department of Commerce and Labor, Dawson said.

The Commerce and Labor block grant is specifically for infrastructure work and has a maximum cap of $500,000, Hailey Public Works Supervisor Ray Hyde said Thursday. Any costs above that would need to come from some other sources.

Extending sewer service to the proposed nursing home would require a gravity line from the project to the Croy Canyon Bridge and a lift station on the west side of the bridge, he explained. After crossing the bridge, the line would then tie into an existing city gravity sewer line, he said.

This wouldn't be the first time a sewer line has crossed a river by way of a bridge, Hyde said. "They have been done before."

The project would require permits from agencies such as the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Hyde said.

For now, no definitive agreement has been struck between the city and the foundation on providing sewer services, Dawson said. Before that can happen, a number of details must be worked out, she said.

Still, the city does intend to work with the foundation, Dawson said.

"We're in full support for the project."

To that end, the Hailey City Council will be considering a resolution at their next meeting on May 14 to endorse the sale of Blaine Manor and the overall Croy Canyon Ranch project, Dawson said.

For now, all design elements for the nursing home and continuing care retirement community are strictly preliminary, Croy Canyon Ranch Foundation Executive Director Mary Jo Helmeke said Wednesday. First, they need to get beyond the May 22 vote before any further designing is completed, Helmeke said.

"We're not even close to that," she said.

Still another component of the project that would need to be completed is a fund-raising feasibility study, Helmeke said. Funds from the sale of Blaine Manor would not cover the cost of the entire project.

In a way, the outcome of the May 22 vote may also be interpreted as an indication of whether county residents believe Blaine County should even be in the skilled nursing home business.

Blaine County Commissioner Sarah Michael recently said the county will have to make a decision at some point in the future about whether funding this service is a prudent use of public funds.

Ultimately, the county could choose to use funds from the sale of Blaine Manor—estimated to be somewhere near $6 million—for an entirely different purpose, Michael said.

"There's nothing in the law that requires us to provide a skilled nursing facility," she said. "Maybe other people want that money to go somewhere else."

All around the country, counties are getting out of the skilled nursing home business, Michael said.

"Bottom line, if it (the vote) doesn't go through, the county will have to deal with that facility," she said.

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